Judging a book by it’s cover…

A common idiom we often hear is “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. And while this is good advice on the whole, sometimes it just doesn’t apply to actual books. There are books whose covers are works of art. And here are some of my faves…

A small aside – all of the books showcased here are from my personal collection and most were purchased with my own money.

Crimson Peak by Guillermo del Toro. While it might not have done well at the box office, the books it inspired are works of art unto themselves.

The official art book. It is stunning with a plethora of pictures from the movie and behind the scenes. There are also in depth characterizations of the main characters as well as “news articles” of events mentioned in the movie.

One of the limited edition hardback novelizations. Easily one of the prettiest books I own. It comes with a slip cover and is autographed by Guillermo del Toro on the inside.

Even the end pages of the book are lovely to look at and include the theme of moths that is prevalent throughout the story.

Those who are familiar with the Final Fantasy series of video games are likely also familiar with the name Yoshitaka Amano. Amano has done all the title art for the games since the beginning. This lovely artbook has copies of his prints from Final Fantasy to Vampire Hunter D.

When one of my favorite artists joined up with one of my favorite authors, I simply cannot resist. Especially when it involves one of my favorite comic characters. Not only is the story lovely and sad but the artwork inside is exquisite.

The first series of books that earned me a bit of recognition on this site. And also the first books where the author thanked me for my review! The covers do not do the stories justice.

Older computer gamers – especially ones like me who were playing in the late 90’s – will likely recognize the name Myst. They were games that were unlike anything seen up to that point. Puzzle games that really made you think.

Only three books were released and they were only available in hardback for a very limited time. All three of mine are in new/like new condition are among the “You’ll have them when you take them from my cold dead hands” group of books I own.

While many of the books I review on here are considered ‘serious’, I am a fan of more humorous stories as well. Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore are two personal faves.

I recently referenced this book on a Twitter thread and it is one I recommend to all of my friends. I actually own two copies of this book, one the trade paperback and the second this special edition. It’s made to look like a real Bible with gilt edged pages and a ribbon bookmark. Even the cover is leather tooled with gold.

How can I talk about books without mentioning Terry Pratchett? I became a fan of his with the first Discworld book I borrowed from my local library and I’ve never looked back. This is one of the special editions of Paul Kidby’s Imaginarium artbook. A thick and heavy book it has art both familiar and brand new from Pratchett’s Discworld books.

This last group of books are included, not because they’re pretty, but because of what they mean to me. These are books from my grandmother’s immense collection, taken from her house after she passed away.

I don’t know if you can see, but one of those books is my beloved Sherlock Holmes. All of these books are from the late 40’s and 50’s and while they may be falling apart, they are still deeply loved.

Provided for Review: Shadows (Sapphire Smyth and The Shadow Five #1) by R.J. Furness

This book was provided for review by the author and The Write Reads. Thank you!

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared?

Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding.

There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination.
Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t…

Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people?

Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Trigger Warning: Violence. The main characters parents die in a mysterious way. Also, the main character is beaten up.

Even though I am an avid and voracious reader, there are times when I do not feel like diving in to a large book. For me, that is where short stories and novellas come in. They allow me to enjoy a story in a short amount of time.

Such as it is with Shadows, the first book in the Sapphire Smyth and The Shadow Five series. Written with the half hour/hour TV series in mind, in comes in at 104 pages. Even a very slow reader can easily tackle it in an afternoon.

This first book is very much like the first few episodes of a new TV series. In it we are introduced to the main characters, given a little bit of drama and questions, and are left wondering what will happen next. All key components of any good series that hopes to draw viewers in.

As far as the characters themselves, it’s still too early to tell who is a “good” guy and who is a “bad” guy. Even with the main character Sapphire, it’s too early to know if one wants to root for her or not. She does seem to be an interesting character though, as does her good friend Ben. It’s obvious he knows more than he’s telling but whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be seen.

For an introduction to a new series Shadows shows a lot of promise. I enjoyed it and encourage my readers to seek it out.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Trigger Warning: Violence. Of many kinds. This is a zombie novel so it should go without saying. Some of the violence is directed towards children.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a great and unique take on your typical zombie story. The zombies – or hungries as they’re referred to in the book – are not the main character. They do make a few appearances in the book but most of the time they are referred to by the human characters. Something else that makes this story unique is the origin of the zombie virus.

Also on the unique front is how the book doesn’t focus solely on the zombies, but instead focuses on the human characters and how they interact. The world has changed drastically and not every one is taking to it well.

For me, I believe what truly makes The Girl With All the Gifts an enjoyable read is the mysteries behind the scenes. Melanie is such a lovable individual and she has so much love to give if she could only find someone to accept it. But for whatever reason, no one will get close to her. She doesn’t understand but she is determined to find out.

I really enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts. At times it can be heartbreaking and at other times it can be breathtaking. There is some gore but I still recommend it to my readers.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. 

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide.

Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that when you woke up you could have sworn that it actually happened? That you lived a whole other life? And now that you’ve woken up, you come to the realization that this is your real life and that other life was only a fantasy?

What if you’re told that the life you dreamt of was a result of FMS – False Memory Syndrome? That despite how real it felt that it was all just an illusion? How would that make you feel? How do you think that would make any one feel?

