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review 2020-01-30 12:04
A heart-warming, fun, and light sci-fi novel, with fabulous characters
The Earthling's Brother - Earik Beann

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read two other books by Beann, one a science-fiction novel and the other a non-fiction book, enjoyed both, and loved the cover and the premise of his new book, and I’m pleased to say that I wholeheartedly recommend it as well.

The book reminded me of yesteryear science-fiction movies, but with a touch of self-awareness, humour, and diversity that made it thoroughly modern. It made me think of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Starman (the movie) and, to a certain extent, Terminator, especially the beginning, although here we have a bit of a twist, and more than one being from outer space (but I’ll try not to spoil the story).

The story is not hard science-fiction, and I suspect lovers of detailed scientific explanations and high-tech might find this book too light, but the setting is very compelling, there are plenty of adventures, and lots of fun to be had. And the characters are all winners.

Maria Rodriguez is a great protagonist. She works hard, loves her sick nephew and tries her best to help him get better, looks after everybody, and she is willing to help, no matter what. She gives “Sam” the benefit of the doubt, even if she thinks he is under the influence of some drug or other and a bit weird, and she ends up being pulled into an adventure that we’d all love to find ourselves in. Sam is another great character, like a grown-up child, and allows us to see ourselves from a completely fresh perspective. What would somebody from another world think about us? Mustafa… Well, I won’t tell you anything about Mustafa, other than he’s amazing, and we also have a proper villain (I’m talking about you, Sanders), and some other not very nice characters, although they don’t get off lightly. I particularly liked “Mother”, which is quite a special character but shows a great deal of insight into the workings of the world, despite her limitations, and Pepe… I think all readers will love Pepe.

The story has a bit of everything: there are some quasi-magical elements about it (be careful what you wish for!); we have police persecutions and interrogations; we have references to migration policies and to asylum hearings (this is priceless!); we have alien civilizations intent on destroying the world as we know it; trips to Las Vegas and big winnings at the casinos; a road-trip; flying secret planes; a stand-off between USA and Canadian soldiers, and even a little bit of romance thrown in.

The writing style is smooth, easy-to-read, and there are plenty of action scenes, humour, suspense, and some pretty scary moments as well. Although there is destruction, mayhem, and violence, it is not very extreme or explicit, and most of it is only referred to in passing. All these elements, and the story, that has an all-around feel-good happy ending, make this book perfect for YA readers, in my opinion, and I think older children might enjoy it as well, although I’d recommend parents to check it out beforehand.

In sum, this is a joy of a book. It can be read as a fun and light sci-fi adventure book, although it does deal in topics that are serious, current, and it has a message that humanity would do well to listen to. It suits all ages, and it leaves readers smiling. What else should we ask for? (Oh, and I especially recommend it to any Canadians out there!)

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review 2020-01-01 13:41
A protagonist you’ll love to hate in a book that will make you think hard
Number Eight Crispy Chicken - Sarah Neofield

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. By the way, personalising the ARC copy for the reviewer is a particularly nice touch. Thanks!

I was intrigued by the description, the title (oh, that title), and also the cover of this book. The topic is one that interests me, and I’m sure I’m one among many who have become increasingly alarmed by the situation of asylum seekers all over the world. Although due to my location I’m more familiar with the happenings in the Mediterranean area, this book set in a fictional country (although most readers will reach their own conclusions as to the author’s inspiration for Furtivus, and she openly discusses it on her website) highlights the fact that things are not that different elsewhere (or perhaps that the differences are more cosmetic than substantial).

