Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

My Thoughts

Project Hail Mary Cover

4 / 5 stars

I thought this was fab! Andy Weir has very much gone back to the style of The Martian and that’s not a bad thing because he’s very good at it.

The main character might feel an awful lot like a Mark Watney clone and he might be alone in space with only science to save him but give it a chance because Project Hail Mary really does have a personality of its own.

Now a whole book about someone doing science could easily become very dry, even with some big action, life-threatening moments, but there is a sense of humour that really lifts the story and keeps it interesting and fun. There are also some very human moments that keep it relatable and these things together make it into a proper page-turner, I just couldn’t put it down!

This is a fun and exciting book and it’s definitely worth picking it up!

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

Project Hail Mary
Andy Weir
Sci-Fi
May 4th 2021
Kindle
496

Semiosis (Semiosis Trilogy #1) by Sue Burke

Semiosis cover

In this character driven novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke, human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance.

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that mammals are more than tools.

Forced to land on a planet they aren’t prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape–trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect.

My Thoughts

Semiosis coverI wasn’t sure about this at first, it took me a while to settle into reading it but once I did I really enjoyed it.

The story kept surprising me, I thought at first that it was going to be daft and not make much sense but it worked really well. It turned out to be a thoughtful and convincing story and I liked how the plants had developed and had wars with each other and tried to subtly control the animals that lived off them.

I liked the development of Sterling, the alien plant intelligence. I was worried that he was going to become an evil dictator type that tries to control the community but it was much more complex than that. Sterling learned, made mistakes and grew along with the community as a whole.

So don’t let the underwhelming blurb fool you, this is an interesting read that is well worth picking up if you enjoy thoughtful sci-fi.

Semiosis
Semiosis
Sue Burke
Sci-Fi
February 6th 2018
Paperback
336

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 cover

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.

While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes.

But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

My Thoughts

337 coverThis was a compulsive read, it took me less than a day to finish it and though I found it kind of depressing in parts I was completely invested in the story and I wanted to find out what had happened.

I have to admit that I didn’t get what the upside-down pages were about. I think I started at the wrong end because I read them after finishing the story and actually it looks like you’re supposed to start with them. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to the story though, I thought maybe there was going to be an alternate viewpoint or some sort of secret added in there but unless I’m missing something there isn’t.

* Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. *

For me, 337 was all about Sam’s relationship with his family. His mother disappeared without a trace when he was a young boy and 20 years later Sam seems to be estranged from all his family. Now his grandma is dying and he reluctantly sits with her for her last few days. At first, he doesn’t want to be there due to a serious fall out in their past but he reconnects with her and his heart opens back up to her.

I found this very moving and quite sad to read – Sam seems very lonely and lost at the start, he is separated from his wife, he has no family around him, and he has a job he sleepwalks his way through. But when he visits his grandma and starts to talk to her about his past and he gets back in touch with his brother he seems to realise that the way he sees events are not necessarily the way that everyone else saw them.

It’s like he has been frozen since his mother left but his visit to his grandma forces him to open back up to his family and start to deal with what happened.

This is very moving, compelling reading and despite being hard going at times (I had to put it down halfway through and have a bit of a break) it ends on an upbeat mood.

And for those that don’t like books that don’t give an answer to their big mystery, don’t worry, you do actually find out what happened. Sort of.

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

337
M. Jonathan Lee
Fiction
Hideaway Fall
November 30th 2020
Hardback
337

The Witch’s Kind by Louisa Morgan

The Witches Kind Cover

From the author of A Secret History of Witches comes an absorbing tale of love, sacrifice, family ties, and magic, set in the Pacific Northwest in the aftermath of World War II.

Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte have always known that the other residents of their small coastal community find them peculiar — two women living alone on the outskirts of town. It is the price of concealing their strange and dangerous family secret.

But two events threaten to upend their lives forever. The first is the arrival of a mysterious abandoned baby with a hint of power like their own. The second is the sudden reappearance of Barrie Anne’s long-lost husband — who is not quite the man she thought she married.

