Book Review: The Ghosts of Heaven

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The Ghosts of Heaven was printed in Golden Ratio, from which the logarithmic spiral can be derived.

The Ghosts of Heaven, by Marcus Sedgwick, contains four separate yet interconnected stories that wind through time like the spiral from which they are each inspired. The writing is lyrical with dark undercurrents, disturbing in places yet full of hope. It is suggested that the tales may be read in any order and still make sense. Certainly each stands on its own but also adds depth to those read before.

The first quarter of the book is set in the time of prehistoric hunter gatherers when marks in caves were linked to magic and writing had not yet been invented. The second quarter introduces us to a young girl, newly orphaned, who becomes the victim of a powerful church hunting down witches. The third quarter is set in the last century at a lunatic asylum where the lines between madness and sanity become blurred. The fourth quarter is set in a futuristic spaceship where a lone sentinel discovers that all is not as it seems.

Each tale is richly imagined with compelling story lines and intelligent, questioning characters. It is the questions that they ask, the thought processes they explore, that add to the intrigue. The reader is lead to philosophise alongside, to consider where they have come from, why they are there, and where they may be going.

Although classified as for Young Adults I enjoyed this book for what it is, a work of fiction that entertains and gently challenges without preaching. The darkness that has always existed in the hearts of some men is examined alongside a perception of supposed progress. The denouement of the final tale is pitch-perfect.

Four quarters make a whole and life goes on, spiralling ever upwards or downwards depending on how it is viewed. It takes skill to present complex ideas in such an accessible way. This book is story telling at its best.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher through Goodreads as a ‘First Reads’ giveaway.

Book Review: Charles_HRH’s guide to Great Britishness

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Charles_HRH’s guide to Great Britishness, by Prince @Charles_HRH, is as outrageous (especially if you happen to be French) as it is funny. Stereotypes, puns and wordplay abound as the ‘heir to the throne’ expounds on British history, government, culture and the lifestyle choices of his future subjects. It is wittily irreverent with pin sharp truths occasionally penetrating the amusing silliness. For example, when commenting on minimum wage employees he notes:

‘People working in shops can look out of the window and see parking meters earning more than they do.’

Written by the author of a popular twitter account it can easily be dipped into and enjoyed in small doses. Much of the humour relies on the reader being aware of how the characters or events being discussed are mocked in the media. Recent popular news stories are referenced to good effect as are the habits of the various elements of British society. The wry observations sit comfortably alongside the waggery, such in the opening sentence of The History of Britain:

‘For some, history is that thing you hastily delete whilst logging off the Internet.’

I suspect that the book has been released as a potential stocking filler for the Christmas market, and it would serve this purpose well. It is light hearted and amusing but has enough substance to provide a smidgeon of food for thought alongside the laughs. It reminded me of a stand up comic except that it succeeded in entertaining without descending into sexist innuendo. This is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone who understands what the British are like. As HRH opines:

Where would we be without a good sense of humour?

Germany.’

 

(My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.)

Book Review: Blood Lake

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Blood Lake, by Kenneth Wishnia, is a complex and gritty tale of murder, poverty and corruption in troubled Ecuador. Written from the point of view of a revolutionary activist turned private investigator, the style of writing left me questioning if this were intended as a serious political drama or a satire. The characterisations contain a deluge of  clichés such that by the time I was a quarter of the way through I was hearing the narration in the voice of Naked Gun’s Frank Drebin. I was surprised by this as the protagonist, Filomena Buscarsela, is female.

Much of the action takes place amongst the dirt poor, hungry and often feral residents of a swamp. These supposedly family orientated down and outs appear willing to sell their souls for the price of a beer. Life is cheap and, despite the many descriptions of violence and death, I found it hard to empathise with their plight. There were too many people double dealing to know who was who. At no point in the book did I really understand why our leading lady was so damn determined to avenge the murder of someone she hadn’t been in contact with for 20 years.

The last book I read persuaded me that I never wish to visit Nigeria, this one has done the same for Ecuador. Much of the story dwells on the hardship, corruption and violence that are a way of life in this country although perhaps this is not typical. Filomena herself said:

‘Don’t get me wrong, there are nice parts of Guayaquil. I just never visit them.’

As she is in the country with her teenage daughter in order to catch up with family and be a tourist I couldn’t help but wonder why not.

Filomena worries a lot about carcinogens from the likes of smokers or burning tyres, all while deliberately putting herself in the way of people with guns who have no qualms about killing. She is portrayed as a hardboiled detective concerned about her daughter, yet continually runs risks that are liable to bring retribution on her whole family.

