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Meatspace
Meatspace
by Nikesh Shukla
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars modern day (social media) moral tale that most of us can relate to, 1 May 2015
This review is from: Meatspace (Paperback)
We enter Kitab's life at a time when things could be going better - he's wasting his money, failing to write, and most troubling is that he spends too much time obsessing over chutney. As the story progresses, Kitab and his brother Aziz play out parallel but unique experiences as Aziz tracks down his internet doppelganger and Kitab is befriended by another Kitab Balasubramanyam online and then in real life.

The name of the book is perfect - meatspace, a term used to mean real life as opposed to cyberspace, is at once suitable and sort of uncomfortable - which is arguably reflective of the content. As the stories of the two brothers continue the fun humour of the first half of the book takes a weirder and at times chilling turn as we learn the horrors of identity theft.

The stories of both brothers are immediately engaging, as are all the characters who have some real depth to them. The characters are so well drawn that it is easy to feel that large chunks of this story and those inhabiting it are in some way biographical. Both Kitab's are likeable in their own ways, Aziz is the crazy friend or relative we all know, and the background characters - especially Kitab's dad and Hayley - feel real and react appropriately. I was really impressed with both the way women and the way Kitab thinks of women, comes across - it feels real and it doesn't offend. You get the impression both Shukla and Kitab are on the side of women, which is refreshing.

Kitab is totally relatable to creative types, but especially writers - many things he mentions are things I for one have done: working from gdocs, being distracted online when I should be writing, agonising over introducing yourself as a "writer" - it also made me paranoid that I might not have been signing my books on the correct page! Through Kitab and his writer-related thoughts and events Shukla illustrates well the writing/marketing balance (or lack thereof) of a writer in the social media age.

At it's core this is a commentary on social media and a reminder that we need to be present in our real lives rather than "living" them online and building real relationships rather than assuming we know people from their online personas. That said, it isn't ham-fisted and overdone, because it is literally played out - this is a modern day moral tale - and most of us can relate to it.

The story is fast paced and engaging, the first book in a long time that I have had to drag myself away from to shower/sleep/go to work and I was left feeling satisfied with the pay off. I'm not going to ruin the ending, but want to say I was really impressed by the little clues throughout that the reader can put together to guess how this all goes down at the end. It gave the book an extra layer and also added momentum - willing the reader on to the point where I would describe this as "unputdownable". It's wrapped up in a bittersweet ending with Kitab learning the lessons he needed to learn, and hopefully passing them onto the reader too.


Oakfield
Oakfield
by Mr David J Rodger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting yarn that I think will especially appeal to Rodger’s existing fanbase, 26 April 2015
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This review is from: Oakfield (Paperback)
A group trip to a mysteriously inherited house, family tensions under the surface, and the pretense of dressing for dinner – the beginnings of this story could be the plot of an Agatha Christie, had she written science fiction. Set in an indeterminate time in the future, the focus of the story in the beginning is the attempted healing of a family recovering from the trauma of recent deaths and a brother returning from war. Being a sci-fi it’s not all as simple as that and we slowly learn that there is more to James’s situation as that brother returning from war. It soon becomes clear that the mystery that brought the group to the house, Oakfiled, extends beyond the inheritance but to the house itself, the neighbours and the odd town it overlooks.

The story is well written and the beginning draws you into an interesting place, family and situation. James has returned from war not quite right, his sister Annabella has inherited their estranged grandfather’s house and the two of them take a trip out there along with their younger brother Anthony, Annabella’s husband David and hanger on Briggs, David’s business partner. Immediately we are thrown into the compelling story of this family and their tensions – all from the perspective of James who is trying to recover from his trauma and rebuild relations with his family, at the same time as having to confront their past issues and current struggles.

The first quarter feels sort of slow, but revealing things bit by bit provides intrigue. In fact I really enjoy being in the story with them – at the house and in that landscape, it feels like a bit of a holiday. We meet some of the locals, and mysterious locked doors in the house that hint at the deeper mystery of why the prominent local family and mine owners, the McKenzies, want to get their hands on it.

That said, I lost that connection to a degree about quarter of the way through with the unexpected and jarring introduction of a sexually aggressive manic pixie dream girl – a tattooed, elvin nosed beauty who reminds the brooding James what it is to be alive. In their first meeting the characters have sex, which could be seen as an extension of her role as an exposition character, but in reality it is gratuitous and much the same thing could have been achieved without. I’m no prude so it isn’t the sex scene itself which bothers me but the fact that this is the sum of this characters parts. This female character doesn’t progress beyond relaying exposition, making James feel things, and being the object of sexual obsession for both James and local bad guy Caleb.

