The Bees by Laline Paull

the bees cover

Enter a whole new world, in this thrilling debut novel set entirely within a beehive.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

My Review of The Bees

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the idea and the glimpse of life inside a beehive but I wasn’t convinced by the way the bees have human emotions and such human social structures.

I also didn’t like the way that Flora was always at the forefront of events. She was a bit too perfect to be likeable, she was always the first to jump into a fight and always the one to have the discussions with outsiders and be the saviour of the beehive. She didn’t care at all for herself or her own safety, just for the hive as a collective and for her children. A Mary-Jane in bee form!

It’s well written though and easy to read – it would make a good summer holiday novel. I can’t help thinking that because the story is quite simple but requires a rather large suspension of disbelief it would have been better as a children’s book.

The story is certainly something different though and it has made me think (worry!) more about bees and especially how they must be suffering this year after all the flowers have died in the long, hot summer.

So, it’s interesting but didn’t hit the mark for me, it was just too forced – the story felt like it fit around the events the author wanted to happen and not the other way round.

The Bees
Laline Paull
Fantasy
January 1st 2015
Paperback
352

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

the lie tree cover

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder – or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

My Review of The Lie Tree

The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Lie Tree is set in the time when the Origin of the Species was rocking faith in creationism. Faith’s father is a vicar and a scientist who is a firm creationist supporter. The family has good social standing and an easy life until a scandal causes him to lose his job and his reputation. All of a sudden the family have to uproot themselves and move to a remote island.

When Faith’s father dies Faith finds his notes that tell of a plant he is cultivating that can show you the truth, but only if you feed it lies. The lie tree is supposed to show the truth but I think Faith realises that it only shows us visions of things we already know to be true but we just didn’t want to face.

Her father is horrible! I hate to say it but I was willing him to hurry up and get written out. He was a nasty character and I thoroughly hated him.

Faith irritated me for most of the book. She was very naive, she didn’t look past appearances. She hero-worshipped her horrible father and she didn’t think much at all of her mother, who was the one trying to hold the family together with the only tools women in Victorian times had – charm and manipulation of the men. Faith believed that other women were weak and useless, spending their time gossiping and worrying about social status. She thought herself the only smart and useful woman, she couldn’t recognise that other women were smart too and very clever at surviving in the world the only way they could.

But the author does very well at bringing to life the awkward stage the time between child and adult. Faith was stuck between both worlds, existing in neither and both at the same time. The Lie Tree is more a coming of age story than anything else: Faith loses her father which makes her look outside herself and she starts to see behind appearances. She has some nasty shocks that show her that what you see isn’t always what you get and people aren’t always what they pretend to be.

I have to admit that she redeems herself in the end. My favourite part of the whole book is when Faith realises how blind she has been accepting standard beliefs about women. She is not the only woman that does not fit in.

“I’m not like other women but neither are other women”

I thought the whole thing about the Lie Tree was a bit daft. I don’t know if it was supposed to be magic or magical realism but it wasn’t convincing either way. The danger Faith was supposed to be in didn’t feel real either. I enjoyed the coming of age theme about Faith waking up to the world but it just didn’t make for a very exciting story.

The Lie Tree
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
May 7th 2015
Paperback
410

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

elanor Oliphant Cover

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than…fine?

My Review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I loved Eleanor as a character but her backstory was traumatic and chilling. It’s not the warm, funny book people say it is.

We’re supposed to find Eleanor awkward and quirky and socially awkward, but mostly a funny character; like Sheldon in the big bang theory. But her quirks were there because she had suffered abuse as a child. It’s not funny when someone is a bit odd because of trauma.

I understand from the interview in the back that the author was trying to write about modern loneliness but why did Eleanor have to have such a traumatic history just as a reason to be lonely? It made the story become about childhood abuse, not loneliness, and I’m not convinced the author knows enough about that subject and how people deal with it to be writing about. It felt thrown in there to give Eleanor a backstory to make her socially awkward.

