Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine Cover

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk. But there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts. Vampires never entered her mind.

Until they found her…

My Review of Sunshine

SunshineSunshine by Robin McKinley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhere in here lurks a decent story, but it’s so overwhelmed by the ramblings of Sunshine that it’s almost completely lost. In the first five pages, I know where Sunshine works, where she lives, her Monday movie nights and all about her landlady’s niece, but I still don’t know why she’s all on her own at the lake.

I liked the actual story, but it does start to drag. The vampires are satisfyingly nasty and mean, like in the film Lost Boys.

Sunshine is likeable enough, but by the halfway point I just really wanted her to stop talking. Cut out all the rambling and the repetition (how many times do we need to be told no one ever gets away from vampires?) and the book would be less than half the long 405 pages it actually is.

The author spends so much time explaining the world that it’s hard to believe this was ever intended to be standalone. So many concepts are explained in depth that are then not actually relevant to the story that I’m convinced this was the setup for a longer series, more like True Blood.

After all the long, long build-up, the big fight with the main villain is almost a non-event after all the talking. The villain himself is a moustache-twirling cartoon style villain, with some seriously dodgy dialogue. And he doesn’t do anything. Disappointing.

Could have been good, but needs some serious pruning to remove all the irrelevant rambling.

Sunshine
Robin McKinley
Urban Fantasy
November 30th 2004
Kindle
405

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple Cover

The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of colour in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t even know how to start reviewing this, but I will say that it’s heartbreaking, eye opening, harrowing and uplifting. I’ve never actually cried reading a book before, but I came closer at the end of this than I ever have before.

Books on lists of classics, or those lists of 100 books you must read, are books that I normally stay away from. I expect them to be dry, preachy, pretentious, or all three and generally just dull. But this, this book deserves its place on all of those lists.

Alice Walker is a skilled story teller, and The Colour Purple is accessible and interesting. It works first and foremost as a story about a poor black woman living in deep south America in the 1930’s. Celie narrates her life through journal entries and letters, a literary device that I’ve rarely seen done well but here it works brilliantly to bring her world to life for us.

In this world, the book uncovers issues of race, misogyny, religion and feminism. It manages not to beat us over the head, or preach to us, but just shows us that they are there and how they affect people’s lives. In this subtle way, we can’t ignore them because they are a vital part of Celie’s story.

It’s sad to think that these issues are just as relevant today as they were in the 30’s. These prejudices haven’t gone away, not even here in the UK where we like to think we’re more tolerant than the Americans. They are just as internalised as they ever were, but, until recently anyway, better hidden.

My favourite thing about this book is the women working together to support and help each other.

I recommend this to everyone. It’s an interesting story, and while it’s hard to read at first it has an uplifting ending.

The Color Purple
Alice Walker
Fiction
1982
Paperback
295

I Am Behind You (Platserna #1) by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I Am Behind You Cover

A supernatural superthriller from the author of Let the Right One In

Molly wakes her mother to go to the toilet. The campsite is strangely blank. The toilet block has gone. Everything else has gone too. This is a place with no sun. No god.

Just four families remain. Each has done something to bring them here – each denies they deserve it. Until they see what’s coming over the horizon, moving irrevocably towards them. Their worst mistake. Their darkest fear.

And for just one of them, their homecoming.

This gripping conceptual horror takes you deep into one of the most macabre and unique imaginations writing in the genre. On family, on children, Lindqvist writes in a way that tears the heart and twists the soul. I Am Behind You turns the world upside down and, disturbing, terrifying and shattering by turns, it will suck you in.

My Review of I Am Behind You

I Am Behind YouI Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bizarre, creepy, unsettling, enthralling. I’m not entirely sure what I just read, but I think I liked it.