Perhaps I took it all too seriously, I really didn’t quite know what to make of this book. It was not one that I could just keep reading, not a page turner. Whilst being well enough put together it did not draw me in as I would have liked. Filomena risked her life for a cause and it was never really explained why.

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

Random Musings: The learner driver

My eldest child is learning to drive. She has been taking weekly lessons with an instructor for a little over six months, practising her skills in between by driving my little car. Sitting with her while she drives terrifies me and she knows it. I console myself with the thought that when she sits her practical test she will likely be nervous. Driving under my supervision gives her practice at driving under pressure.

Her lessons are expensive. I do not begrudge the instructor his fee but the longer it takes my daughter to pass her test the more the costs mount up. Encouraging her to practice as much as possible therefore makes sense but for her to practice either my husband or I must be in the car. While he is at work I must take my turn.

In recent weeks our weather has turned cold and wet so my boys have been less inclined to cycle to and from school. Bus fares have increased markedly so I decided that it would be a win win situation if my daughter drove everyone in each morning. This decision is proving to be a challenge to my well-being.

Automatic transmission cars are becoming more popular but most cars in this country still have manual gear shifts. Pulling out of busy junctions into rush hour traffic is not a good time to stall the engine; I try to stay silent as Daughter restarts the car and pulls away in a screech of spray. Changing gears whilst navigating the busy roundabouts en route requires concentration; I try not to flinch as the car veers worryingly close to kerbs as she accelerates away from each intersection.

I am not a particularly skilled driver and I recognise that I am a nervous passenger; my husband’s driving regularly causes me concern. He seems to take it as a personal slight if a car pulls in front of him, his irritation obvious in his demeanour and language. He will overtake furiously and then coast along, his mind focused on fuel economy. The irony of this variation in style is apparently lost on him. He chooses routes on distance rather than navigational ease. He and his dad will discuss at length alternative, potentially faster routes with the eagerness of alchemists. I suspect that my slow and steady driving along the best maintained roads irritates him as much as his driving decisions can irritate me.

This is all about trust and control yet with driving the biggest risk comes from others. My daughter will benefit from being able to drive but it is hard to put aside thoughts of the road traffic accidents that so regularly cause delays near our home. When my husband is late back from work that is where my imagination takes me.

I drive as little as possible, preferring to cycle, walk and use the trains. Our rural location, inclement weather and patchy public transport require me to use my car more than I would wish. Friends tell me that my real worries will start when my daughter passes her driving test and goes out on these roads alone.

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Book Review: Lagoon

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Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor, weaves an earthly story around an alien landing off the coast of Lagos in Nigeria. It explores the imagined consequences for the residents of this corrupt and superstitious city of such an event, as well as individual and mob reactions to happenings that all would struggle to comprehend. Man seeking to exploit a situation for his own benefit is not a new subject to explore, but this tale offers an imaginative take on what is a familiar theme.

My reaction to the book remains mixed. I enjoyed the chapters told from the point of view of the non human creatures, particularly the ocean dwellers being slowly poisoned by human activity. I liked the magical abilities given to the small number of humans who still had some good in them to share. It was fun to imagine how a few could develop such power over evil even if in using that power their goodness were compromised. Not for the first time I wondered if the world would be improved if humans were wiped out.

I struggled to understand the segments of Pidgin English dialogue, not wishing to constantly refer to the translations of words and phrases included at the end of the book. Any sympathy that I may have felt for the hardships suffered due to poverty, or exacerbated by the struggling infrastructure that was unlikely to improve due to greed and corruption, was quashed by the seemingly constant desire by so many to trick or steal their way to wealth whilst pushing others down. I know little of Nigeria but any prejudices that I may have felt about the natives of the country were exacerbated by the characterisations in this book. One of the well educated protagonists had travelled yet stated that they had wished to return to Lagos. Having read this story I am at a loss as to why anyone would freely choose to reside in such a place other than with charitable aims.

The characters may have evoked little sympathy but I found the plot beguiling. The interweaving of alien powers and earthly magic was nicely written with a rhythm and cadence that perfectly suited the extra terrestrial tale. It is hard to see how any intelligent life form capable of reading the minds of man would choose to stay on this planet but by offering the prospect of enforced change radiating out through example and sacrifice, the story retained a message of hope.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hodder and Stoughton. 

Book Review: Timebomb

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Timebomb, by Scott K. Andrews, is the first book in a planned, new, time travel trilogy for young adults. It follows the adventures of three teenagers plucked unexpectedly from lives that seem ordinary in the 17th, 21st and 22nd centuries to face a foe they are told little about. They are flung into an unknown world where they are constantly threatened and do not know who to trust. As may be expected if time travel became a possibility there are those who wish to control the few who can master it and thereby use it for their own nefarious means. In this first book in the series it is unclear who the enemy they must face is or what they want, only that the three teenagers are seen as instrumental in a deadly game that is being played out across many centuries.