From about half way the science fiction aspects of the mystery become more prominent. We come to understand quite how strange this local town is and the reach of the McKenzies. It is quite chilling for the reader to realise there appears to be no escape for this family they have been building a connection with. Once the mysteries of the house’s basement are revealed we start to head into pure sci-fi, which feels slightly at odds with the atmosphere at the beginning of the story. It might have felt more cohesive if the sci-fi element was stronger throughout and if we’d been given more of an opportunity to discover more about humans living off world and what is going on out there.

I started out really enjoying this and seeing myself giving it at least 4 stars but, as it drew to a quick and slightly unresolved end, I found myself feeling like I was missing something. I know some if not all of the books by the same author are set in the same world and are often referred to as Lovecraftian so I think it might come together as part of that and be better appreciated by readers who have read more of Rodger’s work and have a greater knowledge of Lovecraft.

That said, it wasn’t just the ending that let it down for me. Although it is revealed bit by bit the kind of experience James had at war and the technology that surrounded this, I would have loved more about this. I would really liked to have explored further what happened to him and the effects it was having on him being in a new “zipper”. It is touched on here and there but really could have been expanded.

But the thing I struggled with the most was the gender balance. For a story set in the future I would expect greater diversity and especially a more equal gender balance with less stereotypical genderising on both sides. Of all the characters at the house, the neighbours and in the town itself, only two are female and both have seemingly traditionalised roles (I’m not going to touch on race as this gets caught up in the sci-fi aspects of the story). The fact that at one point Annabella’s husband, during an argument, shouts “Be quiet woman” as opposed to the less genderised “Shut up Annabella” or something similar, was very jarring for me. All the men of the family are adventurers and war heroes to Annabella’s therapist, and I can’t help but wonder whether it might have been more interesting if the Briggs character was also female.

Overall, this is an interesting yarn that I think will especially appeal to Rodger’s existing fanbase but might be a little less accessible to newcomers to his works. The mystery is interesting, the family dynamics and especially the start of the story are strong, but there are definitely areas that could have been stronger.


The Great Zoo Of China
The Great Zoo Of China
by Matthew Reilly
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

4.0 out of 5 stars Reilly is no Michael Crichton, but he can spin a good yarn, 15 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: The Great Zoo Of China (Hardcover)
I wasn't sure I was going to like this very much as I discovered I'm not a big fan of Reilly's writing style. There were also a few bits here and there that didn't quite feel right to me, but overall it was the strength of the story that pushed me from giving it three stars to four.

The story starts with an introduction to CJ Cameron, a previously mauled crocodilian expert who now works as a zoo vet and has been asked to write about China's amazing new zoo by National Geographic. The story doesn't waste anytime in getting to the zoo, which is after all what us readers are there, keeping a great pace. We find out more about CJ, her brother Hamish, who will be photographer for her article, and other journalists and VIPs who are to experience the Great Zoo of China first hand. A little too first hand for most of them.

It's immediately clear what the zoo contains and a good quarter of the book flies by, towards the inevitable. In my review notes I wrote "As soon as they hit the zoo it's hard to put it down. The inevitable comes suddenly and is gripping". So far so good but also a little formulaic. Comparisons to Jurassic Park are understandable (though in my opinion comparisons of Reilly to Michael Crichton are very much not!), though slightly unfair as this is not a carbon copy and though it may owe a nod to Jurassic Park it strikes out in it's own direction early on. If trying to reference it in popular culture it might be more apt to say it is Jurassic Park meets Reign of Fire, though again this wouldn't quite cover it all.

Credit to Reilly for making his lead character a woman in an action adventure genre. Although her introduction comes across as one of those hyper-interesting characters, it eventually pans out and she becomes quite a well rounded and likable character that the reader can cheer on. Very early in she becomes the clear leader in the group dynamic despite being "outranked" by some of the men in one way or another which feels like the natural order to things. To a lesser degree most of the supporting characters are nicely fleshed out making it easy for the reader to invest in their plight. It is a shame that of all their group CJ is the only surviving woman - there were one or two that I think would have been interesting to have around longer and see their reactions to the impending doom.

The introduction, though thankfully slight, of a hint of romance irked me. More so because of my personal pet peeve for romance story-lines in non-romance genres most especially when the lead character is a woman. Although not touched on too much, it still had me rolling my eyes on the several occasions that CJ "noticed" the one guy in their group who she kept forgetting was there. I just eye-rolled again thinking about it.

