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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Knockout time-travel/fantasy concept and execution - bravo!
Though somehow, it would have passed me by completely if not for the Richard and Judy autumn list. I don't usually like many of their selections, but the title and idea of this stopped me in my tracks. And I was impressed.

Written under a pseudonym (of a previously sci-fi fantasy writer - one I haven't tried), 'Harry August' is a Groundhog Day without the...
Published 8 months ago by K. J. Noyes

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great (but not original) premise, story begins well, but soon becomes turgid; read Ken Grimwood's 'Replay' instead!
Oh dear, Claire North is a talented writer, even if she has ripped her premise from Ken Grimwood's classic novel 'Replay' (which makes me wonder why she even wrote this in the first place!) but this book promises far more than it delivers. The prose is elegant, but the plotting is convoluted and turgid. A big disappointment.
Published 7 months ago by Goth lady


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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Knockout time-travel/fantasy concept and execution - bravo!, 21 Sept. 2014
By 
K. J. Noyes "Katy Noyes" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
Though somehow, it would have passed me by completely if not for the Richard and Judy autumn list. I don't usually like many of their selections, but the title and idea of this stopped me in my tracks. And I was impressed.

Written under a pseudonym (of a previously sci-fi fantasy writer - one I haven't tried), 'Harry August' is a Groundhog Day without the romance, without the comedy, but sprinkled with a little Edge of Tomorrow and a good helping of Source Code, a little torture, megalomania, some philosophical thought and a great deal of intriguing writing.

Harry lives his life. Born to a raped mother in a 1920s railway station, raised not knowing his father, his life is fairly unremarkable despite enlisting in World War Two, his eventual demise from bone marrow cancer does not end his story. He is born again.... at the railway station in the 1920s... With all the knowledge of his previous life floating back to him as a toddler. And so it continues. While the first couple of pages are confusing, once this pattern and idea is set up within a half dozen pages, you're hooked. It's almost wish fulfilment - what would YOU do, living your life again with the chance to make different choices?

It's not a book about 'whys', how this might happen. It's about what we would do with eternity, what we would see and do, what we would change - and not only about ourselves. The book does veer from one life to another, though roughly in sequential order with segues to add context.

Absolutely fascinating stuff. Simply the regeneration alone would be novel-worthy, but more than one adversary pops up for Harry to deal with. Of course, other people's reactions to Harry's uniqueness are mixed - from the wife who commits him to the spies who want a scoop on future twentieth century history. Torture scenes are uncomfortable but not long or graphic (and Harry narrates them with little emotion, from a future incarnation).

The thought that's gone into this is stunning - the idea of passing messages backwards and forwards from young people to old and visa versa as they meet in their timelines. The knock-on effect of changing world history early. The 'club' of ouroborans/kalachakra (those who loop perpetually through their lives) who aid each other at important times in their lives. It's just so well described, it could be real. I loved Harry's changing relationship with his adopted parents and those he finds he is biologically related to, how he can't escape his eventual cancerous fate, how he can become a spy, a professor, a scientist with so many years to play with.

The villain of the piece is scary - a calm madman, insidious and frightening in his genius and reach. You ache for Harry to find a way to win, to stop the madness and save the world, as it seems to come down to.

It's such a good read, so cinematic inside my head, I wanted to read about Harry's next lives. I would in fact, if there were a sequel.

Great to see this kind of book on the Richard and Judy list, it's refreshing, incredibly thought-provoking and thrilling, a twisty read that plays with your mind and reality, and would make an excellent book group choice.

Loved it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Compelling and imaginative., 1 Mar. 2015
By 
Liz Wilkins "Lizzy11268" (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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Read this one in a few short sharp bursts - beautifully written, highly compelling and often very strange, Harry August will steal your heart.

He does his best poor chap - but when you live the same life over and over, often falling sooner than you should despite your best efforts to avoid it, it is bound to get wearing. When a young girl tells him that in the future the world is ending and that he needs to sort it out, Harry has even more on his plate.

You are probably thinking Life after Life (an also beautifully written tale) right now but this is very different, just as compelling but for entirely different reasons. Across history there are many like Harry, living out their tiny portions of time over and over again - messages are passed generationally and the world building is stunningly imaginative. Harry himself is a marvel, his thought processes and decision making will keep you hooked into this - despite his best efforts the future world keeps looking bleaker. He has a marvellously brilliant nemesis that he comes up against in each separate life and the interaction between these two is one of the huge strengths of the novel. Loved both of them to be honest really was not sure who I wanted to "win".