Together, Barrie Anne and Charlotte must decide how far they are willing to go to protect themselves — and the child they think of as their own — from suspicious neighbours, the government, and even their own family

My Thoughts

The Witches Kind Cover

This story was not what I was expecting!

It definitely surprised me, in a good way, but I was expecting a gentle story about witches in 1940’s America. This veers off from that very quickly and has more to do with Roswell and aliens than it does witchcraft.

But actually, neither of those things is the focus of the book and it is more a story of a woman growing up in the early half of the 20th century and learning how to be confident and believe in herself. Barrie-Anne comes from a long line of women with very strong intuitive powers and even does she tries to follow the standard path of marriage and children she finds that her life is not going to be a conventional one.

I loved the way that it was written and I found that I was very quickly engrossed in the story of Barrie-Anne’s life. I couldn’t put it down and it only took me a couple of days to read it.

It’s not what it sounds like it’s going to be but don’t let that put you off. This would be a perfect book to curl up with on a rainy winter’s afternoon.

The Witch's Kind
Louisa Morgan
Fantasy
March 19th 2019
Paperback
440

Black Unicorn (Unicorn #1) by Tanith Lee

black unicorn cover

Nobody knew where it had come from, or what it wanted. Not even Jaive, the sorceress, could fathom the mystery of the fabled beast. But Tanaquil, Jaive’s completely unmagical daughter, understood it at once. She knew why the unicorn was there: It had come for her. It needed her. Tanaquil was amazed because she was the girl with no talent for magic. She could only fiddle with broken bits of machinery and make them work again. What could she do for a unicorn?

My Thoughts

black unicorn cover

Tanaquil is a young girl, completely unmagical, who doesn’t get on with her mother. She brings to life a unicorn that takes her on an adventure away from the home she has outgrown.

It sounds like just another YA story but The Black Unicorn really doesn’t feel like a YA story. That, I feel, is due to it being written by Tanith Lee who brings a sense of intelligence and maturity to everything that she writes.

And there is nothing childish about this unicorn, magical and scary, this unicorn is fierce. You would not want to get on the wrong side of it!

It can be read as a coming of age story, Tanaquil matures a huge amount through the story and has to make some very mature and hard decisions by the end. Or it could just be a magical adventure story if you wanted it to be. As a main character, I thought she was fab – sensible and down to earth and just very normal.

This is one that I will be holding on to for future re-reads.

I recommend this to anyone that enjoys fantasy and adventure stories, it’s a YA story that really doesn’t feel like a YA story.

Black Unicorn
Unicorn
Tanith Lee
Young Adult Fantasy
1991
Kindle
188

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

the lost ones cover

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side.

My Thoughts

the lost ones cover

4 / 5 stars

An atmospheric and spooky ghost story, let down by an ending that fizzled out.

Stella is grieving the loss of her almost fiancee during the first world war. She returns home after serving as a nurse in France and has to find a way to live with her loss. Her sister Madeline helps her through the worst of her grief so when Madeline asks for her help Stella doesn’t hesitate and goes to stay with her in Greyswick, an imposing and unwelcoming country manor. But Madeline claims she is being haunted, she is hearing noises of children crying in the night time and strange objects are been left in her bed. Is Madeline right or is someone in the household tormenting her?

I found this so easy to get into. It has a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere right from the start and Stella and is an interesting character to read. The backdrop of the first world war and the loss of Stella’s fiancee gives the book a big emotional impact and adds weight to Stella’s belief in the ghost and her desperation to uncover the truth.

I felt though that once Stella started investigation the ghostly happenings it started to feel a bit flat. I liked the Agatha Christie influence but the spookiness was lost and the big revelations at the end didn’t have much impact. It ended with a load of people standing in a room talking about things and I wanted more from it.

But that’s a minor point in what I found to be a very enjoyable read. This is a rich and rewarding read and I’m very surprised that it seems to be the author’s first book. I will be looking out for more.

