This Week in Books – 21-02-18

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This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.  This is a book that I spotted when it was first released in 2016, and I’m gutted that I waited as long to read it as I did, because it was brilliant!  My review will be up soon.

underground airlines

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it. Except for one thing: slavery still exists.

Victor has escaped his life as a slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Striking a bargain with the government, he has to live his life working as a bounty hunter. And he is the best they’ve ever trained.

A mystery to himself, Victor tries to suppress his memories of his own childhood and convinces himself that he is just a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he is desperate to preserve. But in tracking his latest target, he can sense that that something isn’t quite right.

For this fugitive is a runaway holding something extraordinary. Something that could change the state of the country forever.

And in his pursuit, Victor discovers secrets at the core of his country’s arrangement with the system that imprisoned him, secrets that will be preserved at any cost.


My current read is one of my most highly anticipated books of 2018, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – I’m about a third in, and it’s certainly living up to the hype so far!

the seven deaths of...

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…


My next read will probably be Call to Arms by Rachel Amphlett – book 5 in the Kay Hunter series.

call to arms

Kay Hunter has survived a vicious attack at the hands of one of the country’s most evil serial killers.

Returning to work after an enforced absence to recover, she discovers she wasn’t the only victim of that investigation.

DI Devon Sharp remains suspended from duties, and the team is in turmoil.

Determined to prove herself once more and clear his name, Kay undertakes to solve a cold case that links Sharp to his accuser.

But, as she gets closer to the truth, she realises her enquiries could do more harm than good.

Torn between protecting her mentor and finding out the truth, the consequences of Kay’s enquiries will reach far beyond her new role…


And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week? Do let me know in the comments!

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Blog Tour: These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

Paperback Jacket

I read These Dividing Walls in 2017 – you can find my review here – and I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of this delightful novel with an extract from the novel.


The Blurb

What building doesn’t have secrets? 

How much does anyone know of what goes on behind their neighbour’s doors?

On a hot June day, grief-stricken Edward arrives in Paris hoping that a stay in a friend’s empty apartment will help him mend. But this is not the Paris he knows: there are no landmarks or grand boulevards, and the apartment he was promised is little more than an attic room.

In the apartments below him, his new neighbours fill their flats with secrets. A young mother is on the brink, a bookshop owner buries her past, and a banker takes up a dark and malicious new calling.

Before he knows it, Edward will find himself entangled in their web, and as the summer heat intensifies so do tensions within and without the building, leading to a city-wide wave of violence, and a reckoning within the walls of number 37.


Extract

Prologue: The Building

Far back on the Left Bank, there is a secret quarter. Beyond the neon-lit slopes of Montparnasse, the winding cobbles of the fifth arrondissement, a warren of quiet streets lie sandwiched between boulevards. Little traffic comes through here.

Number thirty-seven sits at the meeting of two streets in this forgotten corner of the city. It is much like the buildings that surround it – late nineteenth-century, pale stone. But for its turquoise door it might slip from view altogether.

On summer nights, its residents return home as the sun sinks over the city. Lights are turned on, windows opened; dinners cooked and babies put to bed. The smell of garlic browning in a pan drifts into the courtyard, along with a child’s cries and snippets of conversation caught on the breeze.

Within its walls, people kiss. They talk, they laugh; someone cries, perhaps. A few are glad to sit alone. Others wish that they did not.

As darkness falls, the lights are gradually extinguished again. On such a heat-soaked, airless night as this, number thirty-seven’s residents lie in their beds, listening to the rise and fall of neighbours’ breath. Life is measured by the scrape of strangers’ plates, the tinny ring of someone else’s telephone, the grunts of sex (and other functions), until all is finally quiet again.

Number thirty-seven has its stories; in this it is like any building. For what building doesn’t have secrets? How much does anyone know of what goes on behind their neighbours’ doors?


About the Author

FRAN COOPER AUTHOR PICTURE

In August 2012 I moved to Paris, and that first night in my new apartment I was fascinated to discover I could hear my neighbours snoring. I had never met these people, yet there was something so intimate in how much of each others’ lives we were privy to, and I became fascinated by the idea of all the different stories that might go on behind an apartment building’s closed doors.

