Book Review: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

386282Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Publication date:
  01 May 1990
Genre:   Sci Fi & Fantasy
Length:   416 pages
Published by:  Corgi, Transworld, Penguin Random House
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 5 out of 5

Publisher’s Summary:

“Armageddon only happens once, you know. They don’t let you go around again until you get it right.”

According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – the world’s only totally reliableguide to the future, written in 1655, before she exploded – the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea…

People have been predicting the end of the world almost from its very beginning, so it’s only natural to be sceptical when a new date is set for Judgement Day. This time though, the armies of Good and Evil really do appear to be massing. The four Bikers of the Apocalypse are hitting the road. But both the angels and demons – well, one fast-living demon and a somewhat fussy angel – would quite like the Rapture not to happen.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist…

My Thoughts:

This is book is a battered and well-loved paperback that I bought years ago.  I think it might be the fifth copy I have purchased.

 

The last time I bought a copy of this book was around five years ago.  I was about to start work on a theatre production with a renowned and highly respected sound designer.  I was very nervous about meeting him.  The first thing he said to me was “there aren’t many cues in this show, I hope you’ve got a good book.”  I pulled Good Omens out of my bag, and said “I’m all set.”  He grinned and we instantly bonded over our mutual love of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman books.

 

It’s just that kind of book; the kind where, if you meet someone who hasn’t read it, you’ll be compelled to lend it to them (that’ll be the last you see of it – they’ll keep it forever), and if they have read it you’ll instantly be friends for life.

 

As you’d expect from such a writing partnership, it combines Terry Pratchett’s ironic, witty, satirical and clever observations of the absurdity of humanity with Neil Gaiman’s special way of twisting the ordinary into the extraordinary, and putting words of profound wisdom into the mouths of babes.  It’s impossible to identify which bits of the book is written by whom; the writing is a seamless blend of the two, and it works perfectly.

 

It starts with a stormy night and a plan to switch babies at a maternity ward.  The forces of Good and Evil are meddling with human affairs, and it’s not clear what they hope to achieve or even whose side they are on.

 

Crowley and Aziraphale have their orders, but neither are sure if their bosses really know what they are doing.  After four thousand years of being colleagues (sort of) they are more inclined to trust each other’s judgement.

 

Anathema Device lives her life by a book of Nice and Accurate Prophecies.  You can’t blame her; it is frighteningly on point.

 

And then there’s Adam and the Them.  In some ways they remind me of the kind of kids that you’d find in a Blyton story, but there’s something more real about them than that.  In amongst the idyllic childhood is a mischievousness, and some canny views on the way the world should be.

 

Add in the four horseman (horsepeople?) of the apocalypse, and events quickly descend into delightful chaos.

 

There are so many moments in this book that I love, that make me smile, laugh out-loud, or murmur in agreement at a well-observed absurdity, that to list them would be to give away too much.

 

If you haven’t already read this book, what are you waiting for? Get a copy, and get reading.  If you haven’t read it for a while, read it again.  It’s an old friend worth catching up with time and time again.  Either way, read and enjoy.  And then tell me your favourite bit(s).

 

Book review: The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

cover94051-mediumThe Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles
Publication date:
 09 February 2017
Genre:  Sci Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA
Length:  368 pages
Published by:  Bloomsbury Childrens, Bloomsbury Publishing
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:

Every day, Zoe struggles to keep going. The cruel winter took her father’s life and left her angry and brokenhearted. As she carries her little brother through a snowstorm that could kill him in minutes, her only thought is finding shelter. The cabin beyond the woods is far from the place of safety she hoped it would be, but it is there that she meets a man whose muscular body marked with strange and primitive tattoos hints at an extraordinary story. He has the power to light up the lake, and with it, Zoe’s world.

Zoe calls the stranger X. He is a bounty hunter, tormented by the evils of his victims that course through his veins. X has never felt anything but hate, until he meets Zoe. She shows him what his heart is really for, and if they can find a way to be together, just maybe his pain can help Zoe forget her own.

This high-stakes, heart-pounding romance will leave readers breathless for this break-out new series and its sequel.

My Thoughts:

I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for providing me with this copy.

This is one of those YA books that I think will prove a hit beyond its target demographic.  It is told from the point of view of teenager Zoe, and like her, it is compelling and feisty.