Overall then a magnificent read. Loved it. Highly Recommended as is Touch, Claire's latest novel. I don't think I'd like to be Harry though. I truly think that once is enough!

Happy Reading Folks!
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No man ever steps in the same river twice, 28 Nov. 2014
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Move over Plato, Pythagoras and Parmenides. Make way for Claire North.

Plato gave us his theory of forms, Pythagoras brought us transmigration of the soul beginning a new life in a fresh body (although of course he wasn’t the first), and Parmenides explained how reality is one, change is impossible and existence timeless and unchanging.

Claire North, in contrast, philosophises about re-birth in the same body at the same time in an ever so slightly shifting universe. Slight paradigm shifts that have incredibly profound effects. I think she’s a Time Lord.

Reading ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ is like stepping into a river of gold, but as the philosopher says, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” And this, when all’s said and done simplifies what is a truly magnificent story.

The Cronus Club is a myriad of wandering souls, trickling messages down from the future by means of child to dying adult, child to adult, from a thousand years forward in time, amplifying it down the generations, so that it’s entirely possible for events that took place in 2003 to have implications for those people living in, say, 1919.

Or, taking this to the extremes, events that will happen 4000 years in the future could have great significance for those people who lived during the age of ancient Greek philosophy during the 6th & 5th centuries BC. What a concept!

Those implications, however, can be catastrophic. “You can do whatever you like so long as you don’t bugger it up for the next lot. So no nuking New York, please, or shooting Roosevelt, even for experimental purposes. We just can’t handle the hassle.”

One of the marks of a good author is her ability to build a couple of sub-plots around the main plot and then sometimes – but not always – bring them all together at the end. Well, there are a hundred sub-plots in this story, but don’t let that put you off because unbelievably it all flows. A period of about 900 years flows effortlessly into about 70 years. Extremely readable.

So is it science fiction? I wouldn’t say so. Thriller? Absolutely! You’ve got a charming, yet evil criminal mastermind and an adventure that lasts several lifetimes. Honestly, buy this book!

Oh, and one last thing. If this story is ever made into a film, Vincent Rankis must at all costs be played by Stephen Fry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rerecord, Not Fade Away -, 19 April 2015
By 
Quicksilver (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Just about everybody I've spoken to about this book has loved it. Harry August had been on my to-be-read pile for quite some time and finally clawed his way to the top, when I went on holiday at the beginning of the month. I was very excited at the prospect of reading about his fifteen lives. So much so, I worried that my hyped-up expectations might spoil the book for me. Need I have worried?

Maybe...

The premise and structure of The First Fifteen Lives... are immaculate. The writing is superb. The time-travel aspects work wonderfully well, and are irresistibly mind-bending. This was a book I didn't want to end, I loved reading every page. Until the end. Then I wished the book hadn't finished like it had. This is where, I think, heightened expectations played a part. Such was the praise for the book, I expected a seamless perfect whole. The ending jarred. It certainly wasn't what I envisaged and considering the painstaking construction of the rest of the book, it felt far too convenient. Almost as though the author had no idea how to dismount from the convoluted literary routine she had just performed. Would I have felt like this had I not been told be lots of people that the book was absolutely brilliant? Possibly not.

The premise is simple, yet stacks up to be complicated. Harry August repeats his life, over and over. Groundhog Life, if you will. At the moment of his death, he is reborn back where he started -on the toilet floor of a railway station in the North East of England. After each rebirth, he can remember what came before. The story is then told, in a more or less linear fashion through Harry's lives. The first fifteen on them. I say more or less linear, the story does jump backwards and forwards between Harry's lives. This is a memoir, and Harry tells it in the order he feels best. Even so, the overriding direction of the narrative is from life 1 to life 15.

It turns out Harry is not alone. There are a number of 'kalachakrans' in the world; people who are reborn over and over. More uniquely Harry has perfect recall of every moment of every life he spends. So called mnemonics are far less common, even among the incredibly rare kalachakrans. Each of Harry's lives are essentially parallel universes. Each life is mostly filled with ordinary people, who go about their ordinary lives. Harry's fellow kalachakrans, however, can find and meet one another, and do so, across multiple existences. That's where the mind-bending bit comes in. The myriad meetings and messages across lifetimes and timeframes started to hurt my brain if I thought too long about them.