Getting off to a slow start the first half of the book is almost a character study. The characters are investigating the place they have found themselves, but at the same time it goes in depth into their personalities, and their back stories. Most of them are unpleasant people that have done bad things at one point or another, or been through traumatic events. But the dog Benny, the little boy Emil and the farmers Lennart and Olof were all likeable enough to be able to emphasise with them.

The second half it all goes crazy. I’m not going to spoil it by talking about it, but it’s surreal, original, deeply unsettling, and I could not put it down. I just want someone now who can explain it all for me.

Don’t read this if you need an answer to where they are or how they got there. But if you like making up your own ideas about things, and if you like stories that are odd and scary, then this is for you!

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

I Am Behind You
Platserna
John Ajvide Lindqvist, Marlaine Delargy (Translator)
Horror
September 7th 2017
Kindle
416

The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery, #1) by Elly Griffiths

The Zig Zag Girl Cover

Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl.

The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men.

Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…

My Review of The Zig Zag Girl

The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery, #1)The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A woman is cut into three and left in boxes in a train station. It’s a gruesome murder, and you might think it’s quite shocking, but in this book it seems to have very little impact.

The Zig Zag Girl is set in 1950’s Brighton, and while not quite a ‘cosy’ murder mystery it certainly comes close. The sense of danger or fear is never there, not in the first scenes of the murder, not when the detective has to look at the dead body, and not even near the end when he is coming close to catching the villain.

Edgar Stephens, the detective investigating the crime, doesn’t have much impact either. The magicians and showgirls around him don’t achieve much sparkle for it’s quite a glum book, but they at least have a sense of life. Ed doesn’t have a distinct personality beyond moping over his lost love, and his investigations are ineffectual.

Another big flaw for me is that I didn’t feel the 1950’s atmosphere was captured, it could easily have been set in the present day.

What it does well is to show us the life of a performing magician in the 1950’s. The sequins and showgirls and the magic tricks on stage mixed with the grime of backstage were interesting enough on their own to keep me involved to the end.

Overall though it didn’t live up to the promise of a thrilling read and it left me underwhelmed.

The Zig Zag Girl
Stephens & Mephisto Mystery
Elly Griffiths
Mystery
November 6th 2014
Paperback
325

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

The Growing Season Cover

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

The Growing SeasonThe Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warm, thoughtful and kind. It presents some big issues but brings a human side to give them meaning.

The Growing Season is set in an alternate version of our world, differing from ours only in the invention of the biotech baby pouch two generations ago. The pouch is an artificial womb that allows babies to be incubated outside of the human body. FullLife own the patent for the pouch and have marketed it so successfully as an end to inequality and the dangers of childbirth that natural births are rare.

Eva is carrying on her mother’s work of campaigning against the pouch. She believes that the technology has moved too fast, that as a society we did not stop to think about the issues, and now we are blind to any problems that the pouch brings along with it.

Holly had the very first pouch baby and is now a poster girl for FullLife. She is about to have her first grandchild, and she loves the pouch and the freedom and choices it brings for parents.

The book takes a very balanced view of the issues and presents both sides of the argument. It looks at the benefits of allowing both men and women to be involved in carrying the unborn child, how it allows people to be parents that otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and how it protects women from the dangers of childbirth.

We are also shown the other side – how it could enable domestic abuse, how it affects society in negative ways, how we adopt technology so quickly that we don’t think about the side effects, or what happens when it goes wrong. It also touches on the dangers of allowing one big company to have such a monopoly on our lives, and how it excludes those who live in poverty even further.

So it’s tackling big issues and could very easily have been dry and preachy. But Sedgwick makes them accessible by giving them a human face and showing how they affect people personally. Through Eva and Holly, she tells a warm and moving story about people. Their lives and families take up a big part of the book. I never felt like she was pushing the discussion about the issues or forcing an opinion on me, the story always comes first.

I thought it would be hard to read, so much so that I almost picked up something else when I was too tired to concentrate, but I gave this a go and got drawn in straight away. The writing is beautiful, almost lyrical at times and I flew through it because I cared so much about the characters.

