Jeff VanderMeer’s ACCEPTANCE

9780007553556The conclusion to The Southern Reach trilogy left with mixed feelings. The first two books were intensely gripping and dream inducing which permeated with a sense of both wonder and foreboding. Each book was told from a single character’s perspective and laid out individual pieces of a much bigger and complex puzzle.

In the final book we get a number of different perspectives. We start with the lighthouse keeper, Saul Evans, who we have learned previously is somehow intrinsically linked to the events leading up to the creation of what has become known as Area X. We also get the story of the former Director of The Southern Reach, who was replaced at the beginning of the second book. And we learn the fates of our first two narrators; The Biologist/Ghostbird and Control.

Unfortunately the finale lost me. The jumping around of perspectives watered down the moodiness and sense of dread that Jeff VanderMeer so carefully built-in the first two books. There were moments of abject wonder but the tone and foreboding fizzled out. After creating something seemingly unexplainable and slowly trying to explain it there were still more questions than answers by the end. I love an ending full of ambiguity but I felt more lost than when I started.

But maybe that was the point. VanderMeer’s trilogy had a great environmental theme running through it. The power of the environment to fight back and the various weapons it could deploy and the power it could harness; light, camouflage, adaptation, mutation, and the limited resources we have to actually fight back. But then other elements and possibilities were added to the mix which, for me, diluted what could have been a really great sci-fi trilogy.

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ISBN: 9780007553556
ISBN-10: 0007553552
Classification: Science fiction
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 2-Sep-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Adrian McKinty’s GUN STREET GIRL

9781846689819Sometimes a recurring crime character is brought back and the story feels forced or the attempt feels lame. But then there are those rare times when, despite the series being over, the character comes back and exceeds what has been done before. And that is exactly what Adrian McKinty has done with Sean Duffy.

In the last Sean Duffy book, In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, it appeared the series had finished with a bang. Adrian McKinty had flagged his intention to halt the Duffy books at three and had given us a more than satisfactory conclusion. Better to finish wanting more than for a fantastic character to get stale. However an idea came to McKinty for a book four but he still resisted until he dreamt how he would end that book and that was all he needed to give us book four in the Sean Duffy trilogy.

Not only has McKinty done it again in this book I think he has exceeded himself. The Sean Duffy trilogy was already something special and Gun Street Girl not only reaffirms that but makes it even better.

The year is 1985 and The Troubles are still in full, nasty swing in Belfast with the flames about to be fanned by the so-called Irish-Anglo Agreement. Sean Duffy is now and inspector and in charge of CID at Carrick RUC. When a local bookie and his wife a killed in what looks like a professional hit Duffy only takes a passing interest letting his detective sergeant take the lead and blood two new detectives. However when the case takes a nasty turn Duffy dives in up to his neck of course ruffling any (and all) feathers that get in his way. The bodies start piling up as Duffy quickly uncovers a plot well above his pay grade. But to crack this case he’s going to need someone to talk but the first thing they teach you in Northern Ireland is to never talk, especially to the RUC,  even when you’re supposed to be on the same side.

Full of McKinty’s wickedly black humour and brilliantly plotted this just maybe the best book in an exceptional series so far. Sean Duffy has come a long way from The Cold, Cold Ground but it is starting to leave its scars. I was reluctantly happy to see the series finish after three books but I think there is possibly a little more life in this awesome series to come. At least I hope so!

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ISBN: 9781846689819
ISBN-10: 1846689813
Classification: Crime & mystery
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 8-Jan-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Karen Joy Fowler’s WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES

9781846689666It would not have surprised me if this had won this year’s Man Booker Prize. My heart was supporting Richard Flanagan’s magnificent The Narrow Road To The Deep North but I had a feeling this was going to get the nod. In the end it didn’t win but it would have been a deserving winner if it had.

This book ticks a number of boxes for me. It is about a dysfunctional family, it is predominantly set in a college and does both with a very clever twist. It is also told in a non-linear fashion by an unreliable narrator (whose unreliability is perfectly understandable). Just like Jeffrey Eugenides did with Middlesex this is also a compelling exploration of nature vs nurture told with an originality that is fascinating, entertaining, tragic and endearing.

The book is told by Rosemary who in her 40s is looking back at her life. While Rosemary is an unreliable narrator she is upfront about it and in recounting her story out-of-order our judgements and sympathies about her are tempered in different lights.

Rosemary’s childhood was far from normal. She and her twin sister Fern were the subject of a social experiment conducted by her father. The experiment seemingly ended when Rosemary turned five and Fern was sent away. This event was the beginning a fracture that slowly tore the family apart. Rosemary and Fern’s old brother Lowell would eventually run away from home, barely staying in contact, and the unspoken blame for both events would erode Rosemary’s relationship with both her parents and make it hard for her to form any new ones through school and into college.

This is a wonderful exploration of families, siblings and growing up and our are ideas about what they are and should be. It is one of those great novels that not only make you think but change the way you think. Full of humour, empathy and sadness it will ultimately reaffirm the power and importance of family, whatever shape or form it comes in.

