Book Review: Brood

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Brood, by Chase Novak, is a powerful, chilling horror story which explores the emotive subject of fertility and what could go wrong if desperate, would be parents used wealth to buy experimental treatments abroad. If all that were wanted was a baby then these treatments would be considered a success. However, the side effects prove terrifying as the new parents discover the cost of their induced parenthood, and it is not just they who are affected. As the children grow and the condition of their parents deteriorates it becomes clear that what they have become is deadly and cannot be controlled.

As well as the questions this book raises about how far infertile couples will go in order to conceive, there is a sub plot that explores man’s desire to copulate when natural libido fails. There is a lucrative market in drugs that claim to improve sex life with little regard for the side effects these can have. The mutant children play a crucial role in this trade which puts them in danger as pharmaceutical companies seek them out, eager to discover their secrets in order to replicate it in a lab.

The story explores society’s need for outward conformity. Children are routinely drugged if their behaviour is deemed unacceptable. The pharmaceutical companies push drugs that offer a normality dictated by a culture that demands ideals. Children should do as they are told and outperform their peers. Adults view a sex life as a right.

These story-lines ebb and flow around the individual tales of the brood, a group of feral children who have escaped the horrors of their parents but now find themselves developing similar appetites. These children recognise that they will never find a place within approved society and seek to create a place for themselves.

Alongside there is one woman, Cynthia, who is trying to cure two of the children with love. She watched as her sister took the fertility treatments which ultimately drove her to suicide, saw first hand the effects the drugs had on behaviour. Now Cynthia is determined to become a mother to the resulting children, a task that she longed for yet which tests her to her limits and endangers her life.

The book is stylishly written. Although gruesome in places the detail is needed to fully appreciate both the pathos of the mutant offspring and the world where the wealthy can buy drugs which override nature in a way that has nothing to do with curing illness. The undercurrents are about, money, power, control and self entitlement.

The author has created a compelling tale that asks deep questions yet is written with the lightest of touches. It may be read more simply as a story of self engrossed adults and wild children, or it may be taken as a parable for a world we are not so far away from.

These are emotive subjects presented in a macabre light. This is one of the best horror stories I have read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Mulholland Books.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: You Are Here

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You Are Here, by Chris Hadfield, is a collection of 192 photographs taken from the International Space Station. The photographs are divided by continent and represent one idealised orbit of the earth. Each is accompanied by a comment from the author where he shares his observations on topography, geology and how man has shaped the land over time.

From space there is ample evidence of man, although nature paints a more varied and visually stunning landscape. The author points out where the shape of a promontory or other feature is reminiscent of an animal, an eye or the human brain. He brings humour to the pictures as well as insight.

Perspective of man’s occupation of this small planet is gained from the vastness of the areas in which there are no visible signs of his presence. The biggest cities are tiny whereas the deserts and plains stretch out to the horizon. The distance and scale of the shots are most obvious where the curvature of the earth can be seen in the distance.

Where signs of man’s activity exist they also provide sadness, such as where the gush of orange in the seas around Madagascar show the rivers carrying away topsoil due to deforestation, silting up the inlets. The night shots show lights that are brightest where man’s ambition hopes to be rewarded at whatever cost to the planet that sustains him.

I was struck by how futile are our efforts to control the whims of nature. From space the shaping of our world is shown to have been affected by meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes and the constantly changing climate over millennia. Any order which man has imposed can so easily be wiped out by any one of these events.

Naturally I was intrigued by the photographs that featured places I know personally. I was struck by the author’s comment that the only indication of real time human activity below is where there is enough plane traffic to create significant numbers of cross hatched contrails. These gave him comfort, that life as he knew it continued. Space must be a lonely place.

The book itself is of high quality, ideal for flicking through and admiring the awe inspiring prints. Read from cover to cover it provides an insight into both the vastness of the land and the arbitrary nature of the borders over which we as a species expend so much concern.

For those interested in our planet and in the view of it from afar this book is fascinating. A beautiful collection of photographs taken from a place that most of us can never hope to go.

