Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.

Who Goes There? Cover

“Who Goes There?” The novella that formed the basis of “The Thing” is the John W. Campbell classic about an antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the ancient, frozen body of a crash-landed alien.

The creature revives with terrifying results, shape-shifting to assume the exact form of animal and man, alike. Paranoia ensues as a band of frightened men work to discern friend from foe, and destroy the menace before it challenges all of humanity!

My Thoughts

kurt russel in the thing - very cold and frosted over

I’m a big fan of the film The Thing, it’s one of the Hallowe’en favourites in my house and we watch it at least once a year. So I was excited to read this, a collection containing the short story it was based on. Set in Antarctica a group of scientists find an alien frozen in the ice. They bring it back to camp and defrost it, accidentally bringing it back to life!

It was written in the 1930s but, apart from a few references to the way they were living, this could easily be a modern-day story. The film was made in the 80s and they didn’t really have to do much to it then to bring it up to date. The sci-fi side of the story I enjoyed and is what made this an enjoyable read for me. Though I’m not sure how accurate the biology in the story is, probably not very, he seems to explain most of it with the idea that it’s alien and therefore works differently. And giving the alien blue hair like worms and telepathy I felt was an odd touch that undermined the rest of the story. Other than that I think this has aged well and it can stand up against modern sci-fi with few issues.

As a horror story I’m not convinced it works that well, the feeling of isolation and fear of the people around you that I was expecting just wasn’t there. This is one of the few times where I would have liked a little bit less science discussion in favour of more emotion.
The rest of the stories in the collection really weren’t my sort of thing. A few of them are written as one person telling someone else a tale of extraordinary events that have happened to them. I found them far fetched and not particularly interesting and I don’t think they’ve aged well.

Worth reading for the first story in the collection, especially if you’re a fan of the film but I wouldn’t bother with the rest of the stories.

Who Goes There?
John W. Campbell Jr.
Sci-Fi
1938
248

The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward

The Quickening Cover

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

My Thoughts

The Quickening Cover

3 / 5 stars

The Quickening seems very similar to a book I read last year and that, unfortunately, gave me a feeling like there was nothing really new to this story. It is a tale that has been told often before though, a haunted house, a ghostly child, it’s been done many times.

That’s not to say that a haunted manor house book can’t still be enjoyable, and I did find this to be a spooky and interesting read. I just felt like I have already read it many times over.

Louisa, the main character in this story, has a very dry and almost cold personality. She lost her husband in the first world war and then her two children to the flu epidemic not long after so I can understand why she is written this way. It suits her story but I found her very hard to connect with. She just didn’t have much of a personality and it makes her very hard to connect with or care about. She has issues with her second husband, the man she is about to have a baby with, as she describes him as being cold and distant but I feel like that can’t be entirely his fault as she is so closed off herself.

As for the actual story, there’s plenty of ghostly happenings and larger than life characters and a nice, satisfying ending – something that I find is rare in a ghost story.

It has a nice, creepy feel to it, I enjoyed it and I think it is just right for curling up with under a blanket in the darker winter months. There’s just nothing special enough about it to make it stand out from the genre.

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

The Quickening
Rhiannon Ward
Horror
February 6th 2020
Kindle
320

The Silversmith’s Wife by Sophia Tobin

Silversmiths wife cover

The year is 1792 and it’s winter in Berkeley Square. As the city sleeps, the night-watchman keeps a cautious eye over the streets and another eye in the back doors of the great and the good. Then one fateful night he comes across the body of Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, lying dead, his throat cut and his valuables missing. It could be common theft, committed by one of the many villains who stalk the square, but as news of the murder spreads, it soon becomes clear that Renard had more than a few enemies, all with their own secrets to hide.

At the centre of this web is Mary, the silversmith’s wife. Ostensibly theirs was an excellent pairing, but behind closed doors their relationship was a dark and at times sadistic one and when we meet her, Mary is withdrawn and weak, haunted by her past and near-mad with guilt. Will she attain the redemption she seeks and what, exactly, does she need redemption for?

