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review 2017-08-30 22:26
A post-apocalyptic story of a Britain that is so familiar it is truly scary.
Tipping Point (Project Renova Book 1) - Terry Tyler

This book is a post-apocalyptic novel set in the near future (2024 to be precise) in the UK. Although some of the specific locations are fictional, the author explains in a note at the end where the original inspiration for some of them came from, and indeed, some are real. The setting is one of the great achievements of the novel. For those of us who live in the UK, it is all too real and familiar (with the shops, facilities, political and social organisation, TV programmes, food, language, and even typical behaviours of the population) and that makes it, in many ways, scarier than novels that are set either in imaginary locations, or in vague settings, that in their attempt at representing everywhere sometimes become too unfamiliar and alienating. Another one of the things that differentiate this novel from others in the genre (and I’m aware that the author writes in many different genres and is mostly interested in the stories rather than the labels attached to them) is its attention to characters. Whilst many post-apocalyptic novels spend a lot of the time, either on the cause and the development of the said apocalypse or on descriptions of the new world and post-apocalyptic society, sometimes the characters are little more than superheroes that had not discovered yet they had special survival skills, and spend most of the novel demonstrating us their awesomeness. Although I am not an expert in post-apocalyptic novels, I have read some (the one I best remember in recent times is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel) and I’d dare to say that some readers who might not usually read novels in this genre would enjoy this one.

The time frame of the story is somewhat fragmented. The novel starts plunging us in the middle of the action, as the two main characters, Vicky and her teenage daughter Lottie, are escaping from their town and the enforced isolation and transportation its inhabitants face due to the epidemic. The novel (mostly narrated in the first person by Vicky) then goes back to explain how the situation reached the ‘tipping point’ of the title. The first person narration makes us experience the story close and personal, whilst at the same time limiting the amount of information we get to what Vicky can get hold of. Although her partner, Dex, was well-informed and had been warning her about the world governments attempts at gathering information about the population through social media with shady intent, she always dismissed his concerns and now realises he might have been right all along. (As I have included the description of the novel and want to avoid spoilers, I won’t discuss the whole plot in detail, but let’s say population control is taken to the extreme).

 As I have commented more than once regarding first-person narrations, there are readers who like them more than others, and often it depends on how we feel about the narrator. I must confess that on many occasions I found Vicky very annoying, especially at the beginning of the story. She refuses to believe anything that falls outside of her comfort zone, as if she was wearing blinkers; she is uncritical of official versions of the truth, despite her partner’s attempts at enlightening her. She has little confidence in herself (even when she acknowledges that she has brought up her daughter alone and has achieved much despite her difficult circumstances), and places a lot of responsibility and trust in Dex (although she does not share his ideas or even listen to him at times), her partner for the last six years. He is a fair bit older than her, savvier, and seems to be the one who has to make the decisions and who is expected to come up with answers and solutions to all the problems. (I thought the fact that when they moved they only kept a car, and now he’s the only one to drive and she has lost confidence in her driving seems to encapsulate their relationship). Of course, we do not know him directly, as we only have Vicky’s memories of him, and we learn later those might have been rose-tinted. From the little snippets we get, I found their relationship a bit difficult to understand, as they don’t seem to have much in common (as some of the other characters note, including her daughter) and we learn that she was quite naïve about him.  But she grows and matures through the novel, and although, thankfully, she does not become Wonder Woman, she proves herself resourceful and capable, she dares to try new things and does whatever is necessary to ensure her survival and that of her daughter. I am curious to see how the character will develop in the coming books and also to find out what role she will ultimately end up playing (as the narration seems to be addressed at the readers at times, rather than just being something she is writing exclusively for herself).

I really liked Lottie. She is a credible teenager, determined where her mother is hesitant, flexible and adaptable while remaining a teenager, naïve at times, eager to discover who she is and what she likes, and to fight for her individuality and independence. She brings much of the humour to the story and the relationship mother-daughter is a joy to read (apocalypse or not).

There are some chapters told in the third-person by an omniscient narrator who gets into the head of different characters, some that will evidently play a part in future instalments of the series, and others that provide a clearer background and explanation of how and why everything developed.