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

The Lost Ones
Anita Frank
Horror
October 31st 2019
Kindle
464

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

once and future witches cover

n 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

My Thoughts

once and future witches cover

4 / 5 stars

I loved the way this was written. It’s quite a harsh story with a lot of difficult realities to face in it but it also manages to be magical and heartwarming at the same time.

There was a lot going on in the story but I don’t think that any of the characters got lost in it, they were all well written with personalities that came across strongly. James Juniper was definitely my favourite character but I also liked Beatrice Belladonna – the shy and bookish middle sister that works in a library and has to dig deep to find the courage to stand up with her sisters in their fight to bring magic back to the world.

I loved the magic system and the way there was men’s magic and women’s magic and spells passed from parent to child so each family has their own knowledge and skills. Each chapter starts with a spell which is a nice touch that helps to bring the magic to life and ups the fairy tale feel.

It was mostly well paced but it did take me a while to read. Mostly because I was enjoying the way it went in-depth into each character and their lives and I wanted to stretch it out but I also felt it dragged a bit in the middle and my interest started to wander. It picked back up towards the end though and it ended strong.

I recommend this to anyone that likes stories about women and magic and standing up for what you believe in.

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

The Once and Future Witches
Alix E. Harrow
Fantasy
October 13th 2020
Kindle
528

Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge

Gullstruck Island Cover

The Blurb

On Gullstruck Island the volcanoes quarrel, beetles sing danger and fish can see the future. But look closer into the mists and you might glimpse…

The jewelled smiles of a persecuted tribe.
A tattooed band of warriors hell-bent on revenge.
A blue-skinned bounty hunter painted with the ashes of those he’s killed.
And two girls with a deadly secret, running for their lives.

My Thoughts

Gullstruck Island Cover

4 / 5 stars

A beautifully written and thoughtful adventure story.

Hathin is one of The Lace – a tribe isolated, distrusted and excluded from island life. Her sister Arilou is one of The Lost – certain people who can send their mind and their senses out from their bodies and roam around the island. They act as messengers, spies, weather predictors and are very highly regarded. But Arilou needs constant care because she seems unable to return her mind to her body.

Arilou is to be tested for her abilities by the government and her family hope that she will bring back respect and a better standing for The Lace as a whole. But on the day of the tests, The Lace are attacked and Hathin must take Arilou and run for their lives.

Hathin is brave and courageous but just a normal girl trying to do the best for her sister and her people. She’s not super intelligent, super strong or super caring and because of that, I found her easy to relate to and so even more inspiring.

The adventure is fun and scary at the same time, the story has a lot of darkness in it. It’s based on prejudice and genocide but manages to tackle these in a way where it feels like an important part of the story but not likes it is written just to be a moral lesson. The darkness is tempered by the fairy tale feel of the story and the tone is kept hopeful without being overwhelming.

As good a character as Hathin is, the real star of this book is Gullstruck Island itself. The different tribes and the landscapes feel real, the volcanoes are given personalities of their own with the myths that exist around them. This is a book that you can get lost in and the landscape and people of Gullstruck Island are a big part of that.

This book has everything – good story, good characters, a world that feels real and beautiful writing to hold it all together.

If I had to pick a fault with it there are maybe a few too many lucky escapes and convenient events that help Hathin along her way. She doesn’t always think her way out, sometimes it is just handed to her. But that’s kind of standard for an adventure story and didn’t spoil it too much, these kind of stories are always a little unrealistic.

I highly recommend this, if you want an adventure story, this is almost perfect.

Gullstruck Island
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
December 16th 2008
Paperback
499

Railsea by China Miéville

Railsea cover

The Blurb

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt. The giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death & the other’s glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham senses that there’s more to life. Even if his captain can think only of her obsessive hunt for one savage mole.