All heroes/heroines should have admirable qualities (according to Aristotle), and Zoe meets this requirement whilst still being a normal teenager.  She argues with her mum, doesn’t do as she’s told, spends a huge amount of time Snapchatting and messaging her friends, and only has passing respect for authority, but she also carries the trials in her life bravely, looks after her little brother, explores caves, and has a fierce idea of fairness and loyalty.

I loved X, and his story.  To say much would be to give away a great deal, but through his story good and evil fight against each other, and the question of how bad a person must be to deserve the harshest of punishments comes up in different guises.

The romance between Zoe and X is wrapped up in a plot worthy of a thriller.  I enjoyed every second.  The plot is twisty, and had lots of nice, unexpected turns.  It would make a great read on a rainy day; you’ll feel like you’ve run to Hell and back again, exhilarated and slightly out of breath, without having to leave your armchair.

Book Review: Himself by Jess Kidd

cover85399-mediumHimself by Jess Kidd
Publication date:
 27 October 2016
Genre:  Mystery & Thrillers, Sci Fi & Fantasy
Length:  368 pages
Published by:  Canongate Books
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 3 out of 5


Description:

When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland’s west coast, he brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the village’s lies.

His arrival causes cheeks to flush and arms to fold in disapproval. No one in the village – living or dead – will tell what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby, despite Mahony’s certainty that more than one of them has answers.

Between Mulderrig’s sly priest, its pitiless nurse and the caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and darkly comic debut novel creates an unforgettable world of mystery, bloody violence and buried secrets.

My Thoughts:

I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to NetGalley and Canongate Books for providing me with this copy.

There is something Stephen King-esque about this novel.  The combination of a small “local village for local people”, a suspected murder, untruths, half-truths, deception, and a smattering of the supernatural could easily come from King’s fictional town of Castle Maine.  Instead the book sends us to a village in rural Ireland, but with all the same ingredients.  It works well.

Mahony arrives in Mulderrig from Dublin, cocky, charmingly scruffy, with the requisite murky past, and a score to settle.  He was given to an orphanage as a baby, and knows nothing more of his heritage than the photo he has of his mother.  He wants answers, and is unlikely to get them easily.

The story jumps between two timelines:  Mahony’s present (the 1970’s), and his mother Orla’s (the late-1940’s).  The timeline is indicated at the top of every chapter, which is useful for clarity, but becomes repetitive where there are multiple chapters in a row from the same timeline.  The use of two timelines doesn’t feel entirely necessary as Orla’s timeline is much less used and less developed, but does add a few suspenseful scenes and leaves a sprinkling of cliff-hangers through the book which certainly add to its page-turning qualities.

As Mahony seeks to find out who his parents were, and what happened to his Mother, he inevitably makes friends and enemies.  A fringe few share his suspicions that his mother met an unsavoury fate.  The majority are happy to follow the village-line that the she just left town one day, and it was Orla herself who gave Mahony to the orphanage.  Those who consider themselves the guardians of the town’s morality naturally take offence to his questions, and seek first to derail his enquiries, and then to derail Mahony himself.

Mahony’s roguish ways lead to threats made against him, and some to fall in love with him.  Their desires become helpful and obstructive by equal measure.

The pinnacle moment comes when the unseen forces of the village seem to step in.  The aftermath reveals everyone for who they truly are, and answers are finally unearthed.

This small-town supernatural mystery-thriller is a fun read.  Whilst the writing is a little clunky in places, it is nicely plotted and executed.  It is easy to keep turning the pages, and rewards with a near-apocalyptic climax and a neat, satisfying ending.

This is a great first novel from Jess Kidd.  I look forward to reading more of her titles in the future.

Book Review: Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick

cover86080-mediumNot So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick
Publication date:
  09 August 2016
Genre:  Sci Fi & Fantasy
Length:  288 pages
Published by:  Tachyon Publications
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:

In this much-anticipated new collection, Michael Swanwick (The Dog Said Bow-Wow) takes a feline turn—prowling the pages with grace, precision, and utter impertinence. The master of short science fiction takes us on whirlwind journeys across planets, time, and space, where magic and science co-exist in endless possibilities. Swanwick’s spectacular offerings are intimate in their telling, galactic in their scope, and delightfully-sesquipedalian in their verbiage.

In Not So Much, Said the Cat you’ll find time travelers from the Mesozoic partying ’til the end of time, and a calculus problem that rocks the ages. A supernatural horse-guardian journeys with a confused but semi-repentant troll. A savvy teenage girl wagers against the Devil, and is promptly set upon by the most unsuitable of suitors.