Towards the end of one of his lives, Harry gets a message from the future. The world is ending. All worlds are ending and the arrival of the apocalypse is growing ever faster. A pretty compelling reason to find out what's going on.

The layering of plot in this book is excellent. With multiple lives to play with, the novel's heroes and villains have scope to play the long game. This in turn gives North a broad canvas on which to paint her story. She has afforded herself the opportunity to tell personal stories over a timescale normally reserved for the rise and fall of empires. This allows her to generate great depth of feeling for characters on both sides of the divide. It's fair to say I've never read anything quite like it. On several occasions I had to put the book down to think through what had happened; how the multiple universes might interact. I wanted to work out how what was happening, and, in turn, what might happen. The mark of a great book.

Of course having invested so much brain-power and sheer pleasure into reading the first 350 pages of the book, it was always a risk that the denouement was going to disappoint. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but it whatever it was, it certainly wasn't what North delivered. I think the ending is fitting, but it wasn't what I was looking for. So, having spent most of the time reading, thinking I would be telling everybody that The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is one of the best books I've ever read, I find myself wanting to say, 'This is a truly remarkable book, but I wasn't 100% convinced'.

But then who cares about what I think? - Without a shadow of doubt, you should read this book, take in its glory and decide for yourself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and enjoyable, 19 Mar. 2015
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In the First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Author Claire North plays with our concept of time. In her vision, time runs over and over on a constant loop. Some people have the ability to retain their consciousness from one life to the next, and are born again and again – always in the same time, in the same place and to the same parents, but with the knowledge of the lives lived before.

Here, being reborn isn’t reincarnation, it’s more like doing endless laps around a track. They cross paths with the same people every time, and develop relationships that span more lifetimes than they can remember. Major events and landmarks pass by again and again, and there’s nothing they can do to stop or change them.

For Harry and those like him, life is both a constant experiment and a bit of a bore. Childhood is a chore to get through. Death isn’t final and is sometimes, in extreme cases, welcomed. But then news of a disaster starts to filter through from the future. The end of the world is coming, and it’s getting closer with every generation. Someone is disrupting the balance, inventing technology far before its time with devastating consequences. When people start disappearing, murdered in the womb before they can be born and breaking the cycle for good, it becomes obvious that this threat is very real.

On a mission to stop the end of the world, Harry soon begins to suspect that the person behind the threat is someone that he has come to know very well. As he sets out on a mission to stop his nemesis that will span several lifetimes, his allies start to fall away until it’s clear that the fate of the world rests almost entirely on his shoulders.

The wide timespan that’s covered and the fact that characters can die multiple times without actually meeting their final end gives Claire North a huge realm of possibilities to explore. As Harry lives his lives over and over, he travels all parts of the globe, indulges in every excess and pursues any number of careers. It makes for a really interesting, fast paced read. Although the narrative jumped around a bit, it was cleverly written and easy to follow.

Harry is a really strong central character. I loved watching his relationship with the villain of the story evolve over multiple lifetimes and seeing the balance of power between the two shift subtly back and forward. The showdown, when it comes, is suitably epic and explosive. All in all – a really entertaining read!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time speeding up, again and again, in a hi-fi, sci-fi, thriller, 23 Feb. 2015
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Claire North's (who she?) wonderful page-turning mind-mangle across, primarily, the mid to latter part of the twentieth century is dizzying, disorientating and dazzling!

North is already a successful author with a couple of pen-names, within particular genres - YA and fantasy. This book is so very very different that it seemed sensible to use separate names, for different audiences, and to avoid preconceptions

Harry August, is a `Kalachakra'. This concept (if not the word itself) can be found in philosophical thought from both the European Classical Philosophical Tradition, and, (where the term comes from) from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition (sometimes written as Kalacakra) It refers to the concept of time being circular, the wheel of time, as opposed to linear The circularity of time is a concept within which many ideas, from the nature of matter/time and their connections, to the idea of parallel universes, forking time/choice, re-incarnation and the transmigration of souls, can find a home. The Kalachakran is also aware, and has memory of their prior incarnations

North has taken the idea of a kind of repetition of time/choice (say, in filmic terms, Groundhog Day AND Sliding Doors) but has come up with a very clever and mind blowing concept - linking classical thinking and the future - that, from recorded history, there have always BEEN those who were reborn, again and again, within their own time frame - not, as it were, time travellers from the future or from the past - if you were born, as Harry August is, in his first life in 1918, and are then reborn, you are reborn into your own life and your own time - still, where you were born the first time, in the same place, but you will have awareness of that earlier life, and may perhaps make different choices, parallel choices, choices which may be occurring in a parallel universe. The clever twist is, there will be other Kalachakra, born perhaps half a generation or a generation later, who may be able to bring you awareness of the future - and `messages' can be passed, next generation child to dying elderly person back and forth through time. Confused? Dizzy? Its like walking in one direction on an escalator travelling in the opposite direction.

