Friday, 26 October 2018

THE TOMATO QUEST by D G Driver

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

 

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a nutshell: Fairy story/sweet romance, long-short story.

In an undisclosed historical era and place, this story is about lowly gardener Dash, who wants to marry the daughter of the noble for whom he works.  Dismissing his request, Lilian's father sets him a task: he hands him a box of tomatoes and says that if he can make his fortune before they rot, he may have Lilian's hand in marriage.  Then follows adventure after adventure, as he struggles to complete the seemingly impossible, while Lilian does her best to postpone the engagement to the man her parents want her to marry.

This is a fun idea and a nicely put together story.  I admit to being slightly bothered throughout by the incorrect use of titles; for instance, a 'Sir' should be referred to by both first and surnames, never as 'Sir Barrymore', and a Duke would be known as the Duke of such-and-such a place, not as Duke followed by his surname.  This sort of thing is easy to find out; I just checked it in a few minutes on Google, to make sure I wasn't wrong.  Having said that, the story has fantasy elements, so perhaps it doesn't matter too much!  It should appeal to lovers of fairy tale romance and happy endings.



 

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari @harari_yuval

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I read Sapiens and thought it was fabulous, and Homo Deus ditto, though with a few reservations.  So I had to read this, too.

In a nutshell: Anthropology, philosophy, sociology ~ a look at the possible, immediate problems facing the human race.

Fascinating book that made me think about some stuff that I'd rather not think about (but I was glad when I had), and also made me feel relieved that I was born when I was, though I know this is the most common reaction when people come face to face with the world as it may be in forty years' time!

21 Lessons discusses why, in the future, the common man may become not so much oppressed as irrelevant, as automation takes over many jobs ~ and in fact how we may have to rethink the whole subject of jobs and careers, as online life takes over.  It ponders the sinister reality of AI, the benefits of the emerging technologies and the dangers, as Homo Sapiens as a species undergoes the most rapid changes in its two million years on the planet.  

'...the best advice I could give a fifteen-year-od stuck in an outdated school...is: don't rely on the adults too much.  In the past, it was a relatively safe bet to follow the adults, because they knew the world quite well, and the world changed slowly.  But the twenty-first century is going to be different.  Due to the growing pace of change you can never be certain whether what the adults are telling you is timeless wisdom or outdated bias.'

What I liked so much about this book is that it explores the pros and cons of such concepts as globalisation and liberalism in such a readable way, with passages that make the philosophical ponderings so relatable.

Harari doesn't know what the world will be like in 2050, and doesn't claim to, but he talks of of the possible sociological and technological developments; the way we have already forced the latter on the world is terrifying indeed:

'...we have gained the power to manipulate the world around us, but because we didn't understand the complexity of global ecology, the changes we made inadvertently disrupted the entire ecological system and now we face an ecological collapse.'

'We have bred docile cows that produce enormous amounts of milk, but are otherwise far inferior to their wild ancestors.  They are less agile, less curious, less resourceful.  We are now creating tame humans that produce an enormous amount of data and function as efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism... we hardly invest much in exploring the human mind, and instead focus on increasing the speed of our internet connections and the efficiency of our Big Data algorithms'

With 'lessons' on the 'why' of religion, on truth, justice, law, the meaning of life (!) and one on meditation, it's a fascinating study and debate that everyone should read.  And yes, it raises some of the questions already covered in Sapiens and Homo Deus, but that's okay.

I'll finish with this: 

'At present the meat industry not only inflicts misery on billions of sentient beings, but it is also one of the chief causes of global warming, one of the main consumers of antibiotics and poison, and one of the foremost polluters of air, land and water... it takes about 15,000 litres of fresh water to produce one kilo of beef, compared to 287 litres needed to produce a kilo of potatoes.'  

Thank you, Mr Harari.  Can't be said too often.


 

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU by Nikki Crutchley @NikkiCAuthor

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

Genre: Crime and abduction, set in New Zealand

The book opens with an excellent prologue about Faith, a teenage foster kid getting abducted, back in 2001.  It then goes back to the main story, about Zoe, a thirty-something, recently unemployed teacher whose life is all at sea, going back to small town Crawton because her mother has died.  Zoe's feelings about this can hardly even be called 'mixed' ~ her relationship with Lilian was cold and distant, and she hasn't seen her since she was eighteen.  When she arrives in Crawton, though, she is left wondering what really happened to her mother.

Meanwhile, meth-head Megan has been abducted, and is kept prisoner in a storage cupboard.

Despite the themes of abduction, murder and the sleazy underworld of drugs, I'd describe this as a low-key thriller; much of the novel concerns Zoe's relationship with her mother and the other issues she is working through, and there is quite a lot of domestic and day-to-day conversational detail, which, together with the writing style, lends itself more to a dark drama with gradually unfolding sinister developments than edge-of-your-seat suspense.  It's nicely written and the characterisation is good, particularly Faith, with whom the book opens.  One of the characters has Alzheimer's, and I thought this was most realistic.

I had a feeling who the baddie(s) might be about half way through, but that's probably because I watch a lot of TV of this genre; it's not at all obvious.  The plot is convincing and cleverly structured, I thought the descriptions of what the abducted girls went through was particularly well done, and the ending was good ~ I do appreciate a well-thought out ending.  I can imagine this being the sort of book you might get into reading on holiday.







Thursday, 11 October 2018

FARM LAND: Sentience by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I will read anything by Gemma Lawrence; coupled with my love of dark, dystopian futures, I could hardly open this quickly enough, once I'd bought it!

