Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Strange Magic by Syd Moore

There is a great deal to like in this the first in The Essex Witches Series, not least  a museum featuring the Tragic History of Essex as a hotbed for witchcraft accusations, and an inheritance  from an estranged Grandfather that is not entirely welcomed by both the remaining staff and by the headstrong recipient.

I enjoyed the numerous historical nuggets thrown liberally about to pepper the story with  historical authenticity which made the story feel more important to me as a bit of a feminist that Witchcraft on the whole was all about the subjugation of women who did not comply with masogynistic norms. The obvious passion for the subject from Ms Moore is evident in the careful way the complexities of the case of a real life woman have been woven into this fictional story.


The central characters of Rosie and Sam are complex and interesting and I was more than happy to tag along on this initial mystery with them. The idea of a Benefits Fraud investigator as a protagonist and her ability to read people is a great lead into her more untapped gifts (rather under utilised here sadly) which link her to a darker heritage I liked the slight frisson of sexual tension between them , but I was gratified that is did not become a romance with mysterious magical elements, but rather the opposite. Their interaction and the way their relationship was not quantified made it the more interesting.



The central possession was macabre but perhaps a little tamer than I was expecting, but as a foundational story  for a series, this was exciting enough to secure my further reading. I look forward to more.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

AARU by David Meredith


This review is born of a rare occurrence. I agreed to review without having the slightest inkling about what the book would be about!  I am a risk taker in my old age it seems!

This presented itself as a story about the longevity of self, of the mind and personality and the falability of the physical body  and it seemed to be a subject I could get my teeth into.

I immediately fell into the lives of Rose the terminally sick leaukemia sufferer and the younger sister she leaves grieving for her, when after a valiant battle the disease robs her of life. The boffins at a clandestine neuroscience lab intervene and have warded off true death by mapping and downloading her consciousness and memories into a mainframe that is designed to allow the cognitive and imaginative parts of a person's life to persist when the flesh has failed.

A utopia is forecast, a place where limitations are only due to a lack of imagination or will. Rose arrives and greeted by a kind of guide who teaches her how to utilise her new unbounded potential and  meanwhile her grieving family are offered wealth and comfort in return for acting as advocate for the project to obtain further funding and for that personal advocacy they get to see Rose on a screen from across the divide between physical and metaphysical existence.

The younger sister becomes the beautiful and innocent face of the company, is she being exploited, does the money and interaction with celebrity enough to justify giving her sister  up for the world to goggle at, to debate the morality

David Meredith treads a fine balance this could have been a book about the cerebral and moral arguments of human intelligence and personality versus the idea of  artificial intelligence being a living entity and I think I would have been content with that.  He touches on some of those issues and the first half of the book really did make me ponder, however the second portion of the book veered of into thriller territory.

A shadowy and sickly delusional  character  arrives on the scene and the story becomes a cat and mouse chase when sisters on both  sides of the divide are in equal peril culminating in a frightening reckoning.

There is some light romance and the creativity of the experience AARU universe is a real draw. It is a really interesting premise and there are a lot of  great ideas here.

Some minor issues though, sadly the book was let down by some pretty glaring spelling errors so my hope is that future instalments will be given  slightly more time on the editing and proof reading process as at times the errors took me out of the narrative and I beg Mr Meredith to not give in to the temptation to present a foreign accent phonetically, his Nordic character became strangely Jamaican, whilst other  nationalities accents are left to the reader's imagination! It is an oddity.

I would happily read more and enjoyment overode my subjective quibbles.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Chivalry a Short Story by Neil Gaiman.


This Short Story  from the king of modern British Fantasy was a delight from start to finish!

Neil Gaiman is swiftly becoming one of my very favourite fantasy writers, everything he writes seems to appeal to the whimsy in me!

The little old lady who rather fortuitously finds the Holy Grail in the Oxfam shop is so sweet, her days are bordering on the mundane, reciprocal visits with her friend who brings her own sweetener and the visits to the charity shop to pick up new romances from mills the and boon  stable at bargain prices (Mr Gaiman has heaps of fun on the titles!) all seem to coalesce into one.

The Grail itself is loved not for what it might get her, but for how it augments the shelf where the image of her husband (now passed on) resides.It brings value to her personally so is the more precious

Galahad arrives on a noble white steed on a quest for the cup of Christ but is put to work on the small lonely jobs she might normally have to do alone and despite being offered great treasures, she demurs. She knows what she can make room for in life, it is not great wonders, but ultimately company and someone to take care of.


There is a light Humour at play here that is classic Neil Gaiman, slightly skewed, always exceedingly clever. I loved it.