Highly recommend this one if you like sci-fi, women’s issues, ethics in technology, or if you just like stories about people.

The Growing Season
Helen Sedgwick
Sci-Fi
September 7th 2017
Kindle
302

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

babel17 cover

Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

My review of Babel-17

Babel-17Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant! I really enjoyed this.

I love the cast of characters. The spaceship crew are wonderful and unique, and I wish they had more page time. Rydra Wong is very intelligent, a genius with languages and can read people almost like she is reading their minds. Everyone loves her, and she is maybe a little too perfect snowflake but I still found her likeable anyway.

The story moves fast and is full of action and intrigue, spaceships and fights. It’s very original and still feels modern even though it was written at the end of the 70s.

It’s all good up until the ending which is rushed through. I found it difficult to follow. It’s very clever, but I felt like the story was working up to something exciting and all I got was a long conversation where someone explains what has been going on.

I enjoyed the discussions about language and how it shapes the way we think about the world, how we can’t comprehend concepts that our language can’t describe and how it affects our intelligence and how fast we think.

Babel-17 works on one level as an action-packed sci-fi story, and if that’s all you want from a book then it can easily be read that way. But there is more to it if you want to look. It’s also a good choice if you like books with a bit more to them, stories that make you think about the way the world works. I highly recommend this one.

Babel-17
Samuel R. Delany
Sci-Fi
June 1st 1978
Paperback
192

Books to Read in the Summer

Time for another book list 🙂

The nights are starting to get shorter and it’s getting towards the last days of summer. One way to make that summer feeling last as long as possible for me is to read books set in hot countries or sunny weather.

I always try to read books that match the season where I am. I don’t like to read wintry books in summer, or autumn books in the spring. I find that I can’t lose myself in the atmosphere of the book as easily.  Does anyone else find that too?

And please share your recommendations! On here or Twitter or Facebook, I’m always looking for new books to read, and I found that my list of summery books isn’t actually that long.

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the Wolf is set on a desert planet, where a young woman is part of a mercenary biker gang. There is magic (space witches!), a rebellion of mistreated workers against the company that controls the planet, and a woman learning to be a leader. What more could you want!

Hunger Makes the Wolf on GoodReads

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

A post-apocalyptic story that starts on a beach that could be in the Caribbean it sounds so perfectly tropical. It’s actually set on America’s Gulf Coast, where teenager Nailer ekes out a living salvaging copper from the wrecks of the shipping industry.

Ship Breaker on GoodReads

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half a Yellow Sun tells the story of Biafra, a State that existed for three years in the sixties during a civil war in Nigeria. Three different narrators show us the human side of war and the effects it has on ordinary people.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a gifted storyteller, the subject matter means it’s not an easy read, but it is very readable, very interesting, and always stays sensitive.

Half of a Yellow Sun on GoodReads

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Another post-apocalyptic story, and one of my favourites, this is set in a world that has heated up due to global warming. Snowman is the last human surviving with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake in a world where it is too hot to go out in the midday sun.

Oryx and Crake on GoodReads

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

A story about a family that has fallen apart. The disappearance of the father of the family slowly starts to bring the family back together. Set during the heat wave of 1976 this is a book full of interesting characters who all have secrets of their own.

Instructions for a Heatwave on GoodReads

Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing

Mara and Dann is set in Africa thousands of years in the future. Mara lives in the last country on Earth that has not been swallowed by ice. But the food is running out and society is breaking down. In search of a better place to live Mara has to travel north, a hard and long journey that will take her to her limits.

Mara and Dann on GoodReads

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

parable of the sower cover

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighbourhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

My Review of Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure if this should go under sci-fi or horror. It’s a near-future post-apocalyptic story of an America where people are tearing each other apart in a struggle for survival. One of my least favourite things in books or films is when nasty people do nasty things to each other, and this book has that in spades.

