Review: Illuminae

(The Illuminae Files #1)

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

RATING: 5 STARS!

Yes, another 5-star read.That’s two months in a row. And I didn’t see this one coming at all.

The blurb begins like this:
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

Personally, that didn’t really grab my interest. It makes the novel sound as if it’s a teenage romance. It’s not, by the way. It’s a clever, sophisticated, science fiction thriller that just happens to have a romance at the heart of it.

But I didn’t know that. In fact, the only reason I picked Illuminae up is because the blurb also says the story is told through:

a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more .

That did sound intriguing. And it is. Incredibly intriguing and unbelievably well done. Space helmets off to Kaufman and Kristoff. There is no linking narration. None at all. Just documents written by different people and transcripts of conversations recorded on the spaceships. Some of the documents contain images and some of the conversations are depicted graphically, too. I don’t want to explain this in more detail because I so enjoyed turning those pages and seeing something totally unexpected and often unexpectedly moving. I don’t want to spoil that experience for anyone. It took a little while to adjust to the story being told this way, but by about page 50 I was completely enthralled.

It’s true that if you prefer your narratives straightforward, with everything laid out for you from the beginning, you may not find this multimedia approach to your taste. From the first page, the reader has to exercise both their imagination and their powers of deduction. But if you read mysteries or thrillers and delight in piecing clues together to find out what’s going on, you could very well love Illuminae as much as I did.

And I’m still feeling just a bit amazed at how much emotion Kaufman and Kristoff made me feel when so little of the text is overtly emotional. When I finished reading, my heart was pounding hard in the best possible way. I knew I had experienced something very unique and very special.

I want to assure you: the way the novel is written is not just a gimmick, as it could easily have been. It’s an integral part of an immersive, absorbing story that I’m still thinking about days later. Honestly, if I could give Illuminae 6 stars, I probably would. Best book I’ve read so far this year.

How to Make me Pick up Your Book, Part Two

PART 2: GIVE ME THE PERFECT JOB

Once we’re past the cover (See PART 1: I’M A COVER GIRL) we get to meet the protagonist or The Main Character. I’m not fussy about the gender or age or even species of the Main Character, but I do want to know how they occupy their time, professionally or otherwise. If your Main Character performs one of these jobs, I’m much more likely to be interested in reading your book:

DETECTIVE

Yes, give me a good sleuth, professional or amateur, and I’ll give them a chance to dazzle me with their crime-solving abilities. But I’ll be sleuthing too, so don’t make them either too stupid or impossibly smart. Ideally, they should solve the mystery about half a page after I do. And please make your detective an individual rather than a copy of a hundred others. No more hard-bitten, hard-drinking, overweight, divorced middle-aged men, please. Please. Instead, give me an old lady in a care home, a child genius, a sentient spaceship. Here are two very different detectives that made me read every one of their cases:

HERCULE POIROT (from numerous novels and short stories by the inimitable Agatha Christie)

Well, naturally, mon ami. Poirot is quirky, sometimes absurd, but brilliant without cheating. His inspired guesses always have logic behind them.

EVE DALLAS (from the In Death series by J D Robb)

Nora Roberts, writing as JD Robb, has given us 48 novels about her futuristic cop, Eve Dallas, with more to come. These novels are police procedurals with lots of extras. Dallas not only solves the crimes and gives justice to the victims and their loved ones, her personal arc through this series is wonderful to see. Dallas is hard-bitten, yes, but she’s gradually learning about life and especially about relationships from a cast of other wonderful characters.

LIBRARIAN

I know I’m not alone here, fellow readers. It’s true that I have read some terrible books featuring librarians, but does that deter me? Not a bit. Show me a librarian and I’ll show you someone I’ll be willing to follow through any kind of genre. Two examples that are not terrible books at all:

ISAAC VAINIO (from Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines)

Isaac is a librarian who learns that he is a Libriomancer, someone with the ability to reach into books and draw things out of them. I borrowed this from my own library purely because the blurb said he was a librarian with magical powers. I was delighted by how good it was. Funny, exciting, with loads of literary references and surprising depth at times. I love Isaac and I’ll be reading the sequel to find out what happens to him next.

JESS BRIGHTWELL (from The Great Library series by Rachel Caine)

This book had me reaching for it immediately. Gorgeous cover, with books on it, and a setting in a fantasy world where the Great Library of Alexandria is the most powerful organisation in existence. Even better, the main character is training to be a Librarian, a job that is highly competitive, full of intrigue and often deadly. I don’t read much YA, but this was so enjoyable I bought the next one in the series as soon as I finished.