I spent three magical years in that apartment, and my first novel, These Dividing Walls, tells the story of just such an apartment building over the course of a hot and politically troubled summer.

Lamenting the loss of cheap French wine and fresh baguettes, I now live in London with my fiancé Alex and our three-legged cat, Chip, who shares my penchant for staring out of windows and keeping an eye on the neighbours. When I’m not scribbling away on my second novel, The Two Houses, I can be found watching geeky BBC documentaries , taking long bubble baths, and attempting ambitious yoga poses.


Make sure you check out the other wonderful stops on the tour!

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Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

skitter

I read The Hatching in 2016 and, despite not being a fan of spiders, I absolutely loved it (you can see my review here).  Of course, I bought the sequel, Skitter, as soon as it was released in 2017, and, with the third instalment due for publication in March, I felt that it was time to read it.

Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Gruyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up.

Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack is discovered, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a weapon to defeat the spiders. But even if they succeed it may be too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol.

Every country must fight for itself. And the spiders are on the move…

Skitter picks up where The Hatching ended with the first wave of spiders that have run rampant across the planet coming to an unexpected halt.  But, whilst the immediate crisis may seem to be over, large swathes of the population have been wiped out, and there are thousands of egg sacs that are just waiting to hatch.   I think that it can be difficult to keep a series like this fresh – surely once you’ve seen one flesh-eating spider, you’ve seen them all, right?  But it’s not so with Skitter, and I liked that Boone was able to give the reader something new, yet no less horrifying.  And, Skitter ends on another cliff-hanger, and I’m sure there’s more to come when Zero Day is published next month.

Like The Hatching, Skitter is told from multiple perspectives – some familiar, other less so.  I think that there were more points of view in this novel (I haven’t actually counted, but it felt like there were more) with many of them only providing input into a single chapter.  As disjointed as this might seem, it works extremely well, and the reader gets an insight into what is happening from the President of the United States to the guy on the street and everyone in between.

There were reports of riots across the country, the very clear beginnings of societal breakdowns.

The devastation caused by the first wave is very much in evidence, with those who are left having to fend for (and defend) themselves.  Los Angeles is a quarantine zone, having been amongst the worst affected of the US cities, and is heavily guarded by the military.  I thought that the breakdown of society was quite realistic – there are still some services in operation, and yet I could feel everything starting to come apart at the seams.

Skitter answers some of the questions raised in The Hatching, but also raises some of its own, and I can’t wait to see what happens next in this wildly entertaining yet horrifying series.  Roll on Zero Day!!!

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Week in Books – 14-02-18

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This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was Skitter by Ezekiel Boone, which follows on from The Hatching.  I was keen to read this, as the final instalment in the trilogy, Zero Day, is released next month, and I can’t wait.  My review will be up later this week!

skitter

Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Gruyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up.

Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack is discovered, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a weapon to defeat the spiders. But even if they succeed it may be too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol.

Every country must fight for itself. And the spiders are on the move…


My current read is The Lido by Libby Page – quite a different read to my last one!  I’ve only just started it, but I really like it so far.

the lido

Meet Rosemary, 86, and Kate, 26: dreamers, campaigners, outdoor swimmers…

Rosemary has lived in Brixton all her life, but everything she knows is changing. Only the local lido, where she swims every day, remains a constant reminder of the past and her beloved husband George.

Kate has just moved and feels adrift in a city that is too big for her. She’s on the bottom rung of her career as a local journalist, and is determined to make something of it.

So when the lido is threatened with closure, Kate knows this story could be her chance to shine. But for Rosemary, it could be the end of everything. Together they are determined to make a stand, and to prove that the pool is more than just a place to swim – it is the heart of the community.

The Lido is an uplifting novel about the importance of friendship, the value of community, and how ordinary people can protect the things they love.


I keep changing my mind about what to read next, but I THINK it will be Underground Airlines by Ben Winters.  Don’t quote me on this.

underground airlines

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it. Except for one thing: slavery still exists.

Victor has escaped his life as a slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Striking a bargain with the government, he has to live his life working as a bounty hunter. And he is the best they’ve ever trained.

A mystery to himself, Victor tries to suppress his memories of his own childhood and convinces himself that he is just a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he is desperate to preserve. But in tracking his latest target, he can sense that that something isn’t quite right.