A club, (dating back thousands of years, reflecting all those thousand years back circular timers) the Cronos Club, a secret organisation, passing messages back and forth in time, exists to protect its own. The law, the rule, which must not be broken is that the large events of past and future must not be changed - to seek to bring future knowledge back into the past is to irretrievably change the nature of the past and thus the future, with potentially cataclysmic effects.

Unfortunately someone, or more than one someone, is subtly doing this. Small scientific changes begn to happen, from some time in the 1920s, which should not have happened at that time. Very very subtle technological changes, opening the possibility for earlier discovery of yet more changes. And some members of the Cronos Club are aware of this.

North keeps a wonderfully firm hand on her inventions, technologies, theories of physics, and marries this to a very human story. This is absolutely a `literary' novel full of authentic psychology, believable people and relationships in time and space, friendship, betrayal, greed, thirst for power and domination, with a very well thought through twist. There really is plenty for those who like their science fiction to have science within it, not just fiction. There are no aliens, no spaceships, no intergalactic battles - just us, within a period from 1918, comprising most the last century, and a little into this - but with a deeply unsettling, deeply plausible twist - the world is ending (as it will, one day) but, it appears that it will be ending faster as knowledge from a little in the future, gets used a little earlier.

The book is full of brilliant pull-the-rug-out twists, which had me absolutely shouting Oh NO Oh YES in shock and recognition. And, as a not so often used driver of `what is the central relationship here' - it is not a romantic one, not a parent/child - it is friendship, and its glues and sunderings.

This was, quite honestly, a book I could not bear to put down, It permeated my dreams two nights in succession, so much so that I woke and had to do some middle of the night further reading, driven by the page-turning (faster and faster, not just the world ending faster!) mind-mangling workout North was whipping up

5 star and then some! Hugely enjoyable, most entertaining, and with lots of really good stuff to chew on
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars STUNNINGLY BRILLIANT, 23 Dec. 2014
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This was recommended to me by two colleagues so I gave it a try. Wow, am I glad that I did! I've read a few time travel books before but nothing like this; it's like a cross between 'Groundhog Day' and 'The Tale of the Ancient Mariner'. Harry August is born on new year's day 1919 and dies, after an average span of years, from a form of cancer. Then he's born again, on new year's day 1919 and he lives another life. And again. And again. Each life is slightly different from the last but Harry remembers everything from every life so he might be six years old and also 300 years old at the same time.

This simple premise is expressed with such logical clarity and detail that you, as reader, just accept that, of course it's true. There are others in the world like Harry, born again and again but always within roughly the same time frame and only very few of them have Harry's ability to remember absolutely everything, from every life. No one can actually time travel but the mechanism for passing information forwards and backwards in time is ingeniously logical.

Then the news arrives that, not only is the end of the world due at some point in the future, but that date is getting earlier with every passing generation or 're-birth'. Someone is tinkering with time. The arch villain is also Harry's closest friend and the immensely gripping plot centres on the question of whether Harry can stop the end of the world or will his nemesis destroy Harry first?

The writing style here is superb; emotional and engrossing without descending into mawkishness. The descriptions range from fulsome to spare but are always exactly appropriate for that part of the story. Characters are vividly portrayed and seeing some of them change as they move through their multiple lives is fascinating. All of the strongest emotions are here; love, hate, betrayal, trust, devotion and jealousy among them. Buried within the plot is a detective story but, here, Harry can pursue his adversary not just across the planet but also across several consecutive lives; it brings a whole new dimension to patience.

The final ending to the story, following a chaotic conclusion to Harry's 14th life, is so inevitably deadly and coldly precise to be chillingly disturbing and satisfying at the same time.