 

Gig Review: Chris Hadfield in Bath

Thanks to the wonderful Topping and Company, an independent bookshop in Bath, I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a very special literary event. Colonel Chris Hadfield, retired astronaut, is currently in the UK promoting his second book, You Are Here: Around The World In 92 Minutes. As part of this tour he stopped off in the city to give a lunchtime talk. It turned out to be inspirational.

Like a great many of his fans I first became aware of Chris when he started to tweet from the ISS in early 2013. His tweets contained links to pictures of earth unlike any I had seen before. The videos of how seemingly ordinary tasks become extraordinary in zero gravity were fascinating. His voice was that of a person in awe of their surroundings, tweeting from a slightly geeky and very accessible perspective. I was excited at the prospect of meeting my favourite Starman.

The event was held in The Forum, a converted cinema with impressive art deco fixtures and fittings. The large auditorium allowed the maximum number of people to attend and I was pleased to have been allocated a good seat in the stalls. As I waited for the talk to start I noted that there was a guitar on stage.

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Well, I assume you too have seen the video? Not the same guitar of course. Apparently the instrument on the ISS was put there at the behest of a psychiatrist and is well used by all on board.

Chris took to the stage and immediately engaged with his rapt audience. He talked of the challenges of spaceflight, the need for years of intense and meticulous preparation, the science behind space travel and the excitement of being at the cutting edge of man’s continuing exploration into the unknown.

I cannot do justice to his words; Chris is a skilled orator. He also came across as down to earth, an ironic use of that expression given his background. He made vaguely understood concepts come alive and complicated science understandable. STEM and the space industry could not ask for a better ambassador.

Having talked through his experiences with the aid of a series of pictures and a video of a launch (he has been in three), Chris then invited questions from the audience. Rather than simply answering each question he talked around the issues raised, thereby offering fresh insights into the reality of living in zero gravity with just five other people who must each be able to survive day to day in cramped quarters, do their research jobs, and react to any emergency with the limited resources available.

While much of his talk was eye opening as the work required, challenges to overcome and dangers involved came to life, Chris also managed to keep things light. He mentioned several times how uncomfortable a space suit is to wear, how difficult it is to work in, and how, after a six hour space walk, astronauts come out bloody from the chafing. Unlike Sandra Bullock in Gravity they do not step out looking amazing.

The event was scheduled to last for two hours and the time flew by. However, Chris did not forget the presence of that guitar and finished with a live rendition of his version of Space Oddity. I found this surprisingly moving and hope that the lucky child who was presented with the plectrum he used will treasure it.

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This was so much more than a book promotion, but I didn’t see many in the audience who were not clutching at least one copy of Chris’s new book as they left. The queue to have them signed snaked right around the hall, out the doors into the foyer and then doubled back on itself. That is a lot of books. I shall treasure mine.


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I came away from the event feeling uplifted and with one message clearly learned. We live on the surface of a small planet, all of us. We breath the same air that exists only on a tiny layer between our earth and the vastness that is space. Let’s look after it, and each other.

Chris’s wife tells everyone she meets that his book would make a great Christmas present. I cannot help but agree.

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Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights

Bath Spa is a city that has so much going for it: fabulous architecture, preserved history, natural hot springs in which it is possible to bathe, beautiful arts venues, and a vast array of shops. These shops include two of my favourite independent bookshops, one of which I finally managed to visit in person this afternoon. It proved to be even better than my impressive internet association had suggested.

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Tucked away in one of the pretty side streets that make up the city centre, Mr Bs Emporium of Reading Delights is aptly named. The wondrous collection of books is laid out for the casual browser’s delectation over a warren of three floors with numerous nooks in which to settle down and enjoy the cosy atmosphere. Upstairs they even provide complimentary coffee which may be enjoyed whilst reclining on a comfy armchair by the fire.

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To reach this upper floor one must climb some stairs at the far end of the shop. I was not the only person who stopped mid ascent to admire the Tintin comic strip wall.

 

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If the cornucopia of books demands that you stay longer than anticipated then never fear, customer toilets are provided and both give users plenty to look at. No time need be wasted.

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I have highlighted only a few of the many quirky characteristics and interesting displays in this oasis of literature. If you get the chance then give yourself a treat and check it out.

