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review 2018-08-14 12:48
"Bearskin" by James A. McLaughlin - Highly Recommended
Bearskin - James McLaughlin

"Bearskin" is a rare find: a literary thriller that is as lyrical as it is muscular.

 

Instead of choosing between writing a literary book about how a man can surrender himself to the dark sentience of an ancient forest and walk out more himself than he was before or a thriller about a man deeply maimed by violence who, although living an almost invisible life in the wilds, knows his past will catch up with him, James McLaughlinhas written a book that is both a literary achievement and a page-turning, viscerally realistic thriller.

 

Two things caught and kept my attention throughout this book: the development of Rice Moore, the man at the heart of the story and the sometimes total immersion into the ancient Appalachian forest. Either one would have been reason enough to read this book. Together they became compelling.

 

Rice Moore is a great creation. Recent acts of extreme violence against him and by him have left him emotionally scarred and subject to fugues states and hallucinations. A solitary man who no longer entirely trusts himself to play well with others, he seeks isolation, partly to hide from his enemies and partly to avoid people. Alone in the forest, feeling its pulse next to his own, his inability to let go of his territoriality or his instinct for violence, repeatedly draws him into conflict with the people around him.

 

Yet this isn't a one-man-triumphs-against-the-world sort of story. Moore is losing his mind. His fugue states, his obsession with protecting the black bears on the estate he is warden of and his personal ghosts, lead him down a path where he literally puts on another skin and enters a different kind of consciousness. James McLaughlin's ability to help me experience this altering of states as something real and raw was deeply impressive.

 

Even though "Bearskin" is as fast-paced and propulsive as a thriller needs to be, McLaughlin is able to incorporate the forest and its fauna and fauna as a deeply experienced part of the story. Ecology is more than a plot device or a scientific concept here, it is about understanding our place in the world and its rhythms.

 

In addition to these two strong themes, McLaughlin gives us an insight into the poaching of black bears, the vengeance of the Mexican drug cartels and the rules and rituals of outlaw motorcycle clubs and an up-close experience of violence that is hard to look away from.

 

I recommend the audiobook version of "Bearskin" as MacLeod Andrews' narration enhanced my experience of the book.

 

Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/441607044" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

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review 2018-08-08 22:31
"Once Upon A Haunted Moor - Tyak & Frayne #1" by Harper Fox
Once Upon A Haunted Moor - Harper Fox

This novella has a little bit of everything: PC in a remote village on Bodmin Moor obsessed with finding a lost child, a psychic with cryptic clues, the possible presence of the Beast of Bodmin, family intrigue and a gay romance.

 

The romance is more central to the story than the possibly haunted moor. Our PC, son of a fierce Minister, lives in the house that used to be his father's, in the village he grew up in. He sees himself as the protector of the village and yet he is unable to admit his sexuality to the other villagers (all of whom have recognised his preferences for some time. The romance liberates the policeman from his doubts and his fears and enables him truly to be himself.

 

I thought the romance and the sex scenes were well done. I liked the intimacy between the two men: the way they talked to each other, the way they saw each other's strengths and their own weaknesses, the way they needed the comfort of the other's touch.

 

The crime plot was not complicated and was made even less so when it was solved by not-so-cryptic visions from the psychic. The atmosphere of distress and threat was well evoked. I didn't think the supernatural veneer added much.

 

If you have a choice between ebook an audio, I recommend you go with the ebook. The narrator of the audiobook does the dialogue very well but handles the rest of the text with random inflexions and a generic I-must-emote-more style that suggests a sight-read rather than a thoughtful delivery. The narrator seemed deaf to the distinctive cadence of Harper Fox's prose.

 

Although this was a pleasant read, it was a little too slight to make me keen to move on to the next book in the series.

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review 2018-08-08 21:20
"Rogue Protocol - Murderbot Diaries #3" by Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol - Martha Wells

I had this on pre-order and then scarfed it down on the day it arrived.

 

As always, it was fun. I loved Murderbot's interaction with Miki, the "pet" robot that sees humans as its friends. Murderbot moves from disbelief, through disdain, on to mild jealousy followed finally by muted grief when they part.

 

Miki is everything that Murderbot is not: naive. optimistic, emotionally attached to humans and open to making new friends. In the same way that ART in book two showed us that Murderbot is too human to be a real AI, Miki shows us that Murderbot is too much an AI ever entirely to trust humans.

 

In this third part of what is now clearly one great novel being sold to us in (expensive) instalments, Murderbot continues to pursue proof of the wrong-doings of the GreyCris corporation but this is really the frame for his journeying and not the focus of the novel. The focus is on how each of Murderbot's journeys takes him on a path from I-hacked-my-governor-module-so-I-could-watch-more-space-operas to I-have-things-and-maybe-even-people-and-bots-who-matter-to-me.

 

In this instalment, Murderbot is aware of becoming more humanlike in his behaviour (although humans should never be allowed to do Security: they're unable to keep pace with fast-changing situations, their egos get in the way and they're allowed to give up). Murderbot is dismayed to discover there are now things s/he cares about:

"I hate caring about stuff. But apparently, once you start, you can't just stop."