Rich, intricate and beautifully told, this is a story of murder, love and buried secrets.

My Thoughts

Silversmiths wife cover

3 / 5 stars

The Silversmith’s Wife is a very slow-moving story of the shocking murder of a silversmith and the impact it has on the lives of the people around him.

This is a book full of people with secrets. It touches on different people and their thoughts but never shows us their whole, much is kept hidden, often the people in the story don’t understand themselves their own thoughts and actions. It makes it a murky story to read but I find it a much more accurate portrayal of the human character than those books where everyone seems to have a defined purpose and clear cut opinions on everyone and everything. It just makes for more difficult reading.

I call it a murky story because not only the characters do odd things and their motivations are often unclear, what they do is often unclear too. A lot of the big events seem to happen off-page and are alluded to or described very loosely for us to fill in the details ourselves.

Where it succeeds is in creating an oppressive, heavy atmosphere and a world that is brought to life with very detailed characters and lots of historical details. Everyone in the book seems trapped, miserable, held captive by the rules of society in lives that they don’t really want.

There are a lot of characters in the story, some drop in and out and I found it hard to remember who they were. Despite this wide cast of characters, it makes me feel like there are only 10 people in the whole of London and they all know each other and everyone is either a silversmith or the child or partner of one.

I don’t mind slow-moving stories but for me, this one is just too dreary and has too many miserable characters in it with murky motivations for me to really like it. Though saying that, I read it very quickly. Towards the end, it picks up the pace a bit and it leads us nicely to the revelation of who really did kill the silversmith.

The diary entries from Pierre Renard, the murdered man, at the start of each chapter were really what kept me reading. In each one, we find out more of the secrets of his life and find out more about how cruel and self-obsessed he really was. Without them, I feel I would have become bored very quickly because the story is so slow-moving and seems to follow people around a lot without much really happening. Mary, the Silversmith’s Wife is an especially dull person. Though it’s part of the story that she has become that way through Pierre’s treatment of her, it still makes her very difficult to read. The excerpts from Pierre’s diary show the other side – he was not a nice man and through these excerpts I found myself finding the sympathy towards his wife that the story needs.

Read this one if you like slow-moving and dark stories full of historical detail but if you’re looking for an exciting murder story, then this probably isn’t one for you.

 

The Silversmith's Wife
Sophia Tobin
Mystery
January 16th 2014
Paperback
448

The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

the sisters grimm cover

This is the story of four sisters Grimm – daughters born to different mothers on the same day, each born out of bright-white wishing and black-edged desire. They found each other at eight years-old, were separated at thirteen and now, at nearly eighteen, it is imperative that they find each other once again.

In thirty-three days they will meet their father in Everwhere. Only then will they discover who they truly are, and what they can truly do. Then they must fight to save their lives and the lives of the ones they love.

My Thoughts

the sisters grimm cover

3 / 5

I was so confused by the start of this that I very nearly gave it up as a bad job.

The narration jumps not just between 5 different characters but also two different times, giving a short burst from each one before cycling back round to the start. It took at least a third of the book before I got a grasp on it, I felt like every time I started to get into the story it threw me back out again.

I don’t like the idea that abusive men can be changed by love and that felt like a very strong theme here. Leo comes across as almost a psychotic killer, murdering the Grimm Sisters every chance he gets in revenge for one of them killing his friend – even though it was self-defence. But he meets Goldie and even though at first, his aim is to get to find out her weaknesses to make it easier to kill her too, his love for her changes him to the point where he would die to protect her.

What kind of message does that send to young people that might be reading this book? Don’t give up on abusive partners because your love might be the thing that saves them? Personally I think that Goldie should have run very far and very fast to get away from Leo.

Unhealthy relationship issues aside, the writing style I found captivating and when I got the hang of the jumping around and got into the flow of it I found it a beautiful story to read. The character development – the glimpses into their lives and their personalities is in-depth and insightful. I did start to enjoy it but then I found the ending super rushed and I found it overwhelming for all that build-up to end so abruptly.