The experience was enhanced by this version being read by LeVar Burton as part of his new Podcast series of handpicked short fiction. 

LeVar Burton Reads is available on all Podcast platforms and I highly recommend it!



Monday, 24 July 2017

Midnight at the Bright Idea Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan



This was not the book I was expecting , but I am very much richer for the experience. This is the story of Lydia a bookseller with a nice boyfriend, with a reasonable apartment in an up and coming part of town. A bibliophile, respected and adored at work, but secretly a piece of human flotsam. Running from a childhood trauma she hides in plain sight with the  “book frogs”, the disenfranchised homeless and friendless who make the bookshop a home away from home.

The death of Joey one of her young regulars by his own hand, there  in the shop where he  and Lydia both had found succour and solace,sets off a chain of events  that will leave Lydia reeling. Joey’s Sudden and rash act whilst in possession  of something he had no earthly business having and the  resulting mysterious messages  seemingly from the grave that he has left for Lydia embedded in books, bring the vivid and terrifying events of another winter night so many years before into vivid relief for Lydia again. 

Lydia and everyone she has sought to avoid or protect are forced into an unavoidable collision, where truths can bring nothing but heartbreak.

I loved this book for its gritty but sympathetic treatment of people kept on the periphery of society. Lydia’s youth was tainted by tragedy, her future is even now foreshadowed because of that and  ultimately no-one truly escapes this story unscathed. The cleverly twisty plot provides a satisfying mystery but also asks the reader to examine  the true nature of cause and effect. The innocent and the guilty are all scalded by the revelations found within.

I was gripped by this story, where nothing is quite what it appears, It is a quest for a catharsis for Lydia. This journey piecing together the tattered remnants of another person’s trauma so intrinsically linked with her own means she is ends up no longer a helpless child  in an adult’s body, but is ultimately a stronger and more emotionally rounded person, ready to embark on life unencumbered by the ominous weight of the past but changed indelibly.

Many thanks to Netgalley, Penguin Random House and author Matthew Sullivan for the privilege of reading this book prior to realease on August the 24th 2017.





Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Mighty by Michael J Sanford


Subtitle : Book 1 The Druids Guise Trilogy

I found this an absorbing story and I enjoyed the various creatures constructs  and characters very much. I liked the dual realities idea although this first book seemed to move from one to the other in a slightly frenetic way that seemed to interrupt the narrative flow a tiny bit. 

I am not quite sure where it sits in terms of genre, sometimes a little young for a young adult audience, Wyatt seems to be fairly unworldly for a fifteen year old so his innocence in the strangeness of Hagion does not have the degree of contrast that a more considered teen persona might have.

That being said in places  the story is a little old for a  younger child audience, it is heavy on the violent death and has some moderate cursing that would be unsuitable for younger readers.

I am sure  that it will find a niche audience however ,It was a strong foundation for what i think is a very promising series, the action ratchets up at a fair pace as the final third unfolds and the cliffhanger will encourage return readers.


Solid three stars.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

What it means when a man fall from the sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah



This is an remarkably clever and layered short story, one of the best I have heard in the series that LeVar Burton has given us in his newest podcast venture. Written by a woman of colour of Nigerian descent writing in the USA. It is a great science fiction story, but leaves you ruminating on all manner of modern  issues.

It is described as speculative fiction, the "what if" something happens that we recognise might occur, but is outside our thinking on the current trajectory of our planet..

Here mathematicians have found a formula for Human flight, mathematicians have also discovered the way to recognise and determine how to literally subtract grief from people who have suffered a loss. 

Fabulous one might say, except that it is only a service offered to the most wealthy or from the most respected members of society. So far so familiar, although the Grief equation idea is fresh and vibrant.

What raises this story head and shoulders above others is the way it turns our prejudices on their head. Europe and America have been decimated by floods, the populations of those continents a refugee class seeking sanctuary on the African and Australasian land masses.




The British  are painted as an aggressively demanding minority, seeking reparation and special treatment,demanding to live together to protect their culture. A insightful and cutting commentary on the West's attitude to immigration.

All of the  accepted human faiths are now defunct only the truth of the infinite formula exists. Creation might be scientific, not from deities or Gods.

It made me sit and think for a long time after the reading was complete. A truly great story for the reader who likes to make up their own mind.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Blog Tour - Two Cousins of Azov by Andrea Bennett

Two Cousins Of Azov by Andrea Bennett

It seems there is  nothing I like  more(at least in my more recent book choices)  than a cantankerous and mysterious older gentleman. This startling change in my reading habits, coupled with a Russian setting to gently call to my own Baltic roots, makes my acceptance of the kind offer to take my place  as a reviewer stop on the Blog Tour for the new book "Two Cousins of Azov" a foregone conclusion

This second book by Andrea Bennett, a new release from Harper Collins turns out to be a very intriguing  blend. 