For this fugitive is a runaway holding something extraordinary. Something that could change the state of the country forever.

And in his pursuit, Victor discovers secrets at the core of his country’s arrangement with the system that imprisoned him, secrets that will be preserved at any cost.


And there you have my week in books!  I hope you weren’t expecting anything romancey (that’s a word, right?), given the date – just not my thing.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

i robot

I, Robot is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a while, and one that turned out to be absolutely nothing like I was expecting.  I’ll be honest, I was expecting something like the film, and whilst the book is nothing like the film (OK, the two share some characters) this collection of short stories didn’t disappoint.

I, Robot is a collection of nine short stories which chart the rise of the robot age, from the first beginnings as they become integrated into our lives, to the point where they have become indispensable, at all times governed by The Three Laws of Robotics:

1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm

2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law

3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

The collection is framed by a series of interviews with Dr Susan Calvin.  Now on the verge of retirement, she has been instrumental in the development of robots and their usage through her role as a robopsychologist, often focusing on the anomalies resulting in some developments.

The stories are told chronologically and chart the progress from the initial creation of robots used as (un)hired help, to the point where they have become indispensable and feed into all aspects of human life.  Additionally, each story looks at the interaction of humans and robots, and so the reader also sees how the relationship develops, from the initial stages where they are purely subservient to the point where they aren’t quite in control.  Of the nine stories in the collection, and there were a couple that stood out for me for various reasons.

The first story in the book is Robbie and features a robot called Robbie (funnily enough) who is a childminder and companion to an eight-year-old girl, Gloria.  Robbie and Gloria are inseparable, much to her mother’s chagrin, and, fuelled by local gossip, she decides to remove Robbie from her daughter’s life.  This story resonated with current times, as the gossip and prejudice focus largely on how robots are taking over jobs and causing unemployment for humans, their trustworthiness etc.  There are also some wonderful moments of friendship between Gloria and Robbie, and I thought that this was a lovely story that emphasised acceptance.

A later story called Reason looks at a more advanced model of robot – the Robot QT-I, or Cutie.  Cutie is unable to accept that he was built by man – in his view, you cannot create something superior to yourself, and therefore man cannot have created him.  He becomes fixated upon a being he calls the Master, believing him to be behind the creation of both humans – a practice run, if you like – and himself, a creation much closer to perfection.  I think that this highlighted the ways in which early man must have sought a need to believe in a superior being in order to explain their existence – not a thought that I would expect to occur to me from such a collection of stories.

Whilst science fiction, I found these stories to be more accessible than I had expected, and there is an undertone of humour throughout the stories, which, having been written between 1941 and 1950, are undoubtedly prescient.  I think that what as most surprising to me was that the outcome was not as terrifying as many recent novels looking at a similar topic.  It maybe that the stories stop short of the complete takeover and domination of robots, but it may also be that Asimov had a more optimistic outlook and felt that as long as the three laws stand, we would always be protected.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which eight authors were invited to retell a Shakespeare play in a format and style of their choosing.  This is the second of this series that I’ve read, having loved Tracy Chevalier’s retelling of Othello when I read it last year (my review can be found here).

Not being all that familiar with The Tempest, I was pleased to see that a brief synopsis of the play was included within Hag-Seed, and I did read that first so that I wasn’t going into this novel completely blind.  I’m glad I did, because not only did it help with my understanding of Hag-Seed, but it also let me appreciate how clever Atwood has been in her retelling of this play.  This does mean that it’s difficult to say whether Hag-Seed would work without any prior knowledge, however, but I would recommend getting acquainted with the play beforehand – even if it’s just through the summary on Wikipedia – as I think that some of the story might seem a little strange without any context, although that is just my opinion.

At the opening of the novel, Felix is working as the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival and is known for his bold and (occasionally) outrageous productions.  He has been through some personal turmoil having lost both his wife and daughter, and it comes as shock when Tony, his right-hand man, delivers the news that he has been fired.  Wanting revenge, but not knowing how to obtain it, Felix goes into a self-imposed exile, biding his time as Tony and his cronies move onto bigger and better things, even taking the credit for some of Felix’s initiatives.