It’s difficult to discuss the merits of this book separately from its subject. As a politico-social satire, the beauty is in the way it sends up the situation and it pulls up a distorting mirror to the main character, Peter, who is a composite of the worst “qualities” of politicians and public figures whose take on the subject of the asylum seekers’ plight is the hardest of hard-lines and, on top of that, don’t hesitate on personally profiting from the issue (and not only at a political level). I’ve talked before about books whose main character is nasty and despicable, and how reader might find it counterintuitive at first, but in this genre of political satire, this is to be expected. If you’re looking for a book where you can identify and cheer the main character, and you want a hero to follow, please, don’t read this book. Peter is thoroughly dislikeable. The author chooses to tell the story in the third-person, and although at times we are offered an omniscient (observer’s) point of view, which gives us a bit of a break from being inside of Peter’s head (and his rather disgusting body as well) while at the same time clarifying things and giving us an outsiders perspective, most of the time we experience things from Peter’s point of view, and let me tell you, both mentally and physically, it is not a nice place to be.

There are other characters and even one, Jeremy, who is the complete opposite to Peter, and most readers will like, but they don’t play a big part in the story, and although in the case of Jeremy, he is there to show that other options and points of view exist, for the most part we don’t know them in their own right, as true people, but only as obstacles or points of friction for Peter, and that is at it should be, because it reflects perfectly the policies the real-life counterparts of the protagonist formulate and/or adhere to. Only this time he is not in charge, and he does not like it one little bit.

There is a fair amount of telling in the book (the character is forever running his schemes in his mind, feeling self-important and thinking about his “achievements”, and later on, feeling sorry for himself); the author is wonderfully descriptive when it comes to explaining what is happening in Peter’s body, how he sees things, and there are many moments when the books is almost cinematic (oh, the dreaded red buttons, and the feel of his clothes as they degenerate over 24 hours). Peter is a man who judges others by their appearance, and he is very fastidious when we meet him, moaning at everything that is not right to his liking. Self-centred doesn’t quite capture the degree of his egotism, and the little bits of personal information we gather from his rambling mind do nothing to justify his inflated sense of ego.

The plot of the story is simple, and it is clearly explained in the description. Imagine what would happen if somebody who is responsible for making decisions about the refugee policy in a country (and let’s say his policies are less than generous and welcoming), ended up detained at an airport in a foreign country who does not recognise his status, does not accept his money, does not speak his language (or barely), and, basically, does not care an iota about him and does not see him as a person but as a nuisance repeatedly trying to get into the country uninvited. If you think that sounds like he’s got his comeuppance, well, you’d be right, and if you, like me, think that going through a bureaucratic Kafkian nightmare must be hell, I’d recommend you read this book.

The book is not a page-turner in the usual sense. There are many moments in the book when time drags for Peter, and Neofield makes this experience vivid to the reader. Many things happen in the book, but a lot of it is also spent waiting for the nightmare to end. Let me tell you that I loved the ending, that although understated, I thought was perfect.

The novel is full of quotable moments, but one of my favourites must be a conversation when Peter is trying to explain to the security guards (and it’s not his first encounter with the woman in charge) the nature of the blueprints he carries. The fragment is too long to share in its totality, but I thought I’d give you a taster of it, and also of the reply of the guard (whom I love).

‘It’s our Offshore Processing Centre.’

‘What that?’

‘It’s where illegal immigrants-‘

‘You mean refugee?’

‘No, boat people. Queue jumpers.’

The guard’s English was even poorer than Peter had realised, if he had to explain the difference. ‘It’s where they are held for processing.’

‘You process their claim?’

‘Well, not exactly-‘

‘What you do?’

‘Mainly we just hold them there.’

‘Ah, yes. We had also. Long time ago. Concentration camp. This electric fence, no?’

‘No, no. It’s a Courtesy Fence. And it’s not a camp. It’s a Concentration Centre. I mean, Detention Centre. I mean, Processing Centre.’

The conversation carries on for a while, but I had to share the guard’s summing up of her understanding of the situation (after she tells him he must have taken drugs because of the type of things he is saying):

‘Then why you talk crazy? This,’ she said, pointing back at the plans, ‘is not a picture of house. Is tent. This,’ she rolled up the blueprint and slammed it on the desk, ‘is not process centre if you no process. And four year is not ‘temporary’.’

Be this a warning to all spin doctors.