As the title suggests, this story centres around two cousins whose lives are being thwarted by constraint and confusion, hobbled by fear or guilt .

Gov, a conjuror of a “certain age” is  trying to stage a comeback whilst wearing in a new magician’s assistant. Gov has suddenly got quite a bit on his  hereto somewhat bland plate of late. Without fanfare, he is recently alarmed by several unusual occurrences, the unfortunate demise of a rabbit, an inexplicable loss of a boiled egg and shocking appearance of a face at the window when he is four floors up.




This apparition seems inextricably linked to the florid tales  of Anatolya, a  man with no memory of how he got there, but who is now the near silent inmate of an asylum. He remembers his youth however and it is there that  a naive and mildly self serving young doctor must allow him to begin 
as he delves into a search for the catalyst for the man’s current mental malaise. 

This callow youth’s attempt to cash in academically on the events leading to his recent breakdown and hospitalisation, unlocks speech and his cache of memories.

The gradual revelation of a shared youth in a Soviet  Siberia seems to provide the origin story that  both boys shared of The Moth Boy that ominous and spectral face that is making  poor Gov begin to question his sanity. This is a book about curtains being lifted to the past and truths it reveals.This all set against a brave new world in Russia where the Soviet Block is being dismantled and opportunism vies with traditional values and folklore for the upper hand.




The wide variety of supporting characters seem at first glance, to be extreme and outlandish. They are great fun for the reader. A Somewhat hyperactive children, neighbourhood gossips, hypochondriacs, mediums and underhanded connivers all pepper the tale. Spicing the mix like the ginger in the sweet treats that bring memories and a simple joy to Tolya, these characters bring colour and humorous variety.

Andrea Bennett’s obvious affinity with the Russian people, no doubt stemming from her studies, is used great effect here. The early post Soviet years are drawn with wide streak of grim humour always bubbling at the surface of the story. It is a stoicism typical of those who have seen great suffering with no outlet  for  complaint that even when faced with startling and frankly terrifying events they just get on with the daily grind. A place where a piece of cake is the epitome of joy and contentment.

These larger than life folk actually nestle into a much deeper more intelligently layered story punctuated with sweetly melancholic examination of  the true nature of loneliness. It excavates  the burdens of guilt we place on ourselves after a long and eventful, the realities of ageing and the ethereal nature of the memory. 

Andrea Bennett has written a story that made me smile and chuckle but simultaneously made me very sad too. There is a gentle pathos to the story and I applaud her ability to make a story magical and a little mythical and yet also desperately honest and real. 

I travelled alongside these two extraordinary men, for a while and when I left them, I felt compelled to reaffirm and reinforce my own relationships.

When a book’s signature resonates into my real world so loudly and with such clear tones, I know I have discovered a winner. I can offer no greater praise than this, when the final page was turned, I wished for amnesia so that I might read it again.


Oh and one more thing...



For an extra treat and a chance to recreate a taste of the book in your own kitchen:



Here is a recipe for the delicious cake-like biscuits that Tolya loves so much!




Pryaniki
Traditional Russian pryaniki use special mounds and stamps, but don’t let the lack of them stop you from trying to make them yourself: traditional cookie cutters do just as well, as does the rim of a glass.
Ingredients: 
3-cups all-purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon of dry ginger
1/2-teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2-teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4-teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8-teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 knob of fresh ginger:  finely grated
1-cup granulated sugar
1-cup of honey
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2-cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
3 tablespoons of lemon zest

 Directions:
1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt.
2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and thick.
3. Gently heat the honey and ginger in double boiler until warmed through. 
4. Stir the honey and vanilla into the beaten egg mixture. Mix in the dry ingredients to form stiff dough. 
5. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

 
6. Make the icing:  combine confectioner sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest together until smooth.  Set aside.
7. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Place the tack in the middle of the oven.  Butter or grease two cookie sheets.
8. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1cm thickness.   
9. Cut the cookies to roughly 5cm diameter, depending on the shape and cutters you use.
10. Place cookies on the prepared baking sheets at 5cm intervals.  Bake for 9 minutes; rotate the sheet, then bake for an additional 9 minutes (total 18 minutes or until the cookies are just golden).
11. Allow the cookies to cool for 2 minutes on the tray, and then transfer them to a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes.  
12. Glaze cookies with icing.


Priyanogo Appetita!