And of course, you’ll meet Beelzebub the cat, whose subtle influence may not be entirely benign….

My Thoughts:

I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for providing me with this copy.

This is a curious collection of short stories.  They manage to be just long enough to satisfy, but not so long as to become laborious.

On first look, this might look like a slightly surreal collection of stories with nothing more to link them than their Sci-fi and Fantasy settings.  On closer inspection there are deep questions being discussed.

Through stories that question perception of reality, freewill, honesty, truth and morality, the unifying theme becomes “choices”.

It’s hard to say much more without discussing each story, and introducing spoilers.

This was a good book for reading on commutes, and in meal-breaks at work.

Book review: Stormwalker by Mike Revell

cover86951-mediumStormwalker by Mike Revell
Publication date:
  19 May 2016
Genre:  Children’s Fiction, Sci Fi & Fantasy
Approximate reading time*:  2 hours, 15 mins
Published by:  Hachette Children’s Group, Quercus Children’s Books
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)

Description:

Something strange is happening to Owen.

One minute, he’s living a perfectly ordinary life: school, football, video games, hanging out with best friend Danny.

The next, he finds himself sucked into a terrifying dream world, a wasteland where a terrible Darkness plagues his hometown, threatening the lives of everyone in it.

Owen can’t control when he enters this world, or when he gets to leave. All he knows is that he has to help fight this terrible Darkness.

But what is this world?

Why is he here?

And what if he never gets to go back home?

My Thoughts:

**Contains some spoilers**

At first, I was bothered by the subtitle on the cover of the book “the hero is a lot like you”.  It seemed an unnecessary telling to any prospective reader that they will be able to relate to the book, because they can be the hero of their own story.  Yuck.  That sentiment might be true, but I find it unnecessary to blazon it on the cover of a book.  It was only when I began reading, and the dad says this line to his son (the main character, Owen) as part of a teasing description of the story he has begun writing, that I understood the subtitle in a different light.

Owen’s dad hasn’t been himself since Owen’s mother died of leukaemia the year before.  Writing used to be the activity that lit him up and made him sparkle, so it’s no surprise that Owen wants to find a way to get his dad writing again.  When Owen’s dad does start writing, and starts to seem like his own self again, Owen is delighted.  But then something strange happens; it seems as though Owen is literally being written into the story.

The world which his dad creates is haunted by the Darkness.  It is a post-apocalyptic place where (at least in the world that extends as far as Greater London) the human race has all-but been wiped out.  The survivors valiantly battle with the Darkness to gather supplies, and build upon their camp, until they can make contact with the City, and the two other known teams of survivors.

Owen is different from his comrades in that he can access both the thoughts of his character (a boy named Jack), and his own thoughts and memories.  This could have come across as schizophrenic, but is presented in a way that felt plausible, and I readily accepted.

Owen has an important football game coming up, which will likely be attended by a talent scout.  He worries that getting dragged into his dad’s story will lead him to miss the game.  But when Owen starts fighting against being dragged into his dad’s story, his dad gets writer’s block and starts regressing to his depressed self.  Owen finds himself torn between what he sees at the biggest opportunity in his life, and helping his dad finish the story.  Owen thinks that if his dad can finish the story, his dad will be “fixed”, that life will be ok again, and they will both be able to stop grieving and start living.

The Darkness is clearly a metaphor of depression, and the Dreamless (those souls who are lost to the Darkness) are described as being beyond help.  Ultimately, it is facing the Darkness and facing the fears that it tortures with, that enables Owen to defeat the Darkness.  This seems to be the message of the book:  that by facing your fears, you can start beating depression, and that your rescue is in your hands.

There is a moment in the book where Owen persuades his dad to attend a parent’s evening, and conspires with his teacher to get his dad talking about the story in order to give him the confidence to keep writing.  It is here that the true purpose of the book is openly stated.  I found this, too, to be jarring and unnecessary.

Overall, it is a pleasant read, and an interesting representation of grief, depression and the effect it has on the sufferer and their family.  I didn’t care much for the sub-plot following Owen’s football ambitions, but perhaps this is because I don’t care much for football.

There are some lovely moments, and even a couple that elicited an emotional response.

Thank you to NetGalley.com and Hachette Children’s Group for providing me with an advanced copy of this book.

3 of 5