The writing is fluid and flows well. The first-person narration is convincing and the reported speech patterns of the different characters are distinctive and help create a clear picture in the reader’s mind. The pacing is steady, at times faster (especially when there is an acute threat to deal with) but at others it slows down to allow for some moments of contemplation and reflection.

Although I said before that the story is not focused on the science behind the illness or on a blow-by-blow account of the spread of the epidemic, that does not mean we do not gain insight into the destruction the virus causes or how it results in a collapse of the usual niceties of civilisation, but rather that we see these on a small scale and from a human-sized perspective, that, if anything, makes it scarier, as it is easier to visualise how this could happen around us. And, as quite a few readers have commented, one feels very tempted to withdraw completely from social media after reading this book, so convincing its plot is.

This first novel in the Renova trilogy sets up the characters and the background situation for the rest of the series. I am intrigued by the number of diverse characters who are set to come together at Lindisfarne. Holy Island, a place I have visited, is fascinating, but not very large for such a crew of people, and it is not somewhere where one can easily hide or even escape from. The confluence of so many people with such different expectations and agendas is bound to be explosive, and I can’t wait for the next book, that luckily should be out in September 2017.

I recommend this novel not only to readers of post-apocalyptic literature, but also to those who enjoy stories that question our beliefs, our society, our values, and that are interested in people, their relationships, and the way they see themselves and others.  I am sure this series will go from strength to strength and I look forward to the next two books.

 

Thanks to the author who kindly offered me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

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review 2017-07-19 23:01
Recommended to those who enjoy action novels, spy novels, thrillers, and definitely to Baldacci fans.
Zero Day - David Baldacci

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher, MacMillan, for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

David Baldacci is one of these authors whose names a reader (and even a non-reader) cannot escape. His books are widely distributed and he always seems to have a volume or two in the bestsellers list (no, not the Amazon one on a little-known genre, but the real thing). Despite all that (or perhaps because of it, as sometimes some names seem so familiar that I feel as if I had already read/watched or whatever it is they do, them before) I had never read any of his books. I saw that coinciding with a book launch, NetGalley was offering a copy of the first book in the John Puller series, and I decided perhaps it was time I read him. (I don’t have any specific opinions on best sellers as such and I don’t necessarily avoid them as a matter of principle but I do prefer to discover them early on, so I can make my own mind up).

The story, narrated in the third person, mostly follows John Puller, a military investigator that is all you probably would wish for in such a character. He has complex family relations (including a genius brother imprisoned for life for treason), he has seen his share of combat and has the medals and the scars to prove them, he is as skilled at fighting as he is at investigating, and although usually he works as part of a team, he can be a one-man-band when required (as is the case here).  There are some moments (like the first chapter) when we follow other characters, but this is for a very good reason, and we, by and far, experience the events from Puller’s perspective. Of course, that does not mean we know everything he knows, because the book hides information at times and that means there are some surprises (the number of surprises might depend on how close your attention and on how many books of the genre you have read).  The story is a combination of a spy story with highly skilled military investigator/hero in charge, and a more standard police procedural, with big secrets, conspiracies, and environmental issues thrown in for good measure. There are hints of a possible romance, but nobody is up to the task, and the time frame is very tight for such developments.

The investigation is very detailed, and we get to know quite a few of the characters in the small West Virginian town of Drake, a coal mining place that has become almost a ghost town due to the environmental and economic consequences of the exploitation and depletion of its resources by the sole industry in the area. Baldacci shares as much loving detail on the way the coal industry works (or at least some far-from-exemplary companies), as he does on everything else: the way the military works, the different roles of the investigating and security agencies and how they interact, the equipment used, the weaponry… This might be too much for some readers, but I am sure it will make others very happy. I did enjoy more the discussions of the environmental issues and the socio-economic effects of the coal-extracting industry than the details about the equipment, but there is plenty of action and intrigue to keep readers of mystery, and also spy novels, entertained.

My favourite character is Sam Cole, the female police officer in charge of the investigation. She has problems of her own and also a difficult relationship with her family, and seems the perfect match for Puller. I would probably have preferred the novel to be about her, but that is not the genre or the focus of it. In many ways, her character is the one that makes us see Puller as something more than a perfect fighting and investigating machine, all professional, and efficient. Yes, he has a cat, some sort of relationships with his father, and an interesting dynamic with his brother, but she is the only person who is not a relative he seems to relate to at a level beyond the casual, and it is not only because it is helpful to his mission.  