The novel’s description already mentions some writers that might come to mind on reading this book. As a political satire, Swift comes to mind, and I must say that the main character and some of his problems reminded me of the protagonist of Ian McEwan Solar, at least in the early part of the book. And the fixation of the character with his belongings reminded me as well of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. But you can read it and make up your own mind about it. I recommend it to people interested in the subject of the politics of immigration and seeking asylum in many Western countries, especially if looking for a critical and analytical take on it, which is at the same time sharply and painfully funny and entertaining. You’ll love to hate Peter, and the book is particularly suitable for book clubs, as there is much to discuss and mull over, both in the book itself and in the subject it deals with. The author even offers a guide for readers belonging to book clubs and shares some of the sources she used as an inspiration, and you can access them here. I don’t know what the author plans to write in the future, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on her, and I hope plenty of people read this book, and it makes them think.

 

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review 2019-05-08 14:31
A masterful new Victorian mystery series.
The Head In The Ice: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation - Richard James

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel ahead of its publication.

From the moment I read the description of this novel, a few weeks before its publication, I knew I’d end up reading it. I love mysteries, have been reading historical fiction in recent times and with my background in criminology, a mysterious murder set in the Victorian era ticked many boxes. To top it all, the main character, and the protagonist of the series, Inspector Bowman, had been in a lunatic asylum. As I’m also a psychiatrist and have read and enjoyed books looking back at the history of psychiatry, this was a further inducement, if I needed one. Of course, the title and the cover of the book worked in its favour.

I’ll try not to dwell too much on the story and the plot itself, to avoid spoilers, but I can tell you the book is a fine mystery that lived up to my expectations, and even surpassed them in many ways.

The style of the story and the way is told put me in mind of watching a movie (or a play, which I know is a genre the author is very familiar with, although here we have many more settings than in a standard play). The author uses an omniscient point of view, and that means that readers get to see scenes and events from a variety of characters’ perspectives (and not only the good guys either), and sometimes also from a neutral observer’s point of view (that works particularly well to set the scene and also to keep the mystery going, while at the same time offering readers some snippets of information that Bowman and his team do not have). That is an excellent method to avoid revealing too much while offering the readers great insights into the characters’ thoughts and motivations, but I know not everybody likes stories told this way, and I’d advise people to check a sample of the book to see if it is a good fit, in case of doubt. Personally, I did not find the way the story was told at all confusing, although due to the nature of the case and to the many characters, it is necessary to pay close attention and make sure not to miss any details. (Perhaps adding a cast of characters might help readers get their bearings quickly).

In some books that type of point of view might result in difficulty getting attached to any of the characters, but I did not think that was the case here. Although we get many points of view, the main one we follow is that of the Bowman, and because the inspector is the first character we meet, and in pretty difficult circumstances (he is a resident at a lunatic asylum just about to go in front of the board that must decide if he’s ready for his release), we quickly establish a connection with him. He is a sympathetic and intelligent character, who has suffered a personal tragedy that has resulted in mental health difficulties (nowadays, I’d say he would be diagnosed, most likely, with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), and who tries hard to get on with his life, despite his anxiety, flashbacks, and the complex and emotionally challenging nature of his work. He is not the perfect and flawless here, but a human being with flaws and weaknesses. His flashbacks, the physical symptoms he experiences, and his fragile mental state are well drawn and are, for me, one of the strongest points of the book. I also enjoyed the depiction of the asylum and its therapies, far from the ones we often see and read about in popular media that seem right out of a horror movie. There are other characters to root for as well, although not quite as fleshed out as Bowman, and even some of the baddies are individualised enough for readers to get a fair idea of who they are.

The novel also succeeds at creating a picture of the London of the era, the atmosphere of the different neighbourhoods, the asylum, Scotland Yard, the underworld, without going overboard with descriptions and details or slowing the action. It is a compelling and historically accurate portrayal of a time, and one that goes beyond the anecdotal to dig deeper into some of the unsavoury aspects of the era.