As a lighthearted romance that touches on loneliness, I would have enjoyed this. It was very easy to read and I cared about the characters. I just don’t think it did justice to the child abuse and mental health issues that were raised.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman
Fiction
January 25th 2018
Paperback
383

Exodus (Raging Earth #1) by Julie Bertagna

exodus cover

In a drowned world, can refuge be found?

Less than a hundred years from now, the world as we know it has disappeared beneath the sea. Only fifteen-year-old Mara has the vision and the will to lead her people in search of a new beginning in this harsh, unfamiliar world.

Exodus (Exodus, #1)Exodus by Julie Bertagna
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Exodus is enjoyable, intelligent and sometimes kinda dark. It’s a young adult sci-fi about what happens when the ice caps melt and the world is flooded. How does humanity survive when there is no land left on Earth?

I liked the writing style: I could imagine Mara’s storm swept island home, the refugee camp was far too real and the glass and hi-tech city in the sky felt very realistic. The dialogue was believable and the characters, even minor ones, were given personality. The world really came to life for me.

I also like that the author wasn’t scared to make the story darker – Mara loses her whole family and sees some absolute horrors in the refugee camp. It almost made me want to cry I was so scared for her. And the bit where she faces off against Tony Rex – I did not expect that! You know that’s gonna come back to bite her later on.

Environmental issues are handled sledgehammer style though. It became a bit more about making a point than about Mara’s story. And it didn’t have anything new to say about the issues (though it is over 10 years old, maybe it was more original back then?).

My other issue with Exodus is that everything was a bit too convenient. If Mara had a problem to solve solutions popped up very easily. Someone appeared to help her almost every time she was in trouble.

I would recommend this to people that like young adult sci-fi stories; probably best for the younger end of the young adult age range.

Exodus
Raging Earth
Julie Bertagna
Young Adult Sci-Fi
April 30th 2003
Paperback
320

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick

Electric Dreams Cover

The stories that inspired the original dramatic series, premiered January 12, 2018.

Though perhaps most famous as a novelist, Philip K. Dick wrote more than one hundred short stories over the course of his career, each as mind-bending and genre-defining as his longer works. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams collects ten of the best. In “Autofac,” Dick shows us one of the earliest examples (and warnings) in science fiction of self-replicating machines. “Exhibit Piece” and “The Commuter” feature Dick exploring favourite themes: the shifting nature of reality and whether it is even possible to perceive the world as it truly exists. And “The Hanging Stranger” provides a thrilling, dark political allegory as relevant today as it was when Dick wrote it at the height of the Cold War.

Strange, funny, and powerful, the stories in this collection highlight a master at work, encapsulating his boundless imagination and deep understanding of the human condition.

My Review of Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick's Electric DreamsPhilip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Electric Dreams is a collection of short stories that were the influence for the episodes in the recent tv series based on Philip K. Dick’s work.

The social and cultural side of a lot of them make the stories feel dated. A lot of the sci-fi is the standard stuff that was doing the rounds in the 50s / 60s – human style service robots etc. I don’t mind this, I love Arthur C. Clarke and Issac Asimov but I found it irritating here. Maybe because he’s touted as super modern and way ahead of his time? Also annoying is that the women are treated like daft bits of fluff that get in the men’s way.

He does have some very interesting ideas though and some of the stories I liked a lot. Autofac is one of my favourites, the idea of AI that runs away with itself due to thoughtless programming is so relevant to tech today that it’s chilling to read.

The Hanging Stranger is another one I liked. The suspense and the feeling of confusion the main character feels are spot on.

So some I liked and some I didn’t. Overall it’s an interesting read, especially to see where a lot of modern stories get their influences from.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams
Philip K. Dick
Sci-Fi
November 14th 2017
Paperback
224

Everything About You by Heather Child

everything about you cover

Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s.

It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know.

It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

Everything About YouEverything About You by Heather Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the idea behind the story and the way that it takes the tech we have today and extrapolates it all just that little bit into what we might have tomorrow!

It made it feel very realistic and relatable, like a world I’m excited to see. If anyone remembers Tomorrow’s World on the BBC, it made me think of that a lot while I was reading it (spaghetti plants aside).