I agree with comments that the novel is formulaic in many ways (Puller survives several attempts on his life, has to subvert orders and get inventive to save the day and manages to pull an incredible feat at the end), although as I haven’t read other Baldacci’s books, I cannot comment on how much better or worse Puller is compared to some of his other heroes (Reacher is mentioned often in the reviews, sometimes agreeing he’s as good, others denying it). I imagine once you have such a following as an author, you know what your public wants and expects, so it is perhaps disingenuous to accuse him of writing to a formula. It is not a genre I read often, and I prefer something more distinctive, less heroic, and with a bit of humour.

The book is well paced, the writing supports the story rather than calling attention to itself (as I said, some readers might find there is too much detail, but I doubt his fans will, and after reading the acknowledgements, it is clear that he is well-informed and has had access to first-hand information not many would have), and if you like lone heroes with a conscience, John Puller makes a pretty decent one. Recommended to those who enjoy action novels, spy novels, thrillers, and definitely to Baldacci fans. I am not sure I’d say I’ve become one of them, but I might try another one of his stories at some point.

 

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review 2015-06-16 14:51
The Devil's Breath review
Devil's Breath - Greg F. Gifune

Greg F. Gifune is clearly a writer who knows he's onto a good thing. Shadowy conspiracies (often involving some element of the government), visions of demonic things, a broken and world-weary protagonist with more than a few questions about his sanity. These are the narrative elements that have comprised almost every book from him that I've read.

And The Devil's Breath is, by and large, cut from the same cloth.

The devil is in the details (ha!), so there are a few things about Gifune's latest release that slightly vary the formula. However basically, the reader follows the POV of Stan, a man with a shady past, who is ready to end his life when he himself comes knocking at the door and interrupts his plans. From there, Stan is drawn into an increasingly dark world where he begins to doubt his sanity, even as he uncovers information about a secret society that has nefarious plans aplenty.

In the hands of a lesser writer, The Devil's Breath could have been a mess. But with Gifune at the helm, the reader is guaranteed a quality story told with the effortless ease by a master wordsmith capable of stringing sentences together that create a whole truly greater than the sum of its parts.

It's just that I've read it all before - and no less than three times this year. Gifune's most recent release, Orphans of Wonderland, being perhaps the most similar; though Kingdom of Shadows comes very close. As a result, not even the excellent writing in The Devil's Breath could maintain my interest, as it began to feel overly familiar and somewhat bloated in length.

Here's hoping Gifune opts to stretch his scope and try something different in the near future. And even if he does not, I've already decided to space out working my way through his back catalogue to reduce the chances of getting the same kind of fatigue with any further of his books. They're too good to squander in such a way.

3 Metaphorical Dogs With a Bone for The Devil's Breath.

This review was based on an eARC distributed by DarkFuse via Netgalley.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1294851420
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review 2015-05-22 12:59
Adventure on a grand scale with terrific secondary characters
Deadly Straits - R.E. McDermott

 

What would happen if the great straits of the world were left out of action? How would petrol and other goods move around? This is the question at the heart of this novel, the first in the Tom Dugan’s series that focuses on a number of international secret agents (and some amateurs that get caught in the fire) who by default end up working together investigating a terrorist threat affecting the oceans. I must admit I know very little (being generous) about tankers and the ins and outs of high seas transportation, but that did not detract from my understanding of the plot or my enjoyment of the novel.

We have Tom Dugan, a reluctant hero, an independent and fairly free agent, who is recruited because of his inside knowledge (he is a marine engineer) and because, through a friend, he becomes embroiled in the conspiracy. Although we don’t know him well (this being a series there should be time to get to know more about him), he has an interesting backstory, he is likeable and engaging, friend of his friends, honest and loyal.

His friend, Alex Kairouz, and especially his friend’s family, his daughter Cassie (a great character) and Mrs. Farnshaw are in a league of their own.

And one of the strongest points for me was not only the many stranded plot, detailed enough to result convincing (and make you hope somebody is really organising a team to look after this aspect of international security), but the assorted and totally credible secondary characters.