Keeping track of the various timelines can be confusing in places as the travellers meet their future selves when they step in to perform rescues from life threatening situations. These glimpses suggest adventures to come with an increase in knowledge and skills. In this book however they are still learning and each of the protagonists folds under pressure at various times. Despite their unusual abilities they are not presented as superheroes.

I enjoyed the descriptions of present day advances as seen through the eyes of a traveller from the past. What was made less clear were the limitations of technologies that could be carried back in time. Toasters and fridges it seems were transportable but not the helpful computer chip that future person carried in her head and which her enemies wished to acquire. I wondered why all those capable of time travel did not possess the best the future could offer.

The plot lines are complex but move along at a rollicking pace making this book a compelling read. It offers but one adventure and the reader is left with many questions and a desire to have them answered. With two more books planned this bodes well for the author, although I would have liked to have seen a little more coherence here. Throughout the excitement it was hard to grasp reasons for much of what was going on.

Having said that I enjoyed the book and will look out for the next instalment. Many of the characters are intriguing with several who played bit parts in this book perhaps being set up for future roles. This is an unfolding story filled with action and conspiracy that presents time travel as an ability that the world is probably better off without.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hodder and Stoughton.

 

 

 

Random Musings: Worry

I worry.

I worry about being late, about getting lost, about having to face my husband with a speeding fine if I accidentally drive over the limit, or a parking fine if I am delayed and stay longer than my prepaid time in a car park. I worry that I will be blamed.

I worry that my children will see me as dull or foolish and think that this is typical of a mother, a woman. I worry that my husband will see me as dull or foolish and decide to leave. I worry that I will express myself badly and cause offence or that my silence will suggest agreement with something I find offensive.

I worry about losing my muse, about the quality of my writing. I worry about not reading the books I have requested for review as fast as is required. I worry that my review will cause pain to the writer who may think I do not appreciate how awesome it is to have created an entire book and had it published. I want to remind them that each reader is unique and nothing is ever universally adored.

I worry that I will get sick and inconvenience my nearest and dearest, cost our beleaguered health service a foolish amount for treatment that merely delays the inevitable. When it is my time to leave this earth may I depart quickly and quietly, no fuss as I slip away. I worry that I will waste other’s time and money.

I worry about letting my family down, about not fulfilling my duties as wife and mother. I worry that I have lost whatever it was that drew my husband to marry me, that I have allowed it to be submerged under all of my worries.

Shortly after my second child was born I went to the supermarket with my toddler daughter and young baby. When we returned I parked my car in the driveway of our home and carried the sleeping infant to his crib before returning to unload the bags of groceries. My daughter had climbed out of the car and, in my mind’s eye, had accompanied me into the house. Now she was nowhere to be seen.

I searched the house, checked the car, walked around the garden calling for her. I looked up and down our road and in neighbour’s driveways. From a mild irritation that she had not followed me as expected I moved to a concern over where she could have gone. It did not take long for full blown panic to set in. Retrieving her brother from his crib I locked the house and set off on a frantic search.

I worried. I worried that she would wander in front of a car, that she would fall in a pond, that some stranger would see my beautiful little child and whisk her away from me forever. I worried about how on earth I would explain to my husband that I had lost his beloved daughter. I had one job, one important job, and I had failed.

This story has a happy ending. A stranger had noticed my little girl as she toddled alone down a neighbouring street. He saw me and stopped to ask if I was looking for this child, pointing me in the right direction; stranger need not always mean danger. As I rushed to find her a friend who had been watching for me came out of her house with my daughter. She had seen her alone, known this was not as it should be, and taken her in to safety until I could be located. She offered me a brandy, concerned at my shaking and ghostly face.

I worry about being responsible, about doing the wrong thing. I worry that I will make a decision to act and it will not be what was expected or required. I worry about being blamed.

And I am blamed: for preparing and cooking the same boring meals or presenting a change that is not enjoyed; for trying to discuss a topic when my detailed knowledge is lacking; for not being as smart as my former achievements suggest I should be. I am berated for not fitting enough approved activities into my day or for not being always available and willing to do as others wish. I am blamed for not meeting the expectations that they have of me.

Occasionally I will book outings for myself to events that do not interest those I love. I work hard to minimise the inconvenience this causes them but still worry at my selfishness.

I worry.

When did I get like this? When did the smart, independent, young woman I used to be turn into this worrier?

Perhaps I would worry more if I did not recall that that smart, independent, young woman had her own, very different demons to contend with. My worries are a burden, but only because I am no longer so alone.

 

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