Part of the story is that Freya is struggling to find her own space in the world and I get that, it just felt like she didn’t understand, and didn’t care to understand, basic things about how society works. She was so clueless it was hard to fully grasp the world and how it worked. It was like she’d just been dumped there and was a stranger herself. As the reader we learn the world through the characters and because Freya didn’t understand her world it made me feel lost, like basic parts of the plotline were passing me by.

As an example, Freya goes on a date she’s arranged online and 8 men turn up. She is confused and scared by it but after discussions with her virtual assistant appears to eventually grasp the situation – I never did.

But the more I think about the book after I’ve read it the more I like it. It makes important points about living in an echo chamber, how we need to be careful about passing off control of our own lives, and how much authority we give to artificial voices programmed to guess at what we might want.

I loved the storyline and the tech and I had a lot of sympathy for Freya but I felt like it was hard to get a grasp on the world. It stopped it from being a truly immersive book for me.

Everything About You
Heather Child
Sci-Fi
April 26th 2018
Hardback
352

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Salvation Cover

In 2204, humanity is expanding into the wider galaxy in leaps and bounds. A new technology of linked jump gates has rendered most forms of transporation–including starships–virtually obsolete. Every place on earth, every distant planet mankind has settled, is now merely a step away from any other. And all seems wonderful…until a crashed alien spaceship is found on a newly-located world 89 light years from Earth, harboring seventeen human victims. And of the high-powered team dispatched to investigate the mystery, one is an alien spy…

Bursting with tension and big ideas, this standalone series highlights the inventiveness of an author at the top of his game, as the interweaving story lines tell us not only how humanity arrived at this moment, but also the far-future consequences that spin off from it.

My Review of Salvation

SalvationSalvation by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, this took me a really long time to read! It starts out with a very interesting story about a crashed alien spaceship. Unfortunately, this story barely gets any page time until right at the end because most of the book is bogged down in not very interesting background stories for all of the characters. It introduces us to a cast of potentially interesting people but then doesn’t give enough time to get to know them to care really what their past stories are.

The back stories were very bog standard action thriller style, lots of heroic, smarter than everyone else manly men running around with guns fighting bad guys. It felt a lot like I imagine a Clive Cussler novel is like but with a sci-fi background to make it more souped up.

It also made me very sad to see the fight for gender equality hasn’t moved on from where we are now in all those years. The best female character in the book, an intelligent and resourceful spy, was there only to get into trouble and be saved by her hero husband.

When the story about the crashed alien ship did get going I actually enjoyed it and then the ending set the next book up to be potentially quite exciting.

There’s a lot that I liked and there are some very interesting ideas but it’s overwhelmed by the ‘black ops’ superhero backstories. It’s potential to be a good series is saved by the ending and I am interested in how the story continues, I’m just not sure if I’m interested enough to actively seek out the next book.

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

Salvation
Peter F. Hamilton
Sci-Fi
September 6th 2018
Paperback
576

Magonia (Magonia #1) by Maria Dahvana Headley

Magonia Cover

Since she was a baby, Aza Ray Boyle has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

My Review of Magonia

Magonia (Magonia, #1)Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I loved the writing style, it’s almost poetic and a bit dreamy but never too much that it overwhelms the story.

I didn’t like Aza or Jason to start with, every paragraph was about how intelligent and special they are and honestly, it made me hate them a little. And Aza is horrible to everyone, she’s nastily sarcastic and treats everyone like they are idiots. When Aza was kidnapped by the sky people though it’s turned around and she’s the one that has no idea what’s going on. She becomes a lot more likeable when she has no one she can act superior to!

The story is just too far-fetched: birds that live in your lungs and sing magic I could just about believe in, doors in chests, birds that turn into people, air plants? And people on the ground never see any of it? Hmm. I tried to go with it but it’s just too much “how is that even possible? It would never work” for me. It actually felt a lot like watching a pantomime.

In the end, the writing style won me over and I did enjoy reading it. I’m just not sure I want to read more of this daft story – I might look at the other books she’s written and try those instead.