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ISBN: 9781846689666
ISBN-10: 184668966X
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 21mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 19-Jun-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Jeff VanderMeer’s AUTHORITY

9780007553525 (1)The second book in the Southern Reach trilogy turns the story’s perspective around and begins with a couple of awesome twists. The first book, Annihilation, detailed a scientific exploration of Area X where some kind of environmental disaster has occurred. Events took a turn for the worse and now an investigation is underway to try and work out what went wrong and why.

John “Control” Rodriguez has been brought in to replace the previous Director of The Southern Reach who oversaw the previous expeditions. He needs to get up to speed on both the last expedition and what is happening within the clandestine organization which is The Southern Reach. As he begins his investigation and starts conducting interviews he unearths confronting truths about Southern Reach’s work as well as himself. A truth he is not sure he can trust especially when he may not even be able to trust himself.

While the perspective and tone shifts in this second book an ominous sense of dread remains permeating through the text. The hairs on the back of your neck will literally prickle as “Control”gets closer to unravelling, both the truth and figuratively.

While I can’t wait to read the next book I think I need a break to catch my breath and prepare myself for what I can’t only imagine will be a mind-blowing finale.

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ISBN: 9780007553525
ISBN-10: 0007553528
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945) , Science fiction
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 6-May-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Peter Stenson’s FIEND

9780099558835I love a good zombie story especially when it is done with a fresh twist. And this zombie thriller certainly comes from a different angle.

Chase is a meth addict. When he sees a little girl attack a rottweiler he’s pretty sure he is seeing things. But when the little girl then turns on him and his best friend Type he’s knows he’s not hallucinating and that they have both missed the end of the world because of a drug fueled binge. Now they must fight for their survival, which is not that big a stretch for them considering they have had more than enough practice trying to get a fix everyday.

This novel starts off great and has some really wicked humour littered throughout. Unfortunately the schtick gets tired very quickly especially when the methamphetamines they are addicted too seems to also be the only thing keeping them alive. A few more twists would have been nice and a little bit less gratuitous drug use as well as it all becomes a bit glorified halfway through the book.

With zombie stories back in a big way at the moment this needed a little something extra to get it across the line. In the end it felt a little too similar to its tag line of ‘Breaking Bad meets The Walking Dead’ with the originals far, far better. The Girl With All The Gifts was a better zombie story told from a different angle and Zone One did zombie satire way better too. This was good entertainment but possibly had the potential for more.

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ISBN: 9780099558835
ISBN-10: 0099558831
Classification: Horror & ghost stories
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 19mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Windmill Books
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Jun-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Jeff VanderMeer’s ANNIHILATION

9780007550692I had an early ARC of this book but kept putting off starting it. The blurb intrigued me (which was the reason I asked for an ARC) but just didn’t have the impetus to actually start it. Part of it was dystopian/end of the world fatigue and the other part was there have been so many damn good books this year that it is too easy to miss books or let good ones stagnate in your ‘to be read’ pile.

Annihilation is also the first book in a serial, The Southern Reach Trilogy. So now that the third book has been released (all three were published this year) I finally got the push to start it. And immediately regretted not reading it sooner. Part early Michael Crichton (the good stuff) and part original Alien movie (and part something else but I can’t say because SPOILER!!), I was instantly hooked.

Jeff VanderMeer has written an intriguing science fiction story set in the not-to-distant future. A wide area of land has been cordoned off from the world for thirty years after some kind of environmental catastrophe. Attempts to investigate the area have all been met with disaster. Four scientists; a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist; must journey into this possibly dangerous unknown as part of the twelfth expedition. As they conduct their investigation a wicked sense of foreboding slowly builds with a not quite present horror. Nothing is as it seems as the scientists are slowly influenced by the environment around them but also from within. All of which, of course, makes for addictive reading.

I may have been late to this series but I also have the benefit of not having to wait for book two which I am going to dive straight into.

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ISBN: 9780007550692
ISBN-10: 0007550693
Classification: Science fiction
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 4-Feb-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Naoki Higashida’s THE REASON I JUMP

9781444776775Translated by David Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida this is a fascinating look into the world of autism. Written by a 13 year old boy, using an alphabet board, this book is a first hand account of what it is like for somebody with autism.

There is not a lot known about autism and I personally do not know anybody diagnosed with the disorder. The are a lot of myths about autism and assumptions made by people like myself who have no second hand experience with the disorder. A book like this gives an amazing insight and perspective into what the disorder is like and the effects confusion and misunderstanding has on those diagnosed with autism.

The book is set out as a series of common questions about autism that Naoki tries to answer. His answers are clear and empathic. They do not offer solutions or any advice but simply convey what dealing with autism is like for him and an attempt to try an explain the reason behind behaviour and emotional responses. There are no clinical explanations just the thoughts and observations of a thirteen year old boy which ultimately give a unique and brilliant insight into a disorder we still know so little about. Interspersed with Naoki’s answers and observations are short stories he has written that further demonstrate the intelligence, empathy and creativity he possesses.

This is a remarkable book about a remarkable disorder written by a remarkable person.

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ISBN: 9781444776775
ISBN-10: 1444776770
Classification: Autobiography: general , Coping with illness & specific conditions , Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome
Format: Paperback (197mm x 164mm x 15mm)
Pages: 192
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 24-Apr-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom