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Gollancz never fail to disappoint. I have yet to read a book from their S.F Masterworks collection that I did not enjoy even a little bit. The collection is expertly chosen by people who know their Science Fiction inside and out. Flowers for Algernon appeared in their top ten list: http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/genres/sf-fantasy/gollancz-blog/the-results-are-in!.

I bought the title from Amazon and it sat on my shelf for an undue length of time. When I finally got down to reading it last week I pretty much stayed in one place the whole weekend till I was done. Bad for your eyes …

I don’t usually go for an epistolary style novel; however this seemed the only logical way to tell Charlie Gordon’s story. His character was deeply thought out and explored during the novel with ample time given to the science behind the fiction. The psychological reasoning behind the success of Charlie was as interesting as his failure. Each moment of the process was mapped out in intimate detail giving the whole novel a deeply human feel. I would recommend this to a reader who has not read a lot of Sci-Fi and wants a gentle way in to the genre. You don’t need a vast knowledge of science to read this book (as with The Quantum Thief).

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I started this novel nearly two months ago on September 8th. Usually, if I enjoy a book, I can consume it within a couple of weeks. Even if I don’t enjoy a book I tend to give up on it within the same time frame and chalk it up to an ‘incompatible interest/style’. After nearly twelve months perusing raw and amateur fiction on authonomy.com, it does not take me long to conclude whether I will be able to finish the book.

That may seem dismissive but when reading takes up such a large amount of concentrated time, it seems a waste to spend it on a book that I won’t enjoy. A bad film is bad for a record time (for me) of whatever length Pearl Harbour was. Others loved the film but it wasn’t for me. A book, on the other hand, is bad for as long as you intend to sit and read it. And reading can take a long time if you are not enjoying it.

Difficult books are harder to gauge. They are easier to put down but more satisfying when they are finished. I still intend to finish Lord of the Rings but I can’t quite bring myself to start all over again when I got so far. Why do the names have to be so complicated? The more I delve into Fantasy and SF the more need I feel to explore the classics. All genres should have a grounding and a history, even if they are relatively new.

ChiZine Publications specialise in breaking these genre rules. See their “philosophy” page: http://chizinepub.com/about/philosophy.php their aim is to “find authors and manuscripts that are trying to move the genre forward”.

When I started reading The Pattern Scars the deviance of the novel was unclear. It started as any book would with the protagonist at some defining point in their youth. This point leading them to develop a fundamental characteristic that would shadow their every movement from this point forth. For Nola it was the manifestation of her gift. Her mother saw fit to sell Nola to a brothel. From this point on Nola seemed unable to find herself a safe place where she belonged. Some authoritarian figure always managed to put Nola into a further state of vulnerability.

There is plenty of scope in this novel to explore it fully with a psychoanalytic method but I won’t do that here. For me, the true power of the novel was the gore. Never have I read a book so bloody or graphic. At many points I squirmed as imagined corpses and general rotting filled my mind. The colours and intended beauty of the pattern seemed surreal against the backdrop of horrific images that tended to frame it. I struggled with this, feeling that the imagery of the Pattern conflicted with the suspense built up in the horrific images. It was difficult to follow the pace of the novel as it lurched and lulled hence my sporadic reading (not helped by the arduous process of moving out). Though it sounds like I am complaining, The Pattern Scars was very well written with a fascinating and original storyline.

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Space is set in the southern states of USA. It depicts a couple, deeply in-love, who are torn apart – both in themselves and from each other – by their daughter. The novel opens with a touching scene of family unity, underpinned by Deede’s awareness of her daughter’s absence. The contrast between the unity and the following panic concerning their daughter’s well-being when they learn she has overdosed sets up the tone for the rest of the novel.

Through the spiritual voice of Deede, Emily Sue Harvey candidly exposes what it is like to live with a drug addict. Each tiny victory is blown out by catastrophic failure and Deede’s hopeless optimism begins to wear thin. The reader is dragged along on an emotional roller-coaster; the tracks being Faith’s road through drug addiction and the cart is the tenuous family solidarity that creaks and groans with each new obstacle. Any moment it will derail sending the Stowe/Eagle clan to destruction.

The tight-knit family from the prologue struggles to hold it together. Gradually, one by one, they turn their back on Faith. Her name is ironic. No one has faith in her yet it, and support is what she needs to find her way back to the tracks. Dan Stowe reacts with vigorous discipline and Deede with the more softly, softly approach. Whether either of them has it in them to turn their daughter around is irrelevant. It is the emotional drama which gives this novel its charm.

The characterisation in this novel is the key to its power. Each character is fully realised and has distinct relationships with others. The conflicts that arise out of family solidarity and logic cast the reader into a see-saw as to who to sympathise with. As relationships become strained or sometimes strengthened as the novel progresses the drama and impact escalates.

Recovering from drug addiction is hard, and even harder to write about. Harvey unflinchingly goes into insightful detail on the experience from both mother and daughter perspectives. The plot itself is harrowing at times but incredibly real and true to life. Love still shines through the text despite the desperate situations proving Noni’s comment:

“With all its sham, drugery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

Published by The Story Plant

Kindle Edition 13th Sept 2011

Paperback 20th Oct 2011

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Promissory Payback is a short crime story following Detective Jane Perry’s investigation into the murder of the much-hated Carolyn Handel. It is difficult to find someone who wouldn’t want to kill the self-obsessed money-grabbing sixty year old who made her living out of other people’s suffering. Though absent from the action, Carolyn Handel still twists and manipulates emotions from beyond the grave.