Magonia
Magonia
Maria Dahvana Headley
Young Adult Fantasy
April 28th 2015
Paperback
309

My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children

It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.

My Real ChildrenMy Real Children by Jo Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Now.” “Never.” When her fiance Mark gives her an ultimatum about their wedding date, Patty’s life splits into two completely different paths. One where she marries him and becomes an isolated housewife with four children, and one where she ends their relationship and becomes a writer of travel guides.

I put this on my to-read list because I found it in a list of sci-fi books somewhere. I’ve noticed a lot of comments that it’s not a ‘proper’ sci-fi book (whatever that is) but I disagree. Maybe it’s the focus on women’s issues and lives that make people feel like it’s not really sci-fi? It certainly is a focus rarely seen in this genre. But there are moon bases and Mars missions going on in the background (including a marriage on the moon!) and of course the divergent / alternate histories – it’s as sci-fi as The Man in the High Castle anyway.

But more importantly than the question of is this really sci-fi or not, there is also a story good enough to make me just glad that I came across it, whatever it is. Both of Patty’s stories are by turns happy, fun and heartbreaking that had me hooked. I stayed up way past my bedtime reading this and I resented having to put it down.

My only issue is that the later years are just skimmed over, almost like too long was spent on Patty’s early life and there just wasn’t enough space in the book left for Patty when she was older. I felt like a lot got missed out in Patty’s lives and also the happenings in each of the worlds. The tech and politics in the two different timelines diverged a lot and I found it hard to keep track of what was happening in each because they were only mentioned in passing. The differences between them suddenly became a very important part of the story at the end of the book and I’d not paid enough attention to really understand the decision Patty had to make.

Aside from that, I found it very moving, with characters that I could care about. My emotions went up and down right along with Patty and both her families.

It’s a ‘can’t put it down’ novel that I very much enjoyed. I highly recommend it for your next holiday read! Just pay attention to what’s going on in the background a bit more than I did.

My Real Children
Jo Walton
Sci-Fi
May 20th 2014
Paperback
323

Scary Mary (Scary Mary #1) by S.A. Hunter

scary mary cover

Mary just wants to be left alone, but the cheerleaders, jocks, guidance counsellors, and ghosts won’t stop harassing her. When a new boy starts school, he surprises Mary by befriending her. That’s a rare thing for the school freak, but her unusual abilities put a rift in their budding friendship when Mary has to tell Cy that his home is haunted and not by Casper, the friendly ghost. Mary has to get rid of the ghost, thwart the school bully, do her homework, and not get detention. Mary’s sure she can do all of that except for the last part.

Scary Mary (Scary Mary, #1)Scary Mary by S.A. Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary is an outcast at her school, teased and bullied by the other kids because she is different. When a new kid, Cyrus, joins Mary’s school and shows an interest in her Mary is wary at first but soon starts to warm up to him.

But Mary really is different; she can hear ghosts, and when a ghost in Cyrus’ house starts causing mayhem Mary is the only one that can get rid of it.

This was a fun story to read. It’s fast-paced and full of ghost hunting action. I liked Mary and her sarcy voice, sometimes she came across as very immature but then she is a teenager so I can understand that. I admired the way she went after the ghost though. If it was me I would have just left Cyrus to it after he blamed her for damage she didn’t cause.

Clunky writing slowed the story down occasionally. Some bits read as though the author was making notes about what they wanted to happen, but then never actually got round to writing it.

“She remembered that she didn’t have his number or his address and got both from him. He got her info as well. After a few seconds of just staring dumbly at the scrap of paper with his address and number scrawled on it, Mary said to her shoes, “Well, I’ll see you this weekend.”

Other bits were just awkward and there were points when I couldn’t understand the things people were doing – why was Mary blamed for all the altercations with the other students? why did Mary stay for the seance? Why did Cyrus blame her for the damage?

The writings not brilliant but I enjoyed the story. It’s quick, fun and action packed but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to read the rest of the series.

Scary Mary
Scary Mary
S.A. Hunter
Young Adult Fantasy
August 16th 2006
Kindle
144