WRITER

Again, probably not a surprise. As a reader and a writer, I find other writers, real or fictional, quite fascinating. If your main character is a writer, I’m interested to read their story. Two fictional writers who grabbed my attention and held it to the end of the story:

WILLIAM DE WORDE (from The Truth by Terry Pratchett)

This is possibly my favourite Discworld novel and it’s all because of William, the Discworld’s first investigative journalist. Even if it is by accident. Pratchett is at his best here, shining a light on all kinds of blights on our society while making us laugh with delight at the sheer energy and fun he brings to the task. I dare you not to cheer William on as his career progresses from reporting on humorously-shaped vegetables and sewing club meetings to uncovering a plot to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.

MARGARET LEA and VIDA WINTER (from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield)

Two writers for the price of one! Mysterious author Vida Winter invites biographer Margaret Lea to write the true story of Vida’s life for the first time. I was first attracted to this by the books on the cover, slightly put off by the description of it as a gothic family saga, and finally convinced to try it when the blurb assured me it was about two writers and the nature of storytelling. It is, and it isn’t, but it’s masterfully told and I loved it. But I would never had read it if the protagonist had been, say, Vida’s doctor rather than her biographer.

GARDENER

I love reading about gardeners, garden designers and plantspeople of all kinds. Sadly, many fictional gardeners seem to exist in the worlds of Romance or Cozy Crime, not my favourite genres. Mind you, gardening detectives are great if the books are also well-plotted and well-written. Many years ago, I was very keen to read The Constant Gardener by John le Carre, only to be disappointed at the lack of gardening in this spy thriller. A wonderful novel, but with too little weeding and mulching for my liking. On the other hand, these two gardeners really grew on me:

MARY LENNOX (from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

It’s not a perfect book, but I love it anyway. The descriptions of the neglected garden being brought back to health and beauty by Mary and Colin are magical, and I treasure the mental image of the old gardener and the robin who is his constant companion as he digs.

LAWRENCE KINGSTON (from The English Garden Mysteries by Anthony Eglin)

Retired professor of botany Lawrence Kingston is the amateur detective in a series of novels by Anthony Eglin, all revolving around plants and gardens. The Lost Gardens is my favourite but they all satisfy that gardening itch while being pretty solid detective stories, too.

And now for some shameless self-promotion:

SARA MARTIN (from Greenhaelan by L. A. Webster)

I couldn’t find a fantasy novel with a gardening protagonist, so I wrote one. This is my debut novel, Kindle Edition for $US0.98.

Are there particular occupations that draw you to a novel? Add a comment below. And if anyone knows of a sci-fi novel with a gardening protagonist, I’d love to know about it.

Review: One Word Kill

(Impossible Times #1)

Mark Lawrence

Published By: 47 North

Release Date: 1 May 2019

Genre: Science Fiction / Coming of Age

Rating: 4.5 STARS


” In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week. Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next.” 

I wasn’t prepared, either, for just how good this was going to be.

Mark Lawrence is an established and well-regarded Fantasy author. He is also a scientist. So it’s surprising that this is his first foray into Science Fiction. And he nails it in every area: the science, the characters, the action, the 80s nostalgia, and the real emotion the characters feel and the reader feels for them.

The science is about quantum physics, multiple realities and time travel. Lawrence deals with it by explaining briefly and competently and moving on to the story, which I like. This is not a “hard” science fiction novel – it’s character and plot-driven. Paradox, the perennial thorn of time travel narratives, is handled confidently and convincingly.

The character of Nick is masterfully written, right from the start. The scenes focusing on his cancer and his feelings about it read so truthfully that I felt he was someone I actually knew. Nick’s friends are all well-drawn and interesting in their own right. Apart from Nick, Elton and Simon were the stand-outs for me, but every reader will have their favourites.

When the novel moves into action, it is edge-of-seat kind of stuff and more genuinely frightening than I had expected. Despite the young protagonist, this is not a novel for children.There is violence and gore and some pretty disturbing incidents. And one character, named Rust, is going to stay with me much longer than I would like.

It is a nostalgic book, giving the kind of homage to an eighties childhood that we see in Stranger Things and even more in Ready Player One. There are references to Dungeons and Dragons, Commodore 64s, Back to the Future and plenty more. The Dungeons and Dragons sessions in this book are so engagingly written, I wouldn’t be surprised if they made some readers want to have a try themselves, no matter their age or previous level of disinterest. But whereas in Ready Player One, the nostalgia was the only reason for my enjoyment, there are so many more here.