The book selection is extensive and tantalising; the staff are friendly and knowledgeable; the atmosphere is second to none.

Looking for a good book?

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This was the year when I became a Book Blogger. Although previously I had included reviews of some of the books that I read on my somewhat eclectic blog it was this year that I started seeking out new works of fiction to read in order that I may then write reviews.

I have discovered a wonderful community of authors, publicists and bloggers; thanks to all for the encouragement and support. Through them I have been offered access to a wealth of new books that I may not otherwise have stumbled upon.

The festive season is a time for lists so I decided to look back on the books that I have reviewed this year and highlight some of those which I would recommend. Click on the book title to link back to my original review. If you are looking for reading inspiration then I hope that you may find this of interest.

My recommendations

For all lovers of quality fiction:

The awesome epic:

Thrillers with a chill:

Psychological thrillers:

Crime fiction:

A good summer read:

Winter is coming:

Feel good fiction without the schmaltz:

Not just for the football fan:

  • Fan by Danny Rhodes

For the young (and not so young) adult:

To read with a child:

Comic book fiction:

Short stories:

And finally, for lovers of the literary world and its culture:

 

I’ve started so I’ll finish…

… except sometimes I just couldn’t because life is short and my TBR pile continues to grow. This year two books were left unfinished when, after 100 pages or so, I found myself choosing housework over reading:

  • ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace
  • ‘The Book of Life’ by Deborah Harkness

I tell myself that I will return to these one day but I suspect that there will always be other, more alluring books on my shelves.

 

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” (J.K. Rowling)

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Pigeon Needs a Bath

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The Pigeon Needs a Bath, by Mo Willems, is an adorable picture book from the ever reliable Walker Books. Beautifully put together with entertaining illustrations and simple text it tells the tale of a decidedly dirty and rather stinky pigeon who is determined that he does not need a bath.

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Pigeon’s intransigence when faced with a seemingly simple request will be familiar to parents of young children everywhere, as will his procrastination when he finally faces up to the prospect of climbing into the water. Eventually he discovers what fun can be had in a bathtub and a new challenge needs to be faced – how to get him out.

This is a very appealing book with an amusing message that can be enjoyed by children and parents alike. It is gender neutral and should help to encourage all young readers to take that much needed bath, eventually.

Book Review: The Sun

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The Sun, by Sue Lord, is an adventure story for children. Set in a future England which has been ravaged by war it tells the tale of ten year old Danny, a D-class citizen of New London. Following an unexpected run in with a group of law enforcers he escapes underground where he befriends a group of Lowers. Subsequent events lead to an evacuation of the tunnels in which they live and Danny finds himself leaving the ordered world he has always known under the huge, protective dome that covers the city. Danny and his new friends set out on a difficult journey to find the mythical Sun in which the Lowers believe.

Life in New London is strictly controlled with all citizens being routinely drugged to maintain health and suppress emotion. The desire of the rulers of this city to keep all acting in a socially accepted, prescribed manner reminded me of current practices where unruly children are offered drugs in an attempt to make them behave as required by those with power over their lives. As with other dystopian fiction, this story is strongest where it can highlight a current, questionable practice that is being implemented on a few for the supposed greater good and demonstrate a possible effect should it became more widely used and accepted.

The Lowers have acquired knowledge from books which they use to navigate the barren landscape outside the dome. As their journey progresses they encounter plants and animals for the first time. There is plenty of drama and humour amongst the group as they search for their dreamed of utopia. Their experiences of eating food rather than nourishment tablets and the effect this has on their digestive systems is described in highly amusing detail.

Adjusting to self sufficiency is a challenge but Danny soon comes to realise that the health, safety and order imposed in New London came at a high price. However, not everyone on the outside is good and the travellers face as much danger from human survivors of the war as from the landscape and wildlife.

The author wrote this book for her grandson, Freddie, who would have been four this year. Her hope is that it will help to raise money for S.A.N.D.S., the Still Birth and Neonatal Death Society. If you would like to support her then The Sun may be purchased in paperback format or on ebook from Amazon.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.