I just can’t get past my issues with the way it portrays relationships though and that, added to the difficult start and rushed ending, are a massive let down for what could otherwise have been a jewel of a book.

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

 

The Sisters Grimm
Menna van Praag
Young Adult Fantasy
February 6th 2020
Kindle
496

Revenger (Revenger #1) by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger Cover

The Blurb

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilizations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives.

And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them.

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It’s their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded by layers of protection–and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

Revenger is a science fiction adventure story set in the rubble of our solar system in the dark, distant future–a tale of space pirates, buried treasure, and phantom weapons, of unspeakable hazards and single-minded heroism and of vengeance.

My Thoughts

Revenger Cover

3 / 5 stars

Alistair Reynolds writes some fantastic sci-fi and the world he has created here is weird and as interesting as ever. How can I not like a book with space pirates and treasure hunting in?

Unfortunately, the main character wasn’t compelling enough to carry the story. I liked the idea of Fura Ness but actually I couldn’t stand her. Her ego is way out of control and we hear time and again how events have changed her, how she has lost all emotions and will do anything now for revenge. I want to root for her, a female character that is cold and ruthless, but honestly, it comes across as showing off. If her actions were left to speak for themselves I might have been able to connect with her more.

Apart from Fura, I liked the book. I was really enjoying it when Fura and her sister Adrana signed onto Mornetta’s Mourn to get away from their over-controlling father. They sign on with a crew of treasure hunters as bone readers and start to understand the whispers that come from an alien skull that allows the ship to pick up leads on treasure – strange planet style ships that are full of valuable alien tech. The crew is full of interesting characters and the story is interesting and I started to think that I would love this book.

But then their treasure hunting adventure goes badly wrong and that’s where Fura Ness starts to get annoying. I did enjoy the rest of the book but I couldn’t help thinking I’d rather be reading about their adventures as treasure hunters rather than Fura Ness’ revenge quest.

I loved the sci-fi and I loved the weirdness but I just couldn’t connect with the main character. It’s still one of the better young adult sci-fi books I’ve read but if there are any sequels to this I hope they are about different people.

Revenger
Revenger
Alastair Reynolds
Young Adult Sci-Fi
September 15th 2016
Paperback
425

The Drowning City (The Necromancer Chronicles #1) by Amanda Downum

The Drowning City Cover

The Blurb

Symir – the Drowning City. home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government.

For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown. All she has to do is find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces of Symir. But she is torn between her new friends and her duties, and the longer she stays in this monsoon-drenched city, the more intrigue she uncovers — even the dead are plotting.

As the waters rise and the dams crack, Isyllt must choose between her mission and the city she came to save.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

The Drowning City Cover

Isyllt Iskaldur is a necromancer sent to the occupied foreign city of Symir to aid the rebels fighting to regain control. Her interest isn’t altruistic though, her sole intention is to distract the Emporer from pursuing an invasion attempt against her own country.

Symir, the city she is sent to, is a city with waterways and masked balls, reminiscent of Venice. It’s supposedly full of pirates, smugglers and exiles and the locals have a rich culture and worship the river.

From the description, this book sounds like it should have a strong atmosphere with lush places but I didn’t get a feel for the city or the world at all. Even the bustling marketplaces felt flat, like a trip around the 5 stalls that are left in Wakefield city centre nowadays,

It didn’t help that I was confused by all the different names – the places, the races, the military and terrorist groups, the types of mage; I was well and truly lost by how it all fitted together. It’s one of those that drops you straight into the middle of a story without stopping to explain anything but I didn’t feel like it even drip-fed the info, it just didn’t bother with it at all.

I’ve no idea on how the magic system is supposed to work and with Isyllt being a necromancer that should have been interesting and well rounded. So she has a diamond where she can trap the souls of the dead that haven’t moved on but her other abilities are fuzzy and it felt like they were made up when needed to get her out of a fix.