And yet, despite all the nastiness and the gory moments (and there are plenty of those), this is a very intelligent book with a lot to say.

Lauren Olamina’s family lives in one of the very few remaining walled communities. Outside the walls, America is breaking apart and people fight for jobs, food and water. Inside the walls a small group of families have created a stable life for themselves, they grow their own food, some of them have jobs, and working together they manage to get by. But protecting themselves from the chaos outside is getting harder every day.

Lauren knows that their relatively safe lifestyle won’t last. She is very intelligent and very sensible and can see the signs that the others are ignoring. Sooner or later what they have will be too attractive to those that have nothing and it will be taken from them. She starts to plan for the time when she will have to leave and survive outside.

Realising that society will fall apart if people won’t work together and support each other, Lauren starts to develop her own religion. Basically, God is change, and we must work hard and support each other. Lauren is a big thinker, she believes we must first rebuild society starting with small communities following the way of Earthseed, but that ultimately the only way for humankind to survive is to colonise other planets.

The community is eventually overrun and Lauren must leave. She travels north to find a place she can settle, and as she travels she gathers a group of followers around her.

Parable of the Sower doesn’t hold back on how awful people can be, but the violence and gore aren’t there for shock tactics, but to make a point, to show us something. And Octavia Butler has a lot to say in this book. She covers religion, society, race, slavery, corporate greed, politics, environmental devastation and the vulnerability of women, but manages to do it in a way that still comes together with a decent story.

It’s heavy going, but through it she keeps a sense of hope alive, a belief that if people work together than they can create a better future.

For me, it’s a bit too heavy on religion, and a bit too heavy on nastiness. At times I found it so scary that I had to stop reading, though by halfway I found I had become almost immune to all the violence. I like how sensible and intelligent Lauren is, but I found her a little too perfect to be likeable. It certainly made me think though it’s interesting, and Octavia Butler is a good writer. I will be reading more of her books.

Parable of the Sower
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
January 1st 2000
Paperback
345

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun Cover

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last, there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

My Review of Under the Pendulum Sun

Under the Pendulum SunUnder the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not what I was expecting! This is a dark and twisted tale of Victorian era missionaries who travel to the Faelands of Arcadia to try to convert the fae.

Catherine Helstone’s brother Laon is a missionary who has been sent to the fairy land of Arcadia in an attempt to convert the fae. When he stops replying to her letters she Catherine is so worried about him that she travels to Arcadia in an attempt to find him.

When she arrives her brother is not there at Gethsemane, the manor house Queen Mab of the fae provided for him to stay in. Her brother’s staff are vague about his location but assure Catherine that he will return soon. As she waits for him, she hears rumours about the death of the previous missionary, Reverend Roche, but no one will straight out tell her what happened to him. When Catherine finds the dead Roche’s journals full of strange rambling entries and a book written in a language she does not recognise she decides that reading and deciphering them will provide the key to understanding the strange place that she has found herself.

The characters are missionaries, so obviously are going to be religious. I read that the author has studied theology, and it shows. Religion plays a massive part in this story, with discussions around theology making up a lot of the book. Catherine spends a lot of time praying and thinking about God, and pondering whether the fae have souls or not.

There are so many layers to this story. The main story is easy enough to follow but there’s a lot of hidden meanings that as the reader you need to decipher to fully understand what is going on. If you enjoy working out the meaning behind what the author is showing us for yourself, you will love this book! There is a lot to think about or things that if you research a bit will make a lot more sense. Even the name of the manor house Catherine and Laon are staying in has meaning.

Honestly, I struggle with hints and subtle suggestion, I prefer things that are spelt out for me. I like knowing what the author intended without having to make guesses myself. So it took me a while to get into this. It was very slow to start with, and I had no idea where it was going, it took me a while to work out the point of the book, Cathrine spends most of her time reminiscing about her childhood and how wonderful her brother is. But I slowly got caught up in the story telling, and the second half is much better paced.