Having worked with Chinese businesses and individuals in the past I was intrigued to see Reilly's take on them in this situation. Although there are elements that fit with the perception of ruthless Chinese business, there came a point where they all seemed to morph into James Bond villains. The end result is that the majority of Chinese characters come off a little cartoony. But at least the story doesn't draw a line of Westerners good/Chinese bad as we see some good and bad on both sides as the story progresses.

Undeniably this book is action packed and hard to put down, which personally for me was based on the strength of the story itself. Reilly's writing style is jarring and has a mixed tone. If not for the abundance of cursing and gore, I might have thought the intended readership to be the Young Adult crowd. But for me what let it down the most was the constant action about to -
- happen.
I found these split paragraphs, which happened with ridiculous frequency to be jarring rather than nail biting as was possibly the intention.

Some of the story is predictable, the dragon communication is obvious from the get go and is a little jarring for it's childish quality, asking for a little too much suspension of belief - but again might work well for a YA readership. That said, the ending is strong and spins off in a direction that isn't quite so predictable -answering the readers question of "how are they going to get out of this" by taking them off on another adventure and back again. The ending certainly makes up for anything earlier that was slightly more predictable.

Overall? Reilly is no Michael Crichton, but he can spin a good yarn.


Eve Brenner: Zombie Agent (The Zombie Girl Saga Book 2)
Eve Brenner: Zombie Agent (The Zombie Girl Saga Book 2)
Price: £3.98

2.0 out of 5 stars good and bad, 9 Mar. 2015
Book two of this series – Eve Brenner: Zombie Agent starts where the main story of book one left us, before the “Two Years Later” epilogue, so there is instant intrigue as to how these two intervening years play out, good and bad.

The story itself progresses through Eve being kept at the CSIS’s secret installation and eventually training to become an agent for them. We watch a budding romance unfold between her and Agent Williams before we begin to uncover a secret agenda of the CSIS that could mean the end of the world. Much zombie fiction features the end of the world, and now in book two we find a connection with Eve and her story – I really liked how this was done and found it intriguing.

The format is still first person, jumping to a different character each chapter and unfortunately it still doesn’t work for me. The author has a little more success in varying their internal voices than the previous book but even so fails to really capture three (later five) separate and well defined characters, and struggles with writing from a male perspective. This is especially true in the case of Agent Williams – I also found it quite disconnecting not to discover his first name until almost half way through the book despite having chapters from his point of view.

The book is unfortunately let down by several weaknesses which unfortunately made me really struggle with it – from gaps in logic to contradictions and a lack of knowledge/research (the Terracotta Warriors are clay Tomb Guardians they do not have people inside them). The reintroduction of friends from the first book, Cam and Alex, in their own chapters feels less about furthering the story and more about allowing the circumstances for Cam to move on so the reader is ok with a romance between Eve and Williams. Again, as with the first book the ending is strong and action packed, but it feels contradictory – surely the rock should have had some reaction in the oven given that it has previously been affected by fire?

I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book more. As with the first in the series, I love the premise and there are some really great ideas here and there. The writing feels a little improved from the first book and there are occasionally some great sentences and turns of phrase throughout but these are outweighed by some weak writing in other parts. Overall it feels superficial – lacking in detail and depth in both story and characters. There are some really great ideas and set ups, like the links to ancient/dead civilisations but they are let down by the weaknesses above.


Vampire Next Door
Vampire Next Door
Price: £0.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yet another love triangle..., 25 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Vampire Next Door (Kindle Edition)
I should say that this book, in the main, is a paranormal romance and I am not it's its target audience. I don't normally like romance/erotica as I find them a predictable rehash of the old Mills and Boon formula of arrogant guy wins over/is won over by headstrong and/or timid woman. I'm yet to discover a romance where the female character isn't in some way walked over by men in the name of romance, and this story is no exception. That said, aside from the romance, there were elements of this book I enjoyed, most especially the first half.

Immediately this story has a cinematic feel - the structure and content give the impression of a trashy day-time TV movie. As someone who loves trashy made for TV movies this is absolutely a compliment. The beginning chapters are so (presumably unintentionally) terribly trashy that it's fantastic and had me laughing joyfully. It has made me question things I've never thought of before, like what identifying paperwork is necessary for a Jane Doe to get married?

We meet Jane after she has been left for dead and wakes with amnesia to discover that her attending surgeon has fallen in love with her whilst elbow deep in her brains. When she wakes and finds Dr Jack has fallen in love with her whilst she was in a coma (creep factor 10) they inevitably get married. Jane is very 2 dimensional and it seems odd for someone to fall in love with her when she isn't even very sure of herself. But the story picks up the pace and intrigue when we meet Jack’s evil twin Matt (the only difference between them being the scar on Matt’s face - scars being the obvious way to demonstrate which of the twins is the evil one).

