#Book Reviews: Three Awesome Novels I’ve Read This Year

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I finished reading this novel weeks ago and still can’t think of a way to praise it highly enough.

The main character, Eleanor, has her routine — work, home, a limited wardrobe, a functional diet, and two bottles of vodka to get through each weekend. Often her social and communication skills aren’t in accord with other people, but I loved her bluntness and lack of awareness that her honesty might not go down well at times, plus her nerdiness; she’s a veritable mine of information. In both these respects, she reminded me a bit of Saga in the Nordic crime series The Bridge and, as with Saga, many of her comments caused me to laugh out loud, more so for being justified more often than not.

This is a story where the main protagonist starts out lonely, damaged, and with serious trust issues, but who slowly learns to believe in herself with the help of a few people who show her a huge amount of kindness and the meaning of true friendship, especially her work colleague Raymond from the IT department upstairs.

Gail Honeyman’s writing style is accessible, fluent, and pleasing, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that this, her first novel, won the Costa Book Award last year and has been in The Sunday Times Top ten Paperback for many months.

This book is an absolute must read…

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How to Stop Time
by Matt Haig

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’m glad to have discovered that this well-known, prize-winning children’s author also writes fiction for adults. How to Stop Time isn’t a standard time-travel novel, although it jumps backwards and forwards between various points in history. It’s about a man who has a syndrome that prevents him from aging. At first, he thinks his condition is unique to him, until he discovers there are others like him.

The story explores how it feels to be different, and how people at various times in history have treated people who don’t fit the norm; the dangers, the loneliness, and, in the case of this novel’s main protagonist, the problems with forming a longterm attachment with another human who has a comparably short lifespan.

The novel is easy to read, gently humorous, sad in places, but seeks to find the best in humanity. I liked it well enough to buy another novel by the same author and read it straight after this one.

A recommended read, if only that it won’t leave you exhausted and the author has a writing voice that fills you with warmth.

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The Humans
by Matt Haig

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Humans by Matt Haig is an absolute delight. It’s about an alien who’s sent on a mission to replace/pose as a university professor of mathematics and suppress the prof’s cracking of a formula that would advance humanity in a way which could prove dangerous to extra-terrestrial civilisations across the galaxy.

Although this sounds like the makings of a science fiction novel, I would not class it as such. It’s more about people and their relationships with one another in their daily lives and how, despite all their flaws, they’re worthy of a place in the universe.

The alien looks exactly like the uni prof and knows his mathematics, but that’s where the similarity ends. As he learns to be human, his adoptive “wife” and “teenage son” can’t believe the positive change that has come over the once cold and arrogant husband and father.

I don’t want to say anything further about the story, to avoid any spoilers, but I read this at a time when I was feeling extremely negative, if not depressed about the human race, and Matt Haig helped me look for and rediscover the good in people once more.

A highly recommended read, that’s quirky, funny, moving, and possibly good for your mental health!

Review: Indiot (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 2)

Indiot by Ana Spoke

Indiot (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 2)
by Ana Spoke (Goodreads Author)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Isa Maxwell’s second adventure proves to be even more entertaining than the first and decidedly more dangerous. This time, the dippy but well-intentioned blonde, having made oodles of money from writing a book, embarks on a trip to India to use some of her wealth to help the poor and dispossessed, plus a supposedly down-on-his-luck prince.

On her flight out to India, Isa meets the glamorous and bejewelled Vivian, who seems like best-friend material at first acquaintance. [Anything further about this relationship would be a spoiler, so my lips are sealed.]

Isa’s arrival in Delhi is a total culture shock. Noise, fumes, chaos, locals haggling for business, police corruption, Indian mafia activities, you name it, Isa finds it, or it finds her. It’s as if her naïvety, combined with good-heartedness, acts as a magnet to those looking for easy pickings. But to underestimate Isa’s ability to pull out all the stops (albeit with plentiful blunders on the way), is to assume that she isn’t capable of great ingenuity when it comes to survival.

Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades Book 1) was primarily comedy chic-lit, but Indiot is a thriller with OTT elements that amount to comedy of the variety that makes you cover your face or clutch your head as you wonder if things can get any worse for Isa. It would make a great comedy thriller movie, and the fact that I kept seeing it as such, says a great deal about Ana Spoke’s ability to paint an extremely vivid picture of India as seen very much through her central protagonist’s eyes: the idealistic outsider learning the hard way about an alien culture.

Ana Spoke gave me an advance copy of Indiot in exchange for an honest review, although my apologies to the author for not making it until nearly a week after publication day. I actually read the novel in two sittings, which says much about its ability to grip the reader’s attention.The only negative to me–and it’s only something small–was that I felt that there could be a little more about Isa’s relationship with Mr Hue and with her friend Harden in Book 1. This was necessary both as a recap for those who read the previous novel soon after it came out (about 9 months ago), as well as to anyone who picked up Book 2 first and read it as a standalone. So, everybody, read both novels, and read them in the right order.