 “Evil requires the sanction of the victim” is Jane Perry’s motto. In her life victims are in a situation of their own doing. If someone wants to kill you it’s because you have done something so terrible you deserve it or because you are too weak to fight them off. Be strong. If not carry a gun.

 Dewey paints Jane Perry with all the colours of feminism. A strong woman who loves her gun and who takes yoga only to keep herself flexible in order to catch the ‘perps’. Perry despises other women, predominantly for their ‘cattiness’ and doesn’t seem to respond well when they try to bond with her. Forming friendships with women seems to Perry to leave oneself vulnerable:

 “Jane deduced this was how the trap was set between all women – cradle you in the disingenuous arms of familiarity and then hover until you become vulnerable.”

 Perry remains suspicious and detached from every character in the novel as one would expect from a murder investigator. However during their first interview each potential suspect falls foul of verbal diarrhoea and spews incessant facts about themselves. This seems unusual for a first conversation with a stranger, especially when that stranger is a detective.

 Snappy dialogue exchanges propel the story forwards with a gripping pace. A lot is revealed about each character from what they say; any gaps are filled in with Perry’s impeccable intuition. Her skills at reading people do border on omniscience at times which is distracting. Long descriptions and the occasional runaway sentence make for awkward reading at the beginning of the story and the abundance of clues does dilute the suspense at times. However the ending is powerful and packed with the emotional vengeance of Carolyn’s greatest victim.

Published by The Story Plant (Stamford, 2011)

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This book is more about relationships and what constitutes an acceptable relationship than it is about ghosts. Again like The Time Traveller’s Wife the genre takes a back seat to the elements of Women’s Fiction that are prevalent. That it is a ghost story is irrelevant. The ghosts are but a minor detail to set the book apart from Women’s Fiction rather than to take the book into the genre of Horror / Ghost Stories entirely.

Julia and Valentina inherit a London apartment from an aunt they never knew they had. Their mother Edie’s relationship with her twin sister Elspeth is estranged to say the least. The more time Julia and Valentina spend in London the more they want to know what happened between Edie and Elspeth. However the desire to know or find out is never fully realised. The story focuses on their unconventional relationships with each other and other characters in the novel.

The reader is left wondering are Julia and Valentina too close or is it acceptable because they are twins. How old is too old? What is an acceptable age gap or is it no longer relevant in modern society? Should one be attracted to someone because it reminds them of their dead partner? Should one be attracted to their stalker? The fact that all this is perceived and judged upon by a supernatural entity seems irrelevant until the last quarter of the novel when things get exciting.

That being said, Niffenegger writes with fascinating detail. Each character is well-shaped and inviting and the environment provides plenty of escapism. An easy read perfect for the summer’s holiday.

(Reading Challenge: Book 6 of 20)

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A patchwork of cleverly crafted short stories glued together with intrigue, action and suspense.

Simmons opens with a staggering visual scene in keeping with the convention of filmmakers. Although this passage is slightly off-putting and difficult to follow, especially if like me your experience with sci-fi jargon is limited, the novel that follows is a fascinating read.

The protagonist chops and changes depending on who is telling the story. Each character on board the pilgrimage have their own history and a voice in which to tell it. Flashbacks can detract from the story but in Hyperion the character’s reason for being conscripted or signing up for the pilgrimmage is as compelling as the current action of the pilgrimmage itself.

The varying narrative points reminded me briefly of Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, where it is difficult to enjoy the story as it finishes just as you start to get into the meat of it. I admit it is a little frustrating not to see how the story pans out from one perspective but the next story is (usually) interesting enough to help you forget the awkwardness.

As the layers of mystery is peeled away from each character in turn after you have ‘listened’ to their story so it is piled on else where in the current action.

If you have the patience for a long read and fancy a bit of interstellar travel this book is well worth a look!

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A hauntingly emotional read from start to finish. Never Let Me Go is narrated by an ex-Hailsham student now working as a carer for various ‘donors’. Kathy relives her past in the knowledge that she only has a few months left as a carer. Through her story she paints a vivid picture of futile hopes and the beauty of relationships.

In the beautiful setting of Hailsham Kathy develops a close friendship with Ruth, a neurotic and harsh character whom Kathy loves regardless. Aside to this, Kathy begins a more tentative friendship with Tommy, the bad-tempered odd boy the others decide to pick on. As Tommy and Ruth grow closer Kathy gradually finds both relationships become more difficult to maintain though she retains many sentimental memories of both.

When Kathy comes to leave the Cottages, a more grown-up take on the idea of Hailsham where the students are more independent, she is estranged from her childhood and relishes the new challenge of being a carer. When she encounters the old faces once more she is forced to face up to her past and everything her memories meant to her.

Never Let Me Go reminded me of A Time Traveller’s Wife in how it combined romance and drama with elements of science fiction. Though the mechanics of the science part was not dealt with in detail, the moral implications and the consequences make for very interesting and emotional reading.

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