Claire North is just a pseudonym for another author but I don't really care who wrote this; it's simply brilliant and, by far, the best book of its kind that I've ever read. I have thanked my colleagues, profusely, for their excellent recommendation and I pass that recommendation now to you; read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August; you won't be sorry.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, 20 Jun. 2014
By 
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
When this book first appeared, I was rather ambivalent about buying it. I'd tried a couple of others by North (under a different pseudonym) and not got on with them. However, the endnote promises that this is very different from the author's earlier works, the book got massive praise, and I did buy it. I am really glad I did because - while not perfect - it is extremely readable, bold in concept, enjoyable and thought provoking.

All that despite a theme - the central character lives his life over and over again - which has been used recently in two very high profile stories (Kate Atkinson's "Life after Life" and the film "Edge of Tomorrow", based on "All You Need is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka). North's book, however, avoids imitation of either since she concentrates very firmly on the consequences to her protagonist of his repeated lives. Ostensibly this book is about Harry August and his attempt to prevent a future disaster inflicted on the world by him and his fellow "ourobons". Really, it's an insightful study of the weariness, ennui and spiritual despair of someone destined to repeat life over and over, with only minor variations, coupled with a study of friendship and rivalry.

Harry August is born in 1919, in doubtful circumstances, and has a harsh early life. As with all of his kind, his first few lives are spent coming to terms with living again and again. It's only when he discovers the Cronus Club, a worldwide federation of similar beings, that he really gains some equilibrium. And then, a whispered message from the future warns that the world is ending...

The book is generally very well written - although in places it is perhaps slightly overwritten: sometimes North seems to try just that bit too hard. For example, when she describes the reincarnated August - who has lived a couple of full lives, died, and ended up again as a six year old boy - she has him say that he "...wore my child's body as an old woman might wear a skinny bikini bought for her by a fragile friend." (Why a "fragile" friend?) That had me reeling, slightly. The wonderful, sprawling concept gives her a perfect licence to illustrate her themes by hopping back and forward between Harry's lives, picking incidents from here and there to show the different ways the ourobons try to make their endless, repeating existence tolerable. So one adopts a life of debauched excess. Another is a mercenary, following wars from continent to continent. Still another organises a massive scientific programme to try and understand his own nature). Several devote themselves to helping newly reincarnated ouroborons, who grow to full adult understanding by the age of five or six, to escape long and tedious childhoods. She's thought through the consequences of these repeated lives very well.

I was less convinced by the scraps of physics used to back up the motif, and there are one or two "with one bound he was free" twists (for example, the cunning escape North contrives for Harry from a cell in a Soviet camp - so cunning I couldn't quite see how it worked) but to complain about that would rather miss the point, I think. I'd recommend this as a cracking good read, and an excellent contribution to the repeating-lives subgenre.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book fully of great concepts and ideas that I couldn't stop reading, 2 Jan. 2015
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Am not finished the book yet but I'm enjoying it so much I have no problem writing the review. It's not a simple book. The basic idea is simple enough but the consequences that spiral out of that idea are amazing. Every time the writer introduces a new idea I'm amazed at her genius and imagination. Then I usually have to stop and think about it for a minute to fully get what it means. I remember when watching back to the future 2 I loved working out who was where and which version of the character was in what timeline and what effect they were having. This book contains some of that but is done in a much better way and much more realistic. The book doesn't contain time travel, but it does. Read it and you'll see what I mean. I love the concepts. I love how the story is so small but yet so large (world ending stuff!). It's a book you can read fast because it brings you along but you won't just breeze through it like say the da Vinci code. The ideas are interesting and deep but they are very well explained. I found that I did immediately understand them but I enjoyed stopping and think about the effect those ideas had on the events and characters in the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written complexity, 20 Dec. 2014
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After reading so many appallingly written books lately this was so refreshing it would be brilliant even if the story were poor!

Correct British spellings, proper grammar, not a `smirk ` in sight and I believe only one `atop`. HEAVEN! In addition her turn of phrase and cleverly humorous expressions made the book a joy to read.

The story of a man who goes back to repeat his life over and over would seem to be a depressing one as each of these `kalashakras` only gets be born in the same time period as before, but they make each lifetime different. I could not quite see the difference between those who remembered everything and those who didn't as they all remembered events from previously. Also the `linears` who didn't get reborn were said to have only one life, but each of their lives were changed every time those reborn came back. They just didn't remember.

That said the book was an amazing read. I recommend all American authors to read this book. THIS is the way to write a novel!
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