The plot is gripping, and we visit upper-middle-class locations, pubs, sewers, cemeteries, bridges, a lunatic asylum, a ship, Bengal, and we get to learn about laudanum, poisons, laws, Victorian trade, weapons, the criminal underworld of the era (including murders, robberies, prostitution…), and although we learn enough information to get suspicious about the guilty party (or parties) fairly early on, there are quite a few twists and turns, strange goings on, and we don’t get to understand how it all fits together until close to the end (we might have our suspicions but…). There are some red herrings thrown in, and even a suggestion of the supernatural. All in all, the atmosphere, the characters, and the plot, work well to create a solid story, a great opening to a new series of Victorian mysteries, and one that allows us to examine the laws, mores and morality of the era.

If I had to take issue with anything, other than the point of view that I think works well but some readers might not feel comfortable with, I felt that, at times, some of the experiences, tics, and behaviours characters engage in (clearing one’s throat, blowing smoke into someone’s face, etc.) are repeated fairly often, and that put me in mind of stage directions or business that actors have to engage in to indicate certain traits of a character, which might not be as relevant or necessary when we can share in their thoughts directly. I did not find it distracting and, like some of the side stories, I felt they helped readers catch their breath and regroup, but those who prefer stripped down and action-led plots might feel they could be slimmed down.

In sum, this is a great story that I’d recommend to those who enjoy mysteries within a historical setting (Victorian in this case), with a complex story full of compelling characters and plenty of atmosphere. I look forward to the next adventure of Inspector Bowman, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.

 

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review 2019-04-27 03:45
Inside the Asylum (A Kathy Ryan Novel) by Mary SanGiovanni
Inside the Asylum (Kathy Ryan Novel) - Mary SanGiovanni

Something is breaking loose in the Connecticut-Newlyn Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Stalking the halls after dark, brutally murdering inmates within their locked rooms.

The inmates know who is responsible, but no one believes them.

Occult investigator Kathy Ryan interviews an inmate about his connections to a deadly cult, she learns about the killings....and when she reports what she heard, she finds herself investigating the suspect, inmate Henry Banks.

Because Henry is innocent.
Henry doesn't kill.
But his imaginary friends do.
And now they're getting ready to break free of Henry.....and break out into the real world.

Leaving Kathy to face an invasion from a place that doesn't exist by creatures that shouldn't exist before they find the secret to becoming in the real world.....and the only person who may know how to stop it is her brother.....who is one of the inmates.

A terrific, fast paced novel of terror where the monsters of the human mind collide with Lovecraftian things that shred minds and reality.....to breed things that will blow your mind out of your ears.

Highly recommended.

Expected publication: May 7th, 2019 by Kensington Publishing Corporation.

This was an eARC from Netgalley and Kensington Publishing Corporation.






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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-27 01:40
Review: The Blackstone Chronicles, Part 6: Asylum
Asylum - John Saul

Reread.

 

The final "gift" has been delivered to Harvey Connally, the uncle of Oliver Metcalf, but Harvey is certain the gift was actually meant for his nephew.  When Oliver sees the shaving box with a blood-stained straight razor inside, all of the repressed memories came flooding back.

 

Oliver's father was a monster who had visited his rage upon the patients of the asylum and worse, his own son Oliver.  And through Oliver's childhood, Malcolm had been grooming his son to be the instrument of his revenge.  From the beginning of the renovation project, Oliver had been having blackouts and performing tasks (without his conscious knowledge) that his father had implanted into his memory years prior.

 

Between the death of his uncle and finding himself standing above Rebecca holding the straight razor, Oliver finally snaps out of the trance he's been in and realizes what has been going on in Blackstone all along.  Now that he's remembered his past, he's been freed of his father's influence and the "curse" is lifted from the town.

 

This series was great.  I love serial novellas and wish they would make a comeback.  There was always just enough thrill and suspense in each novella to keep you eager for the next one.  The stories were so well written that I was never truly sure who the dark figure was.  Not until right before the reveal.  I adore John Saul novels and am glad I decided to reread this series.

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