And when you reach the end of Indiot, I can pretty much guarantee that Ana Spoke will have left you dying to read Isa Maxwell’s Escapade Book 3.

This is an author whose writing gets better and better…

Indiot (Amazon US)
Indiot (Amazon UK)

Goodreads review of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 1)
If you missed reading Shizzle, Inc, you can now download it for free on Kindle (Amazon US & Amazon UK).

Ana Spoke’s blog 
Ana Spoke — Goodreads Author

February’s Guest Storyteller, Ana Spoke (2016)

Time Traveller Returns From 1967 #urban fantasy

Flower Power2

Hello everybody,

I’m back following a month spent in a posh boarding school for girls.

My time machine took me back to 1967, as instructed, but not to the right month or the right location. Instead of visiting San Francisco to participate in The Summer of Love, I ended up on the southeast coast of the UK in the Autumn, in time for some less than peaceful happenings at a girls boarding school.

By the end of 2015, you will all have a chance to learn what a close call it was for the world during that term of 1967. Meanwhile, try to imagine how Doctor Who must feel about all those occasions he has saved our world from destruction by unwelcome extraterrestrials or creatures from other dimensions.

Enough of that for now. I don’t want to jitter present students at the posh establishment upon which I’ve based my fictional school: well, not yet, anyway.

Wearing my serious face now, I completed the July on-screen edit of my urban fantasy novel Desiccation, as intended, arriving at the end — albeit, exhausted — on the 31st of the month. Next thing on the agenda is to do an out-loud read-through from hard copy, doubtless, driving my family up the wall. But the dog will enjoy it, I’m sure.

Apart from this, of course, I intend to spend some serious catch-up time over at your blogs. I have missed you all during my sabbatical and have had a mighty battle with myself to stay away from WordPress. Just as well my time machine wasn’t advanced enough to send messages into the future whilst sojourning in the past.

And for your enjoyment, I’ve brought back a top ten hit from the music charts of 1967 that is a personal favourite of one of the main characters in my novel. Unfortunately, I can only mention the song by title in the story, otherwise I end up in copyright territory, which can prove expensive. As a teenager, The Who were one of my favourite groups, so the least I can do is give them a mention in my fiction all these years later.

Wishing you all a happy and fulfilling August

With love,

Sarah x

 

Interview with Author, Dave Farmer

davefarmerI’m thrilled to welcome Dave back to my blog for a third time. Some of you will remember his guest storyteller appearance back in June of last year, when he teased us with an extract from his speculative “what if” novel, The Range, which he went on to publish in November. For those of you who missed the publication day post, here’s the blurb.

News breaks of a deadly virus in Asia but, despite fatalities, few people take it seriously. Sheltered within the university bubble, Samantha and Louise are convinced the UK is invulnerable to this virus, until gruesome events unfold around the world and the death toll rises from hundreds to millions. By the time the virus reaches England and students on campus start falling sick, Samantha has to weigh up the risks of travelling home to London. She decides to sit tight with Louise and wait for everything to blow over. But the situation further deteriorates in ways the two friends couldn’t have envisaged. Their student flat is no fortress and there’s only one place they’ll be safe: The Range.

I found the novel both gripping and thought-provoking. Dave has a fantastic imagination and I wish him every success with his intended “Bloodwalker Legacy” trilogy, of which The Range is Book 1.

And now a few questions for the great man himself…

SP: When and why did you start writing novels, and is The Range your first or the first one that you decided to publish?

DF: Writing novels stems from the ever growing word count of short stories, which evolved into novellas, though it took many years of learning the craft of writing to build up a toolbox of skills to enable me to put together a full novel. The Range is the first novel I decided to publish, and I consider previous attempts as a learning curve.

SP: Why did you decide to self-publish straight off, rather than test out the traditional route?

DF: Like other writers, I’ve watched the publishing world change, and the advent of the internet and ebooks has shifted the control aspect of publishing from traditional publishing houses to the writers themselves. I thought long and hard about which route to take, and the appeal of managing my writing via self-publishing was too hard to resist as it puts me in control.

SP: During my reading of The Range, I loved the characters, settings, plot and dialogue, but on the editorial and proofreading front it still needed attention, now sorted in the newly uploaded version [Please note, fellow bloggers, the fact that Dave and I are still friends is a testimony to his good nature and willingness to take constructive criticism]. Over to you, Dave, for your comment on the editorial side of things.

DF: In my opinion a good writer will take well-reasoned constructive criticism as a positive, and not view it as an attack on their ability. I believed I had edited out all the errors and typos so it was annoying to have someone point out those I had missed. Yet at the same time I welcomed them because it helped improve the reading experience for the next reader. My advice to anyone planning to self-publish is to request feedback from a variety of beta readers (if you can’t afford a professional editor) because someone will always spot a hidden error others have missed. A big thank you to Sarah for being that someone, and as infuriating as it is to have those errors pointed out, I am indeed very grateful.