When they find a wrecked train, it’s a welcome distraction. But the impossible salvage Sham finds there leads to trouble. Soon he’s hunted on all sides: by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters & salvage-scrabblers. & it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Railsea is a young adult adventure story with a steampunk vibe, a Moby Dick retelling set in a dystopian future. The sea has been replaced with railway lines, ships with trains, and whales with giant moles that burrow through the ground.

China Mieville has reigned in his darker, grittier side, but not by as much as you might have imagined. I feel he strikes just the right balance for a young adult audience – they’re not daft and they don’t need to be sheltered from the realities of life but also the more twisted side of his writing has been left out. The book makes sense and is easy to follow without having to think too hard about it.

His sense of humour is front and centre though, he uses Moby Dick as an influence but also pokes fun at it at the same time. Each train captain has their nemesis mole, the one they feel compelled to hunt down and destroy, but what happens when two captains claim the same nemesis?

The story follows Sham, a teenager / young man who is looking for his purpose in life. He can’t settle to anything but sees joining a moler train as a way to feed his need for adventure.

I loved reading about life on the moler trains and I found it easy to lose myself in the world of Railsea. The Moby Dick influence is used as a starting point but it doesn’t feel like it confines or directs the story, it quickly breaks out into a tale of its own. There are a lot of other references to stories like Robinson Crusoe dropped in along the way too, picking them out is half the fun of the book!

My favourite characters: the Shaokes, twin inventors who are building their own train in a determined bid to go out and search for their lost parents. Meeting these two kicks Sham off on the adventure he’s always wanted as he joins them on their search. They also bring a lot more of the steampunk vibe in, which I love! In an alternate reality, I could imagine myself as a Shoake.

I read this on my honeymoon and finished it in less than a day. There’s a lot in here for adults too, it has youngish characters but it could just have easily been filed in the adult category. I was super excited to read it and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Railsea is as odd, inventive and strange as I’ve come to expect from China Mieville and I recommend to anyone who likes adventures, steampunk and a bit of weirdness.

Railsea
China Miéville
Young Adult Sci-Fi
April 25th 2013
Paperback
376

Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

stronger faster and more beautiful cover

The Blurb

For fans of television shows Black Mirror and Westworld, this compelling, mind-bending novel is a twisted look into the future, exploring how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen and what it means to be human at all.

Set in our world, spanning the near to distant futures, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel made up of six interconnected stories that ask how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimens, and how hard that will push the definition of “human.”

This extraordinary work explores the amazing possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension, as well as the ethical quandaries that will arise with these advances. The results range from the heavenly to the monstrous. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is groundbreaking in both form and substance.

My Thoughts

Speculative fiction focusing on the future of body mods – how might humans enhance themselves and the ethical issues and inequalities that this enhancement raises.

The book is laid out in 6 short stories, each one leading us further into a distant future. The stories are self-contained and focus on a different person in each time that has to face the ethics and issues raised by body mods and genetic engineering. Some of the characters I connected with more than others, funnily enough, even though the first story with the bullying and the mistreatment a girl faces at her school is the most relatable, I didn’t care for it at all. Some of the later stories though, especially terminally ill Jake who is modified against his will into a cyborg used by a big corporation for mining work, I found very moving.

I also really like the final story which concerns a group of people with no mods who are treated as research fodder for the more technically advanced majority. Forced to live in isolation they must not be allowed any tech or outside help to ensure that they stay as ‘pure’ as possible so they can be studied and kept as potential genetic material.

The author has a great imagination but has managed to keep a laser focus on the story she set out to tell. Even though she takes us to a distant future with some fancy tech and asks some big questions, the human side of the issues are kept front and centre. Even in the most distant of futures, the author is raising questions about things that affect people today.

This might be considered young adult fiction, and the characters are all teenagers, but there is issues here that everyone can relate to and ideas that challenge all of us. And best of both worlds because it’s entertaining to just read as a story too!

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful
Arwen Elys Dayton
Young Adult Sci-Fi
December 4th 2018
Paperback
384