Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

“She was designed to look human, her face the replica of a woman whose image Med’s tissue engineer had licensed from an old Facebook database.”

When I spotted this novel at my local Kinokuniya store, I felt compelled to buy a copy. The premise sounded so intriguing. Unfortunately, I found that the most exciting aspect of the book. Time and time again I’d pick it up, read a few pages and then put it down.
The scene was set early for some interesting action and I looked forward initially to see how it panned out. By the time I was less than a third through, my interest had waned entirely. Perhaps this was due to my usual preoccupations inherent in a busy, stressful life distracting me from the plot. Perhaps it just wasn't my cup of tea. In any case, this review lacks effusive praise.

On a positive note, this is the one hundred and twentieth book I've read this year - hurrah!

2 out of 5 robot drugs aren't as exciting as they sound.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (Agatha Raisin #14) by M.C. Beaton

“He forgot that he had recently found Agatha attractive. Now he thought of her as a pushy middle-aged woman who might be mad.”

One of the most thrilling aspects of this murder mystery is the promise of what lies in the next book, hinted fiendishly by the author in the final page. That is not to say that this isn’t an entertaining read. It is a gem as all the Agatha Raisin tales have been to date.
Agatha has yet another new neighbour, but this one is married. Admittedly Paul Chatterton’s Spanish wife doesn’t seem to be around and when a haunted house mystery presents itself he calls on Aggie to do some sleuthing. As thirteen previous novels clearly demonstrated, Agatha is not one to say no to a handsome man with a mystery.
A hilarious scare in the night, isn’t quite what the two adventurers have in mind and it isn’t long until there is the usual body count for this otherwise quaint village. Add in a potential historical treasure hunt, passionate historical society and amateur dramatics, and you know things are about to get entertaining. Bill Wong has yet another attractive officer in tow. She and several other women are bound to get Agatha in a jealous frisson.
I just love Agatha and the return of Sir Charles is always a welcome one (ooh look he’s single and trim again). As you might tell, I just love getting lost in the little village of Carsely. It is the perfect respite from the stressful world in which we live. It’s strange isn’t it that villages with a body count seem far more idyllic than offices full of hidden malevolence.

5 out of 5 things that go bump in the night are harmless.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Milkman by Anna Burns

"No one has ever come across a cat apologising and if a cat did, it would patently be obvious it was not being sincere.”

When I commenced reading the latest winner of the Man Booker Prize, I was instantly captivated by the first-person narrative. Burns expertly weaves a spell of ever tightening walls. The walls talk; and the perceptions of others can be a death sentence.

Our heroine is being stalked by The Milkman and he is a dangerous man to know. The locals see his attempts to interact with her and believe that she is having an affair with the married man, rather than actively seeking to avoid his clutches. She’s more interested in maybe-boyfriend.

Jogging with her brother in law is a means of escape. She is an outsider reading books and taking French classes, where others fill their days with gossip and violence. Her mother’s inability to believe her is particularly frustrating and initially quite funny. That is until the humour takes on a more dangerous tone. Perhaps that is the most interesting aspect of the novel the black humour that tinges the fight or flight terror of the everyday.

As I read the latter parts of the novel in a piecemeal fashion on my way to and from work, I think it lost something. It was too easy to drift out of the peculiar parlance of the book and having to constantly re-acquaint myself with it was frustrating. That aside, this is a great read and an intriguing character exploration.


5 out of 5 - the dead cat scene is visceral.


Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

“I like the idea of keeping my world in these little compartments where there is no risk of collision.”  

I had this book in the to be read pile for quite some time and yet it was only when the trailers for its adaptation bombarded my Netflix feed that I decided it was time for action. This is an easy read, which you would expect given its young adult subject and audience.
Growing up as a gentle giant with an extremely svelte mother (not that she is anymore), I could really relate to Willowdean’s story. Actually, Willowdean seemed way more popular than me and self-assured, which was a delight to read. Clearly, she had a lot more success in high school with the opposite sex too – me, I was a late bloomer in that department by comparison (don’t worry I made up for it later).
When the pinnacle of your mother’s existence is the local teen beauty pageant and you definitely don’t fit the mould, life can be challenging. Couple that with feelings of grief for a recently deceased, much-loved aunt and confusion around a rather spunky workmate at an after-school job and you have ample fodder for a great teen story. I’ve seen some rather negative comments about aspects of the story online and yet I found it refreshingly honest and rather adorable. It captures perfectly that prickly time when everyone takes offence as they’re trying to work out who they are in the world.
If you like drag queens and Dolly Parton, double down on this little book, you won’t be disappointed. It is tailor made for Trixie Mattel fans (guilty).
5 out of 5 lip synch for your life.



Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate by M.C.Beaton

“Sol MacGuire was another Adonis, but a black-haired, blue-eyed one.”