SP: Your main protagonist in The Range is Samantha, from whose first-person point of view you write. As a female reader, I found your portrayal of someone of my gender extremely authentic and believable. Why did you choose this viewpoint and how difficult did you find it getting inside the head of someone of the opposite sex?

DF: An early draft of The Range was from the view-point of a video camera, operated by Samantha, but it didn’t work as I couldn’t capture the emotions and thoughts of the central character. I chose a female character because having read many novels of a similar genre I found the lead was male, more often than not, and though I wanted to explore a different angle and see how a female would cope in such difficult times, it didn’t require a lot of decision-making as it came naturally to write from a female perspective. It wasn’t too difficult to write from a female point of view, though I did seek advice at times, especially when it came to certain phrases and mannerisms.

SP: Who is your favourite character in the novel and why?

DF: That’s a tough one! I want to say Pedley because he’s a creepy guy and I enjoyed spending time creating him. Yet I’m drawn to Vic more so because he’s the underdog, and despite his odd nature, he has a good heart and wants to be needed.

SP: Which did you enjoy writing about the most: the goodies or baddies?

DF: Whilst spending time in Samantha’s head has been a great experience, and something of a learning curve too, I relished writing scenes with the bad guys because it was a chance to explore the darker side of human nature.

SP: You’ve chosen to set the main part of the novel’s action in the University City of Cambridge, UK, a place with which you’re closely familiar. Did you ever consider setting it in a fictional city, or did you think it important to choose a real place so as to give the reader a frame of reference amidst all the apocalyptic-style chaos that ensues?

DF: It wasn’t necessary to give readers a sense of reference since many readers may not be familiar with Cambridge or other locations. I chose real life places to ground myself in those surroundings in the hope it would feel more real to the reader. The “write what you know” aspect of storytelling doesn’t always work since I don’t know any Bloodwalkers, however, using real places enabled me to visit them to get a better sense of the “what-if” factor and hopefully with realism in place it would make the fantastical elements more believable, and frightening.

SP: The novel opens up all manner of “what-if” questions, some of which are complex. Are you a writer who researches and does a plot outline in advance, or do you research as you write and let the characters decide what happens?

DF: I prefer a blend of the two. Early drafts were written from the seat of my pants, and I learned that it didn’t work well due to losing track of where I wanted characters and plot to go. I adopted a system of knowing where I wanted the story or each chapter/scene to start, Point A, and knowing where I wanted them to end up, Point C, and enjoying the ride through Point B. I did considerable research into many aspects of the story, some I never used, but it helped build my confidence with the characters and events.

SP: Without holding you to an exact date, when are you intending to publish The Holt, your sequel to The Range?

DF: I’m about half way through The Holt and plan to finish it by May 2015. Allowing time for beta reader feedback and editing, I estimate The Holt will be published by the end of summer, possibly early autumn 2015. Day jobs are indeed a distraction when it comes to spending time in Imaginationland.

SP: Who and what in your life has most inspired or encouraged you to write?

DF: From an early age it was my dad who inspired me to write. He encouraged me to read more than the books given out at school. After reading Kes or Buddy from English class, I’d hide under the covers at night and read Stephen King. He has been a constant source of help and guidance over the years. Equally important are my close friends who cheered me on when I felt my heart wasn’t in it at times.

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Thank you, Dave. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the interview and hope you have, too!

the range book cover FINALThe Range is available for purchase in both kindle and paperback format from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Dave blogs at www.davefarmer.co.uk

Neglected Structures & Overgrown Place #29 — Part-time Leather Chairs & Secret Reading

Leather Chairs

Throughout the year, these chairs have come and gone from their present position. I reckon they’re family rumpus chairs that are kept hidden from visitors: most especially from snooty relatives coming to stay for Christmas and the New Year.

As you can see, their basic framework is good and the leather well maintained (ignore the bird droppings and rain on them) but, if you look closely, the seat cushions have indents in them, each of them bearing the shape of their usual occupant’s bottom. And just because people are related to one another, it doesn’t mean they all have the same size backside.

Personally, I’ve not hidden any item of furniture from visitors. However, this year I admit to removing a particular novel from the sitting-room when some of Mister’s erudite friends came to our house for a meeting about local arts and culture events. The book was such an embarrassment that, even on Goodreads, I didn’t own up to reading it; although there were two perfectly valid reasons for it being in my possession. Firstly, because my daughter lent it to me and, secondly, because I wanted to know why the darned thing was a bestseller. Let’s just say that I won’t bother with the other two novels in the trilogy and would have given it 2-stars in a review.

What, if anything, have you hidden from visitors?