After a little lead in we finally meet Sebastian, who obviously knows Jane from her unknown past. From the fact of his wealth, slightly gothy good looks, love of antiques and vintage wine, and his hobby of sneaking into her house to watch her sleep (why do people think this is romantic rather than creepy?), we know this must be the titular vampire.

Just after halfway through, after the untimely and mysterious death of Jack, we hit the inevitable love triangle between Jane (who am I?), Matt (evil twin) and Sebastian (vampire). This turns into Jane torn between a guy who lies to her or a guy pressuring her into a relationship she doesn't want. This irks me, I'd just love to see one of these stories that ends with the female protagonist telling them both to piss off so she can get on with her life. Jerks are not romantic, over controlling guys who get angry when you drink or if you are seen with another man are not men with whom to settle. Readers, if you come across guys like this in real life RUN. I know of what I speak.

I spent most of the romance rolling my eyes (as I said I am not the target audience), but beyond that there is a good if foreseeable twist towards the end and a strong ending. There isn't an obvious setup for a sequel and it doesn't feel like there needs to be, though there are some questions left hanging that the readers can ponder on.

It's well written - a smooth and easy read though there are occasional odd word choices - nb. Menagerie means a collection of animals/zoo. There’s a lot of depth to the story that is excellently paced and very well weaved together. If not for elements of the romance I would have given it another star.


The Kuthun
The Kuthun
Price: £4.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and entertaining, 19 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Kuthun (Kindle Edition)
This is a very readable story, I had already read the first 5 chapters before I realised it, having just sat down to read the opening chapter.

The main character Elena is a sassy, quirky hipster. At first I was wary of this - I'm so fed up of sassy glib heroines. But actually Elena isn't overdone and her introduction doesn't consume the opening of the story. In fact the opening is very strong and places the reader immediately into Elena's life. My only criticism of the introduction is that I didn't feel it needed the mention of pop culture witches to frame it, it could have spoken as strongly for itself. In fact this was something that I felt throughout the story - the pop culture references were jarring for me and could end up dating the story.

We discover almost immediately that Elena is a witch in a long line of witches. I really love the other worldliness that is there from the beginning with her ghostly great grandmother, tales of the afterlife or "The Other Side" and her mother's missing spirit. Elena is given an unusual and mysterious birthday present - the Kuthun - and we learn more about her powers and the curse on her family - that they have all been hunted and killed by a group of Puritan hunters called the “Venators”. We learn of connections to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Salem witch trials, and the Native American old west and it all feels jumbled and too busy at first but by the halfway mark this starts to come together and is a well weaved tale.

The story is engaging throughout however there are a few weak parts, most of which are easy to let go - some details are glossed over or written off, for example as "certain documents", which requires the reader to just accept historical gaps. However, most would be happy to do so for the compelling story. That said I do feel that the story overall was missing the level of gravitas you might expect from a tale of a girl who knows that in her future lies a gruesome and unfair death, most especially during the trip to Egypt towards the end of the story. It also felt that there was an explanation missing as to why the Venators left her alone/were unable to find her for so long when there didn't appear to be much effort made to hide her.

The ending is strong - from Elena’s revelation of the roots of her family and her promises to her ancestor to the final confrontation with the Venator who has been hunting her - the story has a satisfactory conclusion but leaves another intriguing mystery to be solved in the sequel.

I really enjoyed this book, but can't help but feel it could have gone further. It often feels like it is on the verge of something great but never takes the next leap. I enjoyed the exploration of Ellie being the villain from another point of view and the Salem witch trials being a cover up. Would have loved to explore it more from the side of the Venators "baddies" and hope we learn more about them and their side of the story in the sequel, which I am looking forward to reading.


Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl (The Zombie Girl Saga Book 1)
Eve Brenner: Zombie Girl (The Zombie Girl Saga Book 1)
Price: £4.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Saved by a great and strong ending, 10 Feb. 2015
I really wanted to love this novel, however, I give it only just three stars based on its interesting story and the strength of the last few chapters against the weaknesses I felt let it down. The story itself starts well, however the return home in the second third was a weak middle, thankfully redeemed by the strong ending.

The book starts with an introduction to Eve, she is glib and sassy - the kind of character and introduction that really isn't my particular cup of tea. That said, I immediately took a liking to the idea of her being called Eve. Although it could seem quite obvious, I liked the idea of her being the first (zombie) woman.