She’s "raisin" hell again (sorry, pardon the pun). Agatha’s quiet village life is turned upside down by the arrival of a rather stunning Curate. All the local women are beside themselves, as they do get with the arrival of any good looking new man in Carsely. Indeed, the church has never been so full. Feeling a little burnt from the James saga and trying, rather unsuccessfully, to avoid her new neighbour, Agatha believes herself immune to his charms. Next minute dinner, next minute, dead body and poor Mrs Bloxby’s husband is the prime suspect.

A delight as ever as Agatha teams up with her writer neighbour to try and unpick the mystery. Not to mention to clear the name of Mr Bloxby’s husband. I could go on about the plot and the murder, which do make for some thrilling set pieces in this particular outing and yet, Agatha’s domestic woes are far more entertaining. Blackmail, adultery, there are multiple mysteries going on here and just when you think the killer has been captured…well you’ll have to read and find out – I don’t wish to spoil it for you.

I do wonder how many good looking, single men could possibly move in next door? Surely there’s a limit. Will Agatha ever learn that this pattern isn’t working out so well?

5 out of 5 much better than Agatha’s microwaved meals.

Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #26) by Laurell K. Hamilton

“It was as if his human body was turning into a mass of serpents”.

The latest Anita Blake was released in August of this year and yet again, I’ve fallen victim to its siren’s call of weird sex, magic and violence. The novel is indicative of a proven combination that the author has been pounding out with amazing regularity for many years now. Is it formulaic, certainly, but it still has its charms.

Edward (Ted) is getting married and Anita will be the best man. Not only that, all your favourite marshals will converge for the island wedding. I mean who doesn’t love the creepy psychopathy of Olaf – such a spooky, demented character. Naturally, there’s more going on in this idyllic island paradise than just nuptials. A strange curse sees one particular family shift into snakes – think Medusa.

Now young women are disappearing, is it Olaf, what’s the go with Peter, why is the local constabulary blaming Nathaniel and what about the snake people? All will be revealed in what I have to say is a far more plot driven outing than the previous book. Here we have action and suspense, along with a lot of the best characters back in play.

Rather than just being about taking on some other new supernatural bed partner, this one is more about consolidating her ties with her already overcrowded schedule of paramours and solving a mystery before anyone else meets a horrific end.

So why have I given this a 5 – well it seemed great when I couldn’t sleep during the wee hours of the morning and I was entertained. Sure, I knew what I was getting into when Anita was busting out of bridesmaid’s dresses, but I’m used to it. Actually, that could me in a change room these days – why are clothes made for boy like figures?

Yes, there are troubling aspects to Anita’s relationships. Nathaniel might be hot, but man is he needy. I can’t handle him anymore – unless he’s sniffing out clues in wereleopard form and even then, he whinges about sore feet. Notwithstanding, this one got me through the cold, lonely night.


 5 out of 5 because shapeshifting strippers are a girl’s best friend.


Crimson Death (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25) by Laurell K. Hamilton


“I was told I was beautiful and some days I believed it, but looking down at the three of them I was still amazed that everyone and everything in the bed was mine, and I was theirs”

I thought I had sworn off the vampire killing, necromancing, sex pot that is Anita Blake and yet here I am, back on the horse. To be fair, I’m more than a little bit jealous of Anita and her menagerie of hot men (and now women) that she absolutely must sleep with or all hell will literally break loose. I admit I am a massive fan of Nicky, Jean-Claude, Nathaniel and Micah. Let’s face it they are all impressive supernatural specimens. My only query is to how big Jean Claude’s room is to fit a bed that big in?


Back to the plot line though and it is time for Damian, another vampire, to really enter the mix. Pairing with Anita and Nathaniel as yet another supernatural power up coupling. Blah blah more writing about polyamory – I don’t’ know why this has to be explained in such painstaking detail in every book. We get it… move on.

Anyway, there are two saving graces to this furry love fest and they are EDWARD (got to love that cold steel killer) and a trip to Ireland. Baby vampires seem to be wreaking destruction in Ireland and Edward has put in the call for his favourite of the four riders, to come and save the day.

Naturally there are fey, which makes for a fun new supernatural being in the mix, along with supernatural seals who are (go figure) beautiful too. There is also way too much talk about therapy. So much talk about therapy – need I go on?


Still, we find a way for Anita to get over (momentarily) her fear of flying. We get some action and before you know it, 720 pages have flown by. It can’t have been all that bad, I admit I stared on the next book straight away.



4 out of 5 because vampires and werewolves need love too.


Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Black Butterfly (Lucifer Box #3) by Mark Gatiss

“All pleasure should be a little bent, don't you think?”

Well it has been quite a few days since I finished the final instalment of the Lucifer Box trilogy. I'm struggling to recall what happened. Poor Lucifer isn't getting any younger and it seems that spycraft is a young man's game. Enter... a young man, who seems most perplexing and rather tasty, and his name is Kingdom Kum ( I mean!!)
Anyway, Lucifer's old stalwarts are inconveniently being bumped off and it all has to do with the mysterious Black Butterfly. Will Lucifer retire.... will he make it out alive? What the heck is going on.?? Read on MacDuff and find out. Well no, not here, grab the book -  I'm not about to spoil it for you.
I've got to say I prefer the younger, more agile / virile Box from the first two novels. He's a little bit of a lame duck here and I found that frustrating ( as did he during the narrative).
In short.. still good, just not as good as the others. So worth exploring and what a gorgeous cover!