The novella has a leisurely start but once the action begins the pace is fast and the tension is relentless.

 

I finished the novella with a sense of satisfaction that could only have been improved if I'd been able to continue on to part four instead of having to wait for the publishers to feed it to me later.

 

My only gripe about Murderbot is the pricing strategy: split a novel in four and charge the price of a full novel for each part. This is not the way to treat the fans. I moved from reading Murderbot as an ebook to listening to the audiobook, purely because the audiobook cost one credit (which translates to £3.66 or $4.71 as opposed to $9.10 for the Kindle version.

 

Actually, the audiobook was very well done. The voices for Murderbot and Mikki were perfect. I'm glad my miserliness financial prudence brought me to such a skilled narrator.

 

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review 2018-08-08 00:42
"The Water Cure" by Sophie Mackintosh - abandoned after 25% - too worthy for me. I don't want my reading to be a chore.
The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

I picked "The Water Cure" as one of four books to read from the 2018 Man Booker Longlist.  I liked the speculative fiction premise of young women, raised in isolation in a post-apocalyptic world, encountering men for the first time and having to reconsider what they think they know. 

 
"The Water Cure" got off to a slow and difficult start but was intriguing enough to keep me interested. I liked the rapid succession of short chapters, written from the point of view of each of the three sisters. This worked well in the audiobook version I read, where each sister get's her own narrator.
 
The we-only-know-this-island innocence of the sisters means that they take their exotic situation for granted and do little to explain it to the reader. 
 
It soon became clear that this was not going to be your typical post-apocalyptic dystopian novel. I was reminded more of  "The Tempest" if Miranda had had two sisters.
 
After the ten per cent mark, I started to get bored and a little angry. I got bored because, although many short chapters shot by, NOTHING HAPPENED in any of them except the young women sharing the details of the strange rituals (called therapies) that dominate their lives. I became angered by the abuse these young women had suffered.
 

I get the need to pace the book so that I can  FEEL the stifling effects on the sisters of isolation and ignorance combined with forced ritual intimacy, but enough already.

I began to feel as if I were  trapped in the middle of a front row at "Waiting For Godot" and I'm so embarrassed by what other people will think of me that I stay in my seat long after my boredom threatens to be terminal and I suspect Beckett of being a sadist with a wicked sense of humour.

 

I made it as far as the twenty-five percent mark because the voices of the sisters were  strong and distinct and because I could no more look away from the spectacle of the Bennet sisters transported to an island where they are subjected to abuse that they've educated to understand as sympathetic magic, than I could look away from a building about to be demolished by well-placed charges.

 

I'd hoped that the arrival of the men would change the pace but it didn't and I finally admitted to myself that I was reading this book because it was "worthy" rather than because I was getting anything out of it. I'd promised myself I wouldn't do that anymore so I abandoned "The Water Cure" at twenty-five per cent mark.

 

It may win the Mann  Booker prize but it didn't make a place for itself in my imagination.

Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of the book.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/447441624" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-08-06 18:09
"Trail Of Lightning - the Sixth World #1" by Rebecca Roanhorse - fresh, vibrant Navajo urban fantasy
Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) - Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse's Sixth World concept is a potent mix of post-apocalyptic devastation and Navajo-based Urban Fantasy with a monster-slaying female lead who sees herself not as a hero but as a monster in waiting, someone contaminated and abandoned who knows only how to kill and yet dreds becoming nothing more than a killer.

 

Patrica Briggs, Faith Hunter and C.E. Murphy have all given us Urban Fantasy that draws upon Native American myth (albeit Cherokee and Blackfoot rather than Navajo) but "Trail Of Lightning" is the first time I've seen Native American culture take centre stage rather than being an atavistic accident that makes the heroine a misfit in mainstream American society.

 

In the Sixth World, white America has been mostly destroyed by flooding, the Navajo Gods have returned and their lands have been protected from the chaos by four huge walls, raised by magic. For once, the Dineh are not the ones getting the crappy end of everything.

 

Yet life for our heroine, Maggie Hoskie, is far from easy: marked by childhood violence, apprenticed and abandoned by a god, "gifted" with skills that make her a Dinétah monster hunter, she is an outcast amongst her own people at the start of this tale.

 

Maggie is not the now-normal urban fantasy kick-ass heroine, with the smart mouth,  the  lethal-but-sexy weaponry and the dangerous-to-everyone-but-her love interest. She is slightly broken, very much alone and is only truly herself when she is hunting.

 

The plot in this first book is not particularly complex and there are times when it wanders a little randomly but the power of the novel comes from Rebecca Roanhorse's vision of the Sixth World. She sets gods and monsters loose in the spectacular landscape of the Dinétah in a way that is at once startling and credible. 

 

Maggie is intriguing, an essay in guilt, fear and anger. Partnering her with the smooth, wrap-around-shades wearing I'm-like-a-Medicine-Man-but-way-cooler Kai Arviso displays Maggie well and doesn't take us in any of the normal Urban Fantasy directions.

 

I think this is a great start to what promises to be a fresh and exciting Urban Fantasy series. As soon as Rebecca Roanhorse publishes the next volume, I'll be buying it.

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