Jun 232014

100 words isn’t enough to do this book justice: it’s a massively ambitious take on power as it relates to gender, race, and cultural dynamics wrapped around what might be a love story.

The plot hinges on a theory of perfect attraction: that you can discover what a person is attracted to and thus, eventually, put together a perfect match. This I could not overlook: perceptions change with time and love. Love isn’t a formula, but a complex power dynamic itself.

Delaney has built a fantastically complex fully realised universe but far too much is jammed into a thus-inelegant narrative.

Jun 202014

The secret author Frances Hardinge has hit it again. How is this woman who’s written these astounding Weird books for kids(ish) keep going unnoticed? Three children steal coins from a wishing well so they can get home on time. These children are all going through normal coming-of-age problems, but they’re about to get a whole host of others. Dark. Disturbing. Terrifying and emotional and gripping. Hardinge’s dizzying imagination unfolds a deep, dark mystery inside the wishing well and inside the wounded heart of a child. The sort of book you want to read late with a torch under the covers.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

Jun 182014

This book is built on a brilliant premise: a girl living on the edge of civilisation on the Gulf coast of America sends out a message in a bottle and it ends up in the hands of a political prisoner trapped over a lake of lava. The story of each comes out as they speak with each other. The book delves into the plight of people excluded from civilisation, dealing with exclusion and inclusion and it holds great promise, which it didn’t fulfil: in my mind, it felt a bit didactic, like it was a Critical Book about Important Things.

Get or here (worldwide)

Jun 112014

This is the third of Ian Sales’ Apollo Quartet – I loved both the first and the second novellas. Short books, based on a series of what-ifs around the early days of the space programme. You get the sense that if anyone could plan an Apollo moon mission today, they’d speak to Sales, although he takes the series far beyond its original scope, bringing forth the optimism and fear of space age SF together with some thankfully modern sensibilities, like what if the Mercury astronauts were women. These novellas are tight and well-crafted and a pleasure to read – and re-read. Bravo.

Do yourself a favour: get it here.

Jun 092014

100 words: overall

Elliott Hall has written a very readable, fun, by-the-numbers hard boiled detective story. There’s an ugly murder – which is obviously a set-up. Our Hero, a Fundamentally Good Detective, Felix Strange(in suit and fedora, no less) with Unusual Strong Moral Qualms, is called in and strong-armed into investigating and uncovering the culprit, despite the fact that it’s ever so obviously a set up. Strange, like his prototypes, has a curious addiction that’s used to keep his journey, and his plight, interesting. I don’t read a lot of hard boiled detective fiction: I appear to like it, but I don’t love it.

100 words: worldbuilding (where it gets clever)

Those uninterested in pure detective stories, might be drawn into the world: this is where The First Stone shines. The world is one in which the extreme religious right’s political influence becomes profound across the US after an extreme terrorist event. There are clear private police forces, a number of concurrent wars in the Middle East, and non-Christians are encouraged to leave the country. There’s a particular encounter that’s very well done with a census worker who insists on listing a religion for Strange: the public sector worker exits, his form filled in, but it forebodes further danger for Strange.

100 words: …and where it goes off

I’m as terrified of the rise of religion as a political force in the country with the most nuclear weapons as the next person, but as clever as the world building is, sometimes it’s crude and seems like it’s just having a go. Furthermore, Strange’s voice is heavily clichéd, and not in a good way – particularly when he’s talking to & about “the dame”, the love interest who is a religious convert after a terrible life. Strange points out how nasty the extremists are to women – dress codes and a return to ‘moral’ values – but he’s not much of a charmer himself.

100 words: conclusion

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not a bad book. It’s pretty good. It could be suffering by my reading it straight after Tigerman and Cuckoo Song. It probably is. It’s very enjoyable and a fun read and there’s a lot of craft on display. The biggest annoyance was that Hall clearly put a lot of thought and care into creating this, but then too often used a blunt instrument where a fine one should do. I should have been reflecting on this book for weeks afterwards, but ultimately, it was preaching to the choir. Or, in this case, the opposite.