Queen Mab turns up and throws a (very nasty) winter ball full of clockwork automaton and things start to get more interesting. Then Catherine starts to find out what happened to the Reverend Roche, and why no one will talk about how he died.

I loved the way the fae are cruel and unkind, playing games with the few humans that are allowed into Arcadia. This is fae as they are meant to be! Queen Mab is very, very scary and I can’t understand why Catherine and her brother want to go further into the interior of Arcadia. I’d be running for my life after that Winter Ball.

It’s very twisty and turny, just when I thought I understood what was going on the story changes again. Even though most of the action takes place in Gethsemane, it’s still full of secrets and intrigue and strange and unusual creatures and sights.

Very dark, very gothic, Under the Pendulum Sun is not an easy read. But the writing and the world building are an absolute treat and the story is very original.

I’m wavering between 3 and 4 stars, but the narrator is just too religious and pious for my liking. After a while, she started to grate on me, so I’m going with 3 stars.

I recommend this for readers that like original takes on dark and twisted gothic fairy tales or books with layers and hidden meanings that make you think.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Under the Pendulum Sun
Jeannette Ng
Fantasy
October 3rd 2017
Kindle
464

Plan for Chaos by John Wyndham

Plan for Chaos Cover

In a city that could well be New York, a series of identical women are found dead in suspicious circumstances. Magazine photographer Johnny Farthing, who is reporting on the suspected murders, is chilled to discover that his fiancée looks identical to the victims too – and then she disappears.

As his investigations spiral beyond his control, he finds himself at the heart of a sinister plot that uses cloning to revive the Nazi vision of a world-powerful master race.

Part detective noir, part dystopic thriller, Plan for Chaos reveals the legendary science fiction novelist grappling with some of his most urgent and personal themes.

My Review of Plan for Chaos

Plan for ChaosPlan for Chaos by John Wyndham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Plan for Chaos starts off like an American hardboiled detective story, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Speaking as an English person that has never been to America, the Americanisms don’t feel right and the language is confusing. I had to read some paragraphs a few times before I could make sense of them.

When it moves from America it settles down into a decent story, with some interesting sci-fi inventions, a lot of them that are actually around today. Though the idea of clones is so common these days that it was hard for me not to want to shout at Johnny Farthing for not realising straight away.

From there it slows down into a lot of philosophising about war and the base instincts of the human race. While this is interesting, and a lot of it is scarily relevant today, it is quite slow. I also felt a bit like I was missing something because I don’t know much about 1950’s politics, and the book doesn’t talk much about the world political atmosphere.

The ending is anticlimactic. There is more action towards the end, but Johnny always seems to be a bit out of it. He hears about things afterwards or watches other people doing things. It’s frustrating to read and makes what could be an interesting story into a dull one.

John Wyndham’s attitude towards women in this book is dated, yet progressive for its time. He shows over and again that women can be intelligent. Johnny Farthing spends most of the book not knowing what is going on, and with no idea of what he should do next. When he does attempt action, his efforts are misguided and cause more problems than they solve.

In contrast, Johnny’s fiancee Freda seems very intelligent, she understands their situation and spends a lot of her time explaining things to Johnny that he just can’t see. A lot of the other women in the book are also shown to be intelligent, and to be capable leaders.

This is nice to read, but at the same time, he also portrays women as all having the shared goal of settling down with a stable family and as many children as possible. This is one of the main themes in the book and is repeated all the way through. The men in the book have no interest in children or family at all. It’s irritating, but it was written in the 1950’s and it does better than most books from that time.

If you’re new to John Wyndham I wouldn’t recommend you start with this. It has a dodgy start and sketchy pacing and it’s not one of his best.

If you are already a fan it is worth reading as there are some interesting ideas in there that are still relevant today.

Plan for Chaos
John Wyndham
Sci-Fi
January 7th 2010
Paperback
234