Genre: Dark fantasy, dystopian, horror

This story takes place thousands of years into the future, after the world as we know it has been all but destroyed by the greed of those in power.  After widespread war, death and famine, the waters rose and many species became extinct.  Now, the corner of the world in which this story takes place is governed once more by the rich and greedy, with the less affluent in society doing as they're told.  But there is a yet less fortunate underclass ~ those who fought against the rich back in times of war were enslaved, with their descendants kept captive and used for meat.  They are bred in the Factory, never seeing the light of day.  At puberty, suitable girls become 'breeders'.  

There are those, though, who still live free, or have escaped the Factory, and are hunted by the flesh-eaters; wild, non-Factory meat is much prized.  The free people eat only that which they can grow in the soil of their land.

'Those who founded this place, our forebears, told us that All Life Is Sacred...as the flesh-eaters had denied our rights, we should not deny them to other sentient creatures...who can think, feel and experience pleasure and pain.'

Then there are the other dangers; insects have evolved and become larger.  Much larger.

Farm Land: Sentience can be read as a dark, futuristic fantasy ~ it's great fiction, exciting and well-written.  I think, though, that it has deeper meaning, and I've found myself thinking about it a lot, when I'm not reading it.

The flesh-eaters believe that those bred for meat have no feelings, are not the same as them; they choose to believe this, because they have been told it is so, by those who rule over them; if they see anything in the slaughtering process that makes them feel uncomfortable, they close their eyes ~ except one, who begins to understand what is actually going on.

The story is told from the POV of a sixteen-year-old girl; an old woman she meets tells her more about how and why the old world ended.  There are so many parallels with our own destruction of our planet and the evils of animal agriculture that I could quote away until this review was far too long, but the book does not preach, at all.  It talks of belief in gods, and whether or not they were all imaginary; either way, by now they are long gone, with the flesh-eaters living only to satisfy their own immediate needs.  

The main character discovers that she is a 'Reacher', in that she can enter the thoughts of others, and communicate with the few who have this ability.  Much about this, and the evolution of other species, made me think of something else I've read lately, ie, that man as we know it now has not necessarily finished evolving.  For all we know, we may indeed develop other abilities much, much farther down the line ~ if we do not destroy ourselves.

'They are careless with lives because they do not consider anything to be as important as themselves...they started to use everything, exhausting the world, ignoring warnings screamed by the earth... the greed of man is such that they will seek to consume the world, and never stop to wonder what will be left for them to stand upon.'

Whether you read this as compelling and unpredictable fantasy fiction or see more parallels with our own society within, it's a terrific book.  It's about the possibility of love, acceptance and care for others being allowed to triumph over greed, selfishness and evil.  Unmissable.


Monday, 8 October 2018

QUICK FIX by J Gregory Smith

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

Genre: Crime, heist, kidnapping.

This book has a great opening.  Military contractor Kyle Logan messes up his already messed up life by assaulting his wife's divorce lawyer, who also happens to be her lover.  He's then offered a role in the theft of some pieces of valuable artwork, by his friend Ryan.  Kyle is also suffering from injuries caused by an IED when he was in Iraq.  

I warmed to the characters and the writing style straight away.  There's plenty of dark stuff going on, but lots of humour, too - I liked the observations about characters, and often just the way stuff was phrased ('I hated losing her to a puke like Fenster').  The guy-on-his-uppers-with-wife-who-has-moved-on-to-a-more-straight-and-successful-new-man thing is an oft-used scenario in this genre in both books and on screen (I'm currently watching the TV series Get Shorty - there it is again!), but it works every time, and J Gregory Smith has painted all participants most colourfully.

When Kyle realises that involvement in Ryan's criminal schemes means re-acquaintance with childhood chum-turned-gangster Danny 'Iceballs' Sheehan, he knows his life is not going to be easy.  Smith has portrayed the atmosphere of the criminal underworld of Philadelphia so well; this book is fast-paced and flows very well, with a convincing plot, and is, basically, a good, solid novel.  I haven't got anything negative to say about it.  Nice one.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

TREASON IN TRUST by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I love Gemma Lawrence and have read the rest of this series, of which this is book 5!

Genre: History, Biography, Tudors, Elizabeth 1st.

Treason in Trust covers the middle part of Elizabeth's reign, or some of it ~ not a period of history with which I am familiar, so this was quite a new experience for me with one of Gemma Lawrence's books. 

The attention to detail in this book is as good as ever, and I especially loved the descriptions of London itself and how the people lived, made all the more meaningful because of Elizabeth's well-documented view that she was married to her country, with her subjects her children.  She talks often about the reasons for her remaining single, and her thoughts about the patriarchal society in which she lives ~ an early feminist, indeed.  

I enjoyed reading about Francis Drake, battles upon the seas, the customs, medicines and superstitions of the time ~ and the introduction of the wristwatch: "A clock... for my wrist?" I asked.  "What a novel idea, Robin!"

Much of the novel deals with the problem of the disgraced Mary, Queen of Scots, and the rebellions within her beloved England, as the problems of religious differences rear their ugly heads over and over again.  Death haunts her, as she thinks of all those she has lost, especially as she grows older and succumbs to illness ... and learns of terrible massacre and relgious persecution abroad.

Reading this, you will feel as though Gemma Lawrence knows the older Elizabeth every bit as well as she knew the girl.  There has not yet been one of her historical novels that I don't consider worthy of five stars.