A saving grace though, the characters were all done well, a lot more time was spent on them than the world they inhabited. I felt like I knew Isyllt I just had no idea what she was supposed to be doing and actually, in the end, she went all that way just to give a bit of money to the revolutionists. What was the point of sending her? She didn’t do much to help the revolution at all. I did like her though, she just muddled through getting into fights and making a mess around her but she felt genuine and relatable.

Lots of good ideas and the characters were done well but overall very dry and a bit confusing. I reckon the sequel could be better and I’d be willing to give it a go.

The Drowning City
The Necromancer Chronicles
Amanda Downum
Fantasy
September 1st 2009
Paperback
351

Ink (Skin Books #1) by Alice Broadway

Ink Cover

The Blurb

There are no secrets in Saintstone.

From the second you’re born, every achievement, every failing, every significant moment are all immortalized on your skin. There are honourable marks that let people know you’re trustworthy. And shameful tattoos that announce you as a traitor.

After her father dies, Leora finds solace in the fact that his skin tells a wonderful story. That is, until she glimpses a mark on the back of his neck; the symbol of the worst crime a person can commit in Saintstone. Leora knows it has to be a mistake, but before she can do anything about it, the horrifying secret gets out, jeopardizing her father’s legacy and Leora’s life.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 Stars

An interesting central idea but beyond that, there is nothing original about Ink.

A young woman with fantastic abilities or an unusually strong will realises how unequal and prejudiced her society is and takes on the fight to change it. There’s a stong Hunger Games / Divergent influence going on here. There is even a series of tests to decide what career you will have for the rest of your life.

Leora is not quite a strong enough character to carry a whole book series, she is dull and mostly uninteresting. But I can maybe forgive that for being intentional. The most interesting thing about her is actually that she is just another normal citizen – she’s a sheep, as sold on the propaganda as everyone else around her. For most of this book, she stays that way. Seeing the way she is forced to see things that don’t gel with the ‘truths’ of her society and the way she still tries to reconcile that with what the government she trusts completely tells her is the best thing about this book. There is some character growth for her along with a lot of potential for her to develop some personality for the next books.

If the normal side of her was played up more I would have been more into this but Leroa is too special. An amazing tattooist, a unique ability where she can read people’s tattoo’s and tell their whole life story, she’s too unusual and too amazing and it doesn’t fit with the normal girl feel to the start of it. Hunger Games and Divergent worked because the main characters were always odd bods, Ink had the chance to do something different with Leroa but the got ditched by the wayside by the end of this first book.

The focus around tattoos I enjoyed. Leora is training to be a tattooist, a career not many, if any, women in her society choose. Though I don’t know really why that was included because not much is made of it. Leora doesn’t face much discrimination, it takes the tattooist she is apprenticed to about a week to decide she is the most amazing thing in the world ever.

I also appreciate how morbid it is, when Leora’s father dies his skin is taken off and made into a book of his tattoos. In this way, he and all of Leora’s ancestors live on in the memories of their family. To add to this they have the continuous naming ceremonies where the names of all the dead are read out one by one in a bid to keep the memory of every person alive.

There is enough here to give this book it’s own personality but it’s too obviously the same story at the bottom of it all.

Young adult dystopia by numbers, it’s not a bad book but it doesn’t live up to the originality of the world it’s created. Beautiful cover though.

Ink
Skin Books
Alice Broadway
Young Adult Sci-Fi
February 2nd 2017
Paperback
366

Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) by Julie Kagawa

soul of the sword cover

The Blurb

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.

Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

I really struggled to get into this. It felt like there was nothing happening, the story feels like filler – like a setup for the final book. And I’m sick of Yumenko’s running commentary on what her insides are doing, we get details of how her blood is chilling and her stomach is churning, the girl needs to sort out her diet.

I still love the setting and the world – there’s more on the empire and the places and people in it, and more of the monster world too which I found interesting. I could read about the different demons all day and I love how they’re based on Japanese folklore.

I was hoping for more development of the members of Yumeko’s gang too but it felt like that had been skipped over and they just ended up as space-filling caricatures. It spends longer with them but they’re not filled out any more than they were by the end fo the first book. Reika could be such an interesting person, her personality and her skills remind me of Rei from Sailor Moon, but all she does is scowl at everyone and disapprove of everything anyone does. Okame and Daisuke have a relationship building but it felt forced into the story.

