Mini-Review: DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS by Julie Schumacher (Doubleday/Friday Project)

SchumacherJ-DearCommitteeMembersUSAn amusing, epistolary novel of academia, modern life and literature

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work “Accountant in a Bordello”, based on Melville’s Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.

A very quick review, here. I’d heard about this novel a fair bit in the lead-up to publication, and as someone who has spent an awful lot of time at academic institutions, I was intrigued by the premise: a story told through a series of Letters of Recommendation. I was not disappointed. Continue reading

Review: THE INCORRUPTIBLES by John Hornor Jacobs (Gollancz)

JacobsJH-1-IncorruptiblesUKAn intriguing, well-executed fantasy with a difference

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way upstream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it – from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.

In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.

For Fisk and Shoe – two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other – their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky. And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.

I’ve been looking forward to this novel for a good while. So, when it arrived last week, I knew I had to dive right into it. And so I did. And devoured it in just over a day. The novel starts off with quite a blizzard of new terminology and an unusual world, but I quickly settled into it. This is a very good fantasy story with a difference. Continue reading

Review: THE THREE by Sarah Lotz (Hodder)

LotzS-TheThreeA brilliant thriller. A must-read. And one of my new favourite books.

“They’re here… The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many… They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to­­—”

The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961-2012)

Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.

There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged.

And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone.

A message that will change the world.

The message is a warning.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. I think I saw a positive comment from Lauren Beukes on Twitter, but other than that, didn’t know too much about it. So it was with great anticipation that I started reading it. And I loved it. It’s unusual, brilliantly written and expertly constructed, utterly gripping, frequently chilling, and always fascinating. It’s also really difficult to review, but very easy to praise. Continue reading

Review: LAGOON by Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder)

OkoraforN-LagoonA gripping, beautifully-written science fiction novel set in and around Lagos.

A star falls from the sky. A woman rises from the sea.

The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never imagine. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

“There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.”

This is the first novel I’ve read by Nnedi Okorafor, and it won’t be my last. I started reading it on the first day it arrived in the mail – I was putting it on my TBR shelf, and flipped it open at the first page. Thirty minutes later, I was still reading and had sidelined my then-current read. Lagoon is beautifully and intelligently written, addictive, well-paced and a must read. Continue reading

“A Love Like Blood” by Marcus Sedgwick (Mulholland)

Sedgwick-ALoveLikeBloodA gripping, chilling psychological thriller

“I’ve chased him for over twenty years, and across countless miles, and though often I was running, there have been many times when I could do nothing but sit and wait. Now I am only desperate for it to be finished.”

In 1944, just days after the liberation of Paris, Charles Jackson sees something horrific: a man, apparently drinking the blood of a murdered woman. Terrified, he does nothing, telling himself afterwards that worse things happen in wars.Seven years later he returns to the city – and sees the same man dining in the company of a fascinating young woman. When they leave the restaurant, Charles decides to follow…

A Love Like Blood is a dark, compelling thriller about how a man’s life can change in a moment; about where the desire for truth – and for revenge – can lead; about love and fear and hatred. And it is also about the question of blood.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. I had expected a good novel, with perhaps a supernatural component. Instead, what I found was an excellent psychological thriller about obsession and the science and mythology of blood. Sedgwick’s first novel for adults is damned good, and a must-read of the year. Continue reading

Review: TRAITOR’S BLADE by Sebastien de Castell (Jo Fletcher Books)

deCastellS-GC1-TraitorsBladeAn all-round brilliant fantasy debut, and one of the best I’ve read in a decade.

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

Every so often, a debut novel comes along that knocks your expectations out of the park. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamorra is one of those novels. Peter V. Brett’s The Painted Man is another. Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade needs to be added to that list. I loved this. Continue reading

Review: THE GOSPEL OF LOKI by Joanne M. Harris (Gollancz)

HarrisJ-GospelOfLokiUKAn excellent, modern take on the beloved Trickster

“Loki, that’s me.

“Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining.

“So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role.

“Now it’s my turn to take the stage.”

With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

I’ve mentioned before how Loki seems to be everywhere, these days. From comic books to blockbusters, the Trickster is just growing in popularity. Now we have The Gospel Of Loki, Joanne Harris’s first fantasy novel for adults. Unsurprisingly, given Harris’s well-established gifts as a writer, this is a well-written, engaging novel. It’s quirky, amusing throughout, with an undercurrent of darkness and menace. This is a lot of fun. Continue reading