Lawrence has woven three plot threads into One Word Kill and all are connected with the title in different ways: Nick’s cancer and hospital visits, his interactions with his friends, and the time travel aspect. Not only do all of these weave in and out of each other in a way that feels perfectly balanced, but each of them is equally interesting. That’s quite a feat. I never felt disappointed when the story moved from one aspect to another, and that’s a rare thing. Before I read this, I would have guessed that I would enjoy the sci-fi part of the story more than the part about Nick’s illness, but I would have been wrong.

Another joy: the whole novel is so beautifully written: Lawrence’s language is spare when it needs to be to carry the action, and the dialogue between the teenage characters feels authentic and spontaneous, but at other times Nick’s thoughts are almost poetic:

Because ugliness multiplies, and hurt spills over into hurt, and sometimes good things are just the fuel for evil’s fire.”

The novel ends in a very satisfying way and can be read as a stand-alone. But I am so glad that there are going to be two more in this series. I can’t wait to spend more time with Nick and his friends and see what happens next. There are plenty of possibilities from the threads Lawrence has started.

I could go on, but here’s the bottom line: go and buy One Word Kill. And buy a copy for your best friend too. They’ll thank you.

As for me, I’ll be getting my hands on the next book in the trilogy as soon as humanly possible.

A digital A.R.C. of this novel was supplied to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Silent Patient

Alex Michaelides

Publisher: Celadon Books

Release date: February 2019

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 3 stars

” Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.”

So goes the blurb. And it is an intriguing premise. Will Alicia speak? Why did she shoot her husband? Why is she silent? And so on. As I said, intriguing. So I was keen to read this one. Sadly, the execution didn’t live up to the premise. It’s not a bad book, just disappointing.

Here’s the first problem I had. When people start talking about “a twist you won’t see coming” in a thriller, you can’t help but imagine all the possible twists when you start reading it yourself. And then, if you have read many thrillers, yes, you will see it coming and probably from quite a long way off too.

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What I Read in April

April is autumn here. It’s a time to sit outside in the mellow sunshine with a book and a coffee and enjoy the turning leaves.

I read ten books in April, all fiction: eight novels and two novellas. And I didn’t abandon any of the books I started. It was a very good reading month, with ratings ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars, with an average of 4 stars for the month.

What I read (ranked from lowest to highest rated):

1. LEVERAGE IN DEATH (In Death #47) by JD Robb

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Crime Fiction, Futuristic, 3 stars

This brings me up to date with this series, but this one was a disappointment. In any long series, there will inevitably be highs and lows. It wasn’t a terrible book, but the characters seemed caricatures, each one just a set of their typical quirks and no more. The mystery wasn’t up to par, either, and the perpetrators and their motives just didn’t convince me. Still, a quick read with some fun to be had. Not recommended unless you’re already a fan and/or want to complete the series.

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QLTR May 2019

QLTR? What the heck is a QLTR?

It’s simple, really, and yet diabolically clever at the same time. This is my monthly list of books I’d Quite Like to Read. And why only Quite Like to Read? Isn’t that a bit wishy-washy?

Well, to be honest, it started out as TBR (To Be Read), but a curious thing happened. I would carefully compile the list, all shiny and new at the beginning of each month. And then I’d immediately want to rebel and read something entirely different. This caused feelings of guilt, failure and despair at the end of the month when I hadn’t read anything at all from my list.

What to do? Exercise more self-control? No. Don’t be silly. Change the name! So the list became WTR (you guessed it: Want to Read). But it turned out I didn’t, really. Want to read them, that is. Cue the guilt, failure, etc.

Again,what to do? Abandon the list idea entirely? Come on. It’s a list. Lists are good. So I came up with this genius idea. I don’t have to read these books. I may not even want to read them once the month begins. But I’d quite like to read them. Maybe. See how it goes. No pressure. And you know what? It worked. Last month, I read almost all the books on my list. Sometimes my mind is a frighteningly irrational place to live in.

So what would I Quite Like to Read in May? I have a list of 10 books. They’re in the image at the beginning of this post. Interestingly, they look sort of autumnal, don’t they? This wasn’t deliberate, just a sort of serendipity, because it’s autumn here, though maybe not where you are. Eight of them are from the library (I love my library), I own one, and the other is an audio book on my phone (although I have cleverly cheated and added its image into the photograph through the magic of photo editing software). So here they are:

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How to Make Me Pick up Your Book

PART 1: I’M A COVER GIRL

What makes you excited to read a book? Is it the title, the author, the synopsis, the reviews? Maybe all of those things. But perhaps I’m just shallow, because the first thing that makes me say to myself, “I want to read that” is the cover. Yep, give me a cover I love and I’ll pick up your book. What do I love to see on that cover? I’m glad you asked.

Dear Author, if you want me to notice your book, put one of these on the cover..

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