The fun side quests and the adventure feel of the first book were also sadly missed. The stakes were definitely upped at the end of the first book and there is more danger and a bigger fight to face but it didn’t get dark enough to make up for the fun feel being ejected.

I also missed the interaction between Yumeko and Tatsumi. The other characters didn’t have the same spark to make up for it and when Yumeko and Tatsumi meet up again at the end it highlights what a big gap their interactions left in the story.

The ending though I loved! No spoilers but it was exciting and unexpected and lived up to the build-up and set the scene perfectly for the next book.

The story is still interesting and even if this book didn’t meet my expectations I still need to see where it goes and how it ends. I’m hopeful for the next book and I will be excited to get my hands on it.

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

Soul of the Sword
Shadow of the Fox
Julie Kagawa
Young Adult Fantasy
June 25th 2019
Kindle
304

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted book cover

The Blurb

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

My Thoughts

3 / 5

Not as much romance as I wanted but I did appreciate the strong theme of friendship running though the story.

After reading the description I was hoping for a fun romance between Agnieszka and Sarkan and it did start out that way with lots of mystery from Sarkan and sarkiness from Agnieszka. But just as I was starting to enjoy the interactions between them and it looked like things were heating up the romance side of the story is just ditched when Agnieszka leaves for the capital.

I loved the first half of the book – it starts out with a lot of banter between them and Agnieszka is struggling with learning the magic basics. You can really see the Beauty and the Beast influence here and it’s fun watching the balance of power between them change as Agnieszka finds her strength in her abilities and her confidence grows.

After the halfway point Agnieszka started to irritate me with her amazing abilities that appear just when she needs them and her lucky escapes. Then Sarkan disappears from the story altogether just as we start to get to know him and the spark and the contrast between that made the story so lively is gone.

The story gets more exciting but it doesn’t feel like anything special. It feels like I’ve seen this story over and over again recently. A young woman is looked down upon and treated like she is a second class citizen but finds that her abilities are super special and she starts to outshine and outwit everyone around her.

What I did appreciate is the way Agnieszka’s confidence grows and she becomes much more sure in herself and her abilities, though it eventually goes too far with this. She forges her own path and isn’t afraid to go against the popular appearance. She is the hero of the story and the removal of Sarkan makes this clear. By the end though she is so amazing and so fantastic and kind and wonderful that it gets a bit grating.

Friendship is a strong theme running through the book, Agnieszka and Kasia are the real stars of the story, I think this should have been the focus all the way through, adding a romance into the story just took away from this. Kasia and Sarkan are never fully realised, dropped in and out when it suits the story and it would have been nice to get to know at least one of them in-depth, and maybe see their side of the story.

The writing is beautifully done though, by far the best thing about the book. And to be fair, Agnieszka was always just the right side of too irritating to live. The way she was written made her more enduring than annoying, but only just.

I expected more after all the hype about it, but it’s an enjoyable coming of age adventure story and it’s very well written.

Uprooted
Naomi Novik
Young Adult Fantasy
May 12th 2016
Paperback
435

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones Cover

The Blurb

For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split. Nobody ever knew why. Until now. They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out.

This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently. The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot onstage at the Whisky, their lives were irrevocably changed. Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

Addictive reading but there’s nothing innovative or new in it.

The blurb promised dramatic secrets and explosive events and actually, it was just that someone fancied someone else and there were too many drugs going around. Nothing exciting really.

I liked the interview format, I felt that worked really well with the idea that the book is telling the back story of a 70’s rock n’ roll band. It makes it quick reading too.

It’s really well written though and it brought the atmosphere of 70’s music and glam lifestyle that I wanted from it. If there had been more interesting secrets then I think it would have lived up to the hype.

It’s a fun, holiday-worthy read but I wanted something more dramatic from it.

Daisy Jones and The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Fiction
March 7th 2019
Hardback
368