4 out of 5 butterflies are normal under stress.

Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

“Then, in a cascade of bad luck, taking all of ten minutes, he lost $2 million. The stunned entourage couldn’t compute the way he parted with money—seemingly without breaking a sweat—and some began to whisper about this guy, and how he acted like the cash wasn’t his own.”

So I have a bit of a confession to make here. Please don't judge me gentle reader. I'd heard snippets about this 1MDB scandal on the news and had absolutely no idea what it entailed. Knowing my father's penchant for non-fiction, I had a feeling that it might make for a great stocking filler - yes Christmas is a-coming.
I then committed the faux-pas of sneaking a peak - yes alright - reading the entire book, before wrapping it. I'm glad I did. This exploration of Gatsby like excess leaves Crazy Rich Asians  for dead. How is it that a man can create an empire out of hot air and partying with Leo DiCaprio - well, just look at Jho Low. When not romancing supermodels with some serious bling, the guy could throw one heck of a party. Here Wright and Hope follow the money for one crazy tale. Connections it seems can get you a long way. In one way this demonstrates the power of the old school tie and its foibles.
In any case it makes for a great read and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

5 out of 5 - now don't tell Dad!

Monday, 5 November 2018

Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

"Emotional bonding can aid recovery, and this idea has underpinned the concept of support groups for decades."

I couldn't sleep, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to dive into this latest work by the always engaging, Leigh Sales. Naturally, I was more than a little reticent in diving into horrific days in people's lives, and yet I found it oddly soothing.

Resilience is an amazing human ability and one we all have within us. Having suffered, the worst day of her life, Sales sets out to see how others have dealt with unexpected horrors.
Consistent across many of the stories was a sense of hope and purpose - be it in oneself, religion or one's family, and the support one receives in that moment of need. She showcases some truly inspiring individuals both the people subject to hideous tragedies and the tireless support people who supported them in their grief.

Fantastic characters such as Wendy Liu and Father Steve are interviewed with skill and respect, as the author seeks to grapple with some rather big questions.
Unexpectedly, this was a really life-affirming read that left me rather teary and I could not put down. It reflects the character that Sales always personifies - a questioner, a listener, and an all-round fantastic human being with all the challenges and flaws that entails. I am a massive fan, if you couldn't guess.

5 out of 5 because life goes on even after the worst day, so make the most of it.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods came(Agatha Raisin #12) by M.C. Beaton

"Like Ophelia, the girl from the beauticians, who she remembered was called Kylie, floated underneath her on the flowing river"

A floating, dead bride is at the centre of mystery number 12 for Agatha Raisin. Finishing this lovely little morsel meant that I'd finished my reading challenge of reading 110 books this year and its only November - hurrah for public transport - my only chance to read.

I would have enjoyed this story rather more, had the mystery not been taken out of it somewhat. Certainly it offers up a new romantic prospect with the new novelist that has taken over James Lacey's house. Mind you, Mrs Bloxbey has a bit of fun disguising his appeal to an already romantically challenged Agatha. Nevertheless, back from an island holiday, Agatha is drawn into solving the mystery of the floating, frozen bride in the river.

Murder or drug overdose? The problem with this one is I already knew what happened as it has been adapted as part of the TV show and I remember it quite vividly, Very frustrating I must say - rather detracted from the thriller aspects. It still remains an entertaining tale and, like most things Agatha's romantic exploits ( or disasters) remain catastrophic.

Eager to see what develops next with the neighbour and a newly divorced Sir Charles.

5 out of 5, it never rains but it pours.

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell (Agatha Raisin #11) by M.C. Beaton

“Flies were buzzing about her dead body: heavy flies, sated flies.”

James Lacey might have finally ‘put a ring on it’ and yet domestic bliss is far from reach as we launch into the eleventh Agatha Raisin mystery. Still living apart and unable to find their rhythm, the newlywed couple break into a bit of a stoush at the local and it’s all downhill from there. James suspects Agatha has been up to old tricks with Sir Charles, Agatha believes James has been overfriendly with newly arrived Melissa Sheppard. Next minute, James is gone, and Melissa is dead.

 Can Agatha forgive her husband’s philandering? Is he really capable of murder? Where the heck has he gone? It turns out psychopaths can even make an appearance in the village of Carsely and things will get rather grim before we see hide nor hair of James again. As always, I love time spent with Agatha and I much prefer Bill and Charles to James (he seems like such an old fashioned wet blanket). Nevertheless, Agatha is faced with a dangerous mystery and the prospect of being married to a murder suspect unless she can find her errant husband and clear his name.

Thankfully Charles is up for driving duties. As usual though, he does have a habit of disappearing just when things get interesting. Nevertheless, the adventure grows apace with an unpredictable outcome that may just involve a monastery.


5 out of 5, another great visit with Aggie and co.