Jun 042014

Post-post-feminism has a new voice, and it is whiny Ann-Marie, self-destructive failed Cambridge not quite graduate in search of sex, drugs, hatred, or something to keep her life interesting. Pilger’s debut isn’t the easiest book to read: it has its ups and downs and watching Ann-Marie’s determined efforts to turn her life into a train wreck. This book is raw and dark and funny, a gift to those who can find the humour in screaming drunken arguments over the nature of female oppression whilst locked in a basement singing Beyoncé. Not for the faint of heart, but a fascinating start.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

Jun 022014

Nick Harkaway may be obsessed with the end of the world, and what it means to be human in the face of it. On the former British Colony of Mancreu, an island off the coast of Yemen, the volcano spews toxic clouds that could spell world’s end. Politics & people get involved; the island becomes a legal grey zone – something out of Gibson. In drops Lester, a nearly-retired sergeant allowed to serve out his duties, who meets and befriends a boy. I feared, halfway in, that this book would break my heart; it did, but not as I quite expected.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

May 302014

I liked Blackbirds a lot, and Mockingbird well enough, and there are a lot of interesting things going on in Miriam Black’s story, but by now, in book three, I want something more from Miriam.

Wendig brings it on, with his short, punchy chapters and good set-ups and loads of cliffhangers, but Miriam doesn’t seem to be learning a whole lot, still putting herself in ultra-dodgy situations and dealing with the fallout from the last two books. It’s a rip-roaring ride, although sometimes hard to follow and I feel like Chuck Wendig should be writing stellar, not just good, books.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

May 282014

The Cuckoo Song starts off with Triss, a young girl in the early 1920s who has just woken up from a fever. She’s out of sorts, and gets more so as time goes on. This book is an exploration of sisterhood, womanhood, jazz, adventures, dangers, and spiderweb tears, all in Hardinge’s inimitable, ever-so-slightly more creepy with each page-turn style.

Did I mention spiderweb tears? SPIDERWEB TEARS?

This book is bigger and darker and all a bit more real for its existing in some version of our world.

The book closes with “…that, that was wonderful”, and I cannot agree more.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

May 262014


May’s book for the Hodderscape Review Project is a Elizabeth Moon’s classic inspired by her son and his autism.

100 words: What’s it all about?

In a recognisable near-future, crucially, infants with autism can be cured, but those around thirty or older make use of training and adaptations. Lou Arrendale is an autistic computer programmer in a biotech company who has a department of programmers on the spectrum; about 85% of the book is told through his point of view. A potential cure is developed, and coercive tactics are used on the entire division to become research subjects for the new cure. The work explores the very concept of disability and what it means to be normal – a dryer setting or a set of behaviours.

100 words: On autism

Disability is complex, and Moon brings a deep understanding of the issues surrounding it as well as some raw, personal pain: she was inspired to write this book by her son, aged around 20 when it was being written. I’ve had the pleasure – and, yes, pain and challenge – of working with a variety of computer programmers on the spectrum, and an awful lot of the experience rings true. Moon works to make the invisible visible, and help the reader grapple with understanding and tolerance. Lou explores the limits he has learned of his disability, discovering that “Maybe my ideas matter”.

100 words: The style and tone

And this is what comes to the heart of the book: that “normal” is as much of a spectrum as other social definitions. Most of the book is told from Lou’s point of view, and the book meanders through the varieties of the plot – from unethical coercion through attempted murder – with the same, even pace via which Lou experiences the world. It’s worth a read if for no other reason than to experience the world through Lou’s eyes. I don’t know if she gets it right or not, but it rings true to my experience, and it’s an ambitious undertaking.

100 words: So how is it?

I was compelled by this book. Not in the “It’s lunchtime, therefore read” sense; rather “I can get another few pages in”. It’s fascinating, particularly when Lou pays attention to details the reader doesn’t think are important, but glosses over things that we feel righteous indignation about. The plot is fairly predictable – even the surprises – and I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, except for the idea that the choice Lou makes doesn’t matter as much as the fact that he chooses. I’m not sure if I liked this book, but I’m very glad to have read it.