We first meet our three lead characters, Eve and her friends Cameron and Alexandra on an academic archaeological excavation in Egypt. As interesting as this setting and the story was I have to admit I possibly had a bias reaction to the portrayal of the dig - which in no way resembled any kind of dig, archaeologists or archaeology students I have ever encountered in the course of my own archaeological training or work in heritage. Even so, to the lay person I believe this would be an interesting and hooking introduction. The exposition we later learn - the idea of a "Mummy" as a zombie and an ancient Egyptian disease - is pretty interesting and definitely a concept not really touched on in much contemporary zombie fiction.

When the characters return home and to college the story picks up pace - we get to see the inevitable consequences of Eve’s actions and her attack whilst on the excavation. We learn more about the “disease” itself and the involvement of government agents, which is an interesting yarn. The lives and backgrounds of the characters are explored more in this home setting. However, the death of a family member and return home feels a bit too long and lacking in really gripping action.

This weak middle is definitely made up for in the strength of the last few chapters. Our characters return once more to college, as Eve’s condition both worsens and is better explored with the help of a professor at the college. The rise of college zombie hordes and inevitable appearance of the agents is where this story really finds its feet. It's a shame this comes so late, but for me it saves the story and piques my interest in the next installment.

I really loved the story being told, however there were weaknesses that let it down for me which lead me to giving it just three stars. The tone is often all over the place, the flip attitude of the characters not always quite adding up with the gore and violence.

Jumping into the different characters each chapter is quite a good way to expand a first person narrative, a drawback in this case being that the characters all trends to have, if not the same, very similar internal voices. Overall this ends up not being used as effectively as it could have been and it feels that the story would have been stronger if in the third person. Although we learn past events via this method I didn't find it gave me any greater connection to the characters and so still only know them superficially by the end of the novel. First person can be a great way to explore character thoughts and feelings but this wasn't used to the full potential that it could have been - a real missed opportunity in exploring deeper Eve's experience.

That said, the ending was gripping and the “two years later” final chapter building to the sequel takes us in an intriguing new direction that I will definitely be looking forward to reading more about.


Chance the Darkness (The Dark Series Book 1)
Chance the Darkness (The Dark Series Book 1)
Price: £4.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars which can sometimes be a good thing. In Chance the Darkness this results in ..., 7 Dec. 2014
Somewhere in here is an interesting and compelling story. Unfortunately it is almost entirely buried until the last few chapters and I found it a bit of a struggle to get there.

The story starts fast and jumps straight to the action, which can sometimes be a good thing. In Chance the Darkness this results in finding out very little about the protagonist other than the fact that she likes stilettos. The story’s own mythos is poorly explained - for example she comments on the vampires not turning to dust when killed, but doesn't explain why she would expect this would happen in the first place. Despite the story being first person, and a lot of time spent between the characters, I still ended the book not knowing any of the characters in enough depth to connect with. Even so, about half way through, a glimpse of an interesting story starts to break through.

Summer Keese, the main character is flip and glib, and either overreacts or under reacts to any given situation - underreacting to something terrible and then overreacting to something mundane. This has the effect of creating inappropriate, and at times baffling, tones. She is a 2 dimensional character that is difficult to identify with - we are told things rather than them being demonstrated. For example, towards the end we discover that Keese has nightmares about her parents every night, but at no point before that do we experience her having those nightmares. With only superficial delving into who all the characters are and what drives them it is hard to understand their motivations. The male characters are even more shallow and all domineering, stalkerish and a little bit rapey, which isn’t my particular cup of tea.

There are some really great ideas in here - I love the idea of living tattoos - but the florid writing style and lack of character development holds them back.


Rogue Genesis (Shimmer in the Dark Book 1)
Rogue Genesis (Shimmer in the Dark Book 1)
Price: £3.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Original and clever sci-fi, 9 May 2014
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Although I found that the story took a while to heat up and I struggled to get into the first half, by half way through I couldn't put it down. The premise is clever and original, the action really takes off in the second half and is riveting. The twist is a fabulous take on the Out of Africa Theory! At the end of the story I was keen to read what happens next and look forward to reading more.


After the Fear (Young Adult Dystopian)
After the Fear (Young Adult Dystopian)
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars British Hunger Games, and that's not a bad thing., 9 May 2014
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First off, I need to acknowledge that this book feels like it owes a lot of inspiration to The Hunger Games. This is most definitely not a criticism, as I love THG and am happy to read something similar if it is well written and interesting, and this story most definitely is.

The overall similarities are there, albiet through a British view point (which being British - I loved), but from about half way through the story took on a life of it's own. With the inclusion of some interesting and shocking twists that make for compulsive reading.

I really enjoyed this book, but my only criticism would be that I wish we had had more time in Sola's life to get to know her better before she was chosen for demonstrations.

Looking forward to further stories from this author!


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