Even those who have a very small part (like the Turkish pilot), are unforgettable, and some, like Arnett, the female second mate, the whole of the Italian crew, and the Russian special forces team, deserve books of their own. Some of the baddies have their epic moments too, and you do get attached to the characters and by the end, care for them and with them.

When you read this novel, you can see it in your mind’s eye. This is a big adventure, if it were made into a movie, a huge blockbuster, a thriller/conspiracy theory novel following a number of complex plots, international terrorism using religion, nationalist ideology, and greed as a way of manipulating a number of players. Chechens, Iranians, Venezuelans, Americans, Russians, Panamanians…

This is an ambitious novel that I recommend to people who like their adventures on a grand scale and who love complex and detailed stories. 

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review 2015-04-19 06:59
An inversion of the supernatural horror
Firestarter - Stephen King

This book is a good example of why I like a lot of Stephen King's earlier books; while it deals with horror-like themes we are not dealing with hordes of zombies or vampires plotting to take over the world but rather with an extra-ordinary girl who is on the run from the government. Most of the horror movies that I have seen, or the ones that like to have the moniker of horror, deal with a supernatural creature who pursues the mundane, however King turns this concept on its head by having the supernatural creature running from the mundane. It is not so much supernatural abilities that create power, but rather the unknown and the mysterious. This is similar to what we have seen previously in [book:Carrie], that is that the mundane is powerful and the supernatural is powerless. It is a shame that in some of his later books (such as [book:Dreamcatcher]) he returns to the old school big bad monster chasing poor innocent humans.

The story revolves around a girl and her father and the girl has the power of pyrokenisis: being able to set fire to things with her mind. The government agency that she is on the run from is an organisation created by King called The Shop, but could easily be any one of the multitude of government agencies in existance. The Shop plays a major role in this book as the antagonist, however they are also briefly mentioned in 'The Lawnmower Man' though they tend to stay in the background (the Lawnmower Man also runs on a similar theme, though the protagonist becomes the antagonist at the end of the film). The particular interest that the Shop has is in people with supernatural powers and they have a desire to catch these people so that they can study them and to put their supernatural powers to their own use, obviously to advance the interests not only of the government but their own agenda as well.

I guess the horror of this story involves the fear of being alone in a hostile world. Because this hostility permeates everywhere there is really nowhere to run and nowhere to hide because sooner or later your pursuers are going to catch up with you. This is something that comes out in a lot of fantasy and adventure novels (and movies) that I have read, however King turns theme from being an adventure to being a horror. Many of us really don't know what it is like to be pursued, not because you have done something wrong, the antagonists in this book are innocent, but because you have something that they want and they will not give up until they are in possession of it.

I can't remember how this story ends, though with Stephen King you can never be sure. Carrie did not end well for Carrie, but then again by the end of the book she had lost control and was destroying everything in sight. I don't think [book:Christine] ended well for Archie either because by the end of the book he had become so dominated and controlled by the car that he was little more than a shadow of his former self. In both of those books we are dealing with teenagers coming to grips with adulthood, and failing, but in Firestarter the protagonists are on the run. There is no community and they have no friends that have built around them. They have only each other and their pursuers. I don't think the story ends well for them, but one thing that I do know is that it didn't end well for The Shop either.

I guess the other idea is that the protagonists never came to be able to use their power in a positive sense. Carrie didn't because she ended up destroying her home town. Charlie (the Firestarter in this book) begins as a child, and as we learn, is setting things on fire whenever she doesn't get her own way. As it turns out her parents know about the ability, and the main reason is because they have powers themselves, but these powers are not natural, they were came about through experiments with drugs that they were paid a measly $200.00 to participate. A sense of greed and power seems to permeate through this story, with the shop experimenting on ignorant people hungry for a little extra money in their pocket, and in doing so ruining the life of an innocent girl. I say ruin because she had no choice to become a pyrokenetic, and in doing so she is now hunted by the people who initially experimented on her father. Further, because the experiment worked on Charlie and her father, they have in pretty much given up their freedom. They are on the run from an organisation who seek to use them for their own nefarious purposes.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/382817581
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