During his exile, Felix takes up a position at Fletcher Correctional Facility, leading a literacy program with the inmates.  Here, he teaches one Shakespeare play a year, and has the prisoners study and discuss the themes, characters, plot etc. before modernising the script and re-enacting the play.  It’s through this program that Felix finally gets his chance for vengeance, having waited patiently for 12 years, as Tony, now in politics, is going to visit Fletcher in order to assess the worthiness of the program.  And there’s only one option for the play that year, and Felix intends to make his Tempest bigger and better than ever…

I really enjoyed Hag-Seed, and I thought that it was a clever adaptation of the play, with much of Felix’s narrative echoing, albeit in a modernised setting, that of Prospero in Shakespeare’s play.  His betrayal, his exile, and his opportunity for revenge can all be linked to the play, as can the way in which he goes about obtaining his revenge.  The narrative also makes sense in its own right, however, and I understood Felix’s motivations and actions even without the context of the play – even if some of it was a little unusual, it could be passed off as Felix being a little eccentric.

I also enjoyed that The Tempest also appears in the novel as the play being performed by the inmates of Fletcher.  I felt that this helped me to get a deeper understanding of the play and its characters, as Felix explains it to the prisoners taking part in the program.  Following each production, Felix always asks the prisoners to imagine what comes next for each of the characters in the play.  I found this to be an interesting idea, particularly as they imagine the dastardly deeds that Antonio might get up to in order to restore his status, and I did wonder if this meant that Felix’s revenge might be short-lived.  This isn’t explored in the novel, but I found this element to be extremely thought-provoking.

With great characters and plenty of revenge, Hag-Seed is a wonderful adaptation of The Tempest, and one that I recommend to readers who like the play, or who would like to become more familiar with it.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Blog Tour: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

force of nature new

Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Jane Harper’s latest novel, Force of Nature.  I absolutely loved The Dry (you can see my review here), and so I was thrilled to receive a copy of Harper’s follow up, which brings Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk back into our lives.

Is Alice here?  Did she make it?  Is she safe?

In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare.

Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.

Five women on a team building exercise head out into the Giralang Ranges with camping equipment and essentials for surviving in the wilderness for three days.  Phones are left behind, not that they’d be much use in this remote area.

Three days later, only four women make it to the final checkpoint, arriving several hours late.  No one knows where Alice Russell is, or how or why she disappeared.  And survival in the wilderness with limited supplies and experience won’t be easy…

The Dry was always going to be a tough act to follow, but I think that Harper has succeeded in Force of Nature.  I was swept away by this novel, eager to know what had happened to Alice, although I couldn’t really bring myself to care about her character – it was the mystery I wanted to solve.

Force of Nature alternates between the investigation in the days immediately after Alice goes missing, and what happened during the three days the women were out in the wild.  Whilst exercises such as this are meant to build trust and to encourage team work and cooperation if not friendship, it’s clear from the beginning that these five women are never going to get along.  Alice in particular is painted in a poor light – aggressive and cruel, she’d be a nightmare to get on with in any situation.  Whilst I didn’t care for her personally, I did want to find out what happened, however, and I enjoyed the gradual reveal of what had taken place during their time in the great outdoors.

So where does Aaron Falk fit in?  As a member of the financial crime unit, missing persons aren’t part of Falk’s jurisdiction, but Alice Russell was helping Falk and his partner, Carmen, in their latest investigation into BaileyTennants – the company that the five women work for.  This raises questions as to whether Alice’s disappearance was a result of misadventure or foul play, and I love the way in which both options were kept open and entirely plausible, keeping the reader on their toes until the denouement, which did come as a surprise to me.  I loved how the novel ended though – all the clues were there, but so subtly delivered that I missed them along the way.

Force of Nature follows on from The Dry, but can easily be read as a standalone, as the references to the previous novel are kept to a minimum.  I would absolutely recommend reading both, however, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them, and I’m hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aaron Falk.

Force of Nature is available to purchase in hardback and eBook.  Many thanks to Grace Vincent and Little, Brown Book Group for my review copy, and to Kimberley Nyamhondera for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Make sure you check out the other fantastic stops on the blog tour today:

Force of nature 8 Feb