Continuing in the thread of ‘What if…?’, what if you were told there was a special chair. A chair that allows you to revisit past events? And in revisiting the past, the potential to change the future? Would you sit in the chair? What would you change?

All of these questions – and many more – are posed in Blake Crouch’s most recent book Recursion.

In it, neuroscientist Helena Smith is searching for a way to preserve memories. To allow important moments to be recorded so that they might be experienced again. To save what little is left of her own mother’s mind before Alzheimer’s claims her completely. And while Helena succeeds in being able to record memories, it is when they are played back that trouble starts. Trouble that could potentially change the world as we know it.

I will be blunt dear reader, Recursion is not an easy read. At times it is science heavy and at other times it is emotion heavy. It is however a very good book and one that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

I absolutely recommend this one to my readers.

The Testament of Loki (Loki #2) by Joanne M. Harris

Ragnarok was the End of Worlds.

Asgard fell, centuries ago, and the old gods have been defeated. Some are dead, while others have been consigned to eternal torment in the netherworld – among them, the legendary trickster, Loki. A god who betrayed every side and still lost everything, who has lain forgotten as time passed and the world of humans moved on to new beliefs, new idol and new deities . . .

But now mankind dreams of the Norse Gods once again, the river Dream is but a stone’s throw from their dark prison, and Loki is the first to escape into a new reality.

The first, but not the only one to. Other, darker, things have escaped with him, who seek to destroy everything that he covets. If he is to reclaim what has been lost, Loki will need allies, a plan, and plenty of tricks . . .

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self harm and references to eating disorders. In one particular scene the main character cuts herself and threatens suicide.

First of all dear readers, for those who do not already know – the Loki in this book (as well as in book 1 The Gospel of Loki) is NOT Marvel’s version. This Loki is the OG Loki, the original version from Norse mythology. He is not Thor’s brother and he is not Odin’s son. He is Chaos incarnate.

And just like he did in the first book, Loki is once again doing what he does best – getting in to mischief. He does find himself on unfamiliar ground though as he finds himself in the modern day. Things like cell phones and pizza both confuse and delight him.

Harris has once again shown her love of the characters because she imbues them with life like few others can. They all have their flaws, especially Loki (though he considers himself practically perfect).

What I really enjoyed about The Testament of Loki was the growth that both Loki and Jumps go through. Jumps comes to accept who she is and what she can and cannot change about herself. To see her blossom from a shy reserved individual to a brave one was lovely. The same can be said for Loki; over the course of the book he learns not to be so self-centered and to actually care for someone other than himself.

My only complaint is how short the book itself is. I would have loved to have seen more of Loki learning about the modern world. As it is, he was only given a very brief time to experience all it’s wonders.

I am told that the end of this book leads in to one of Harris’ older series – Runemarks and Runelight. I have already added them to my list and will be reading them sometime in the future.

Fans of Joanne Harris should of course seek this book out. Same for those who are familiar with the Norse pantheon and the original Loki. For everyone else, go read The Gospel of Loki and then come back to this one.

Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Trigger Warning: This book takes place on the moon, meaning characters are subject to the dangers of space. There are a few claustrophobic moments as well.

When I first read that Andy Weir was writing another space based novel after the popularity of The Martian, I was ecstatic. I read – nay, devoured – The Martian and greatly enjoyed it. Even when I wrote my original review I do not think I gushed enough over how entertained I was by the book.

Oh how I wish I could say the same of Artemis.

Artemis is completely different from The Martian. The main character, Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara isn’t a very likable character. She’s rude and brusque and doesn’t take things as seriously as she should. Something that causes more than one person to snap at her over the course of the book.

Like many small time criminals, she doesn’t consider herself a criminal. She believes she is doing something of a service for the people of Artemis. It is a point she even makes towards the end of the book. And when she takes an offer that ends up getting people killed and she finds herself in over her head, she is still reluctant to ask for help.

While the overall idea of the book was interesting, the actual book itself fell very short. Many of the characters were either insultingly stereotypical or downright annoying, there were far too many dumb jokes, and the entire plot line felt like a mess.

I know there are a number of readers who enjoyed Artemis as much as The Martian. Unfortunately, I am not one of those.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Trigger Warning: Torture. There are a handful of scenes where Harry is tortured for information. While the author doesn’t go in to explicit detail, there is enough detail that could potentially bother some readers.

If you could start your life over from childhood with the knowledge you have now as an adult, would you do it? What would you change? What would you not change? Such is a question that has been asked over and over again. And such is also the basis of this week’s review – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Harry August is an ourobouran – a rare and unique person who lives, dies, and is reborn to live their life again and again. He is also a mnemonic – a rarity even among ourobourans – meaning that he remembers every minute of every life.

I am quite unsure how The First Fifteen Lives… escaped my book radar. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I try to keep tab on books that I might enjoy reading. And since starting this blog I have tried even harder to keep abreast of up and coming books in genres I enjoy.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August hits almost every point. North does a great job in building a world that is both familiar and new. She peppers in real world history adding another layer of believability to the story. The twists and turns that eventually develop are designed to keep the reader’s attention and it succeeds. Her characters are imperfect, not one of them is wholly good or wholly bad. The things they do and the decisions they make, each one believes they are acting for the greater good. Even when such decisions could mean the end of the world as we know it.

One thing that might detract a few readers is that the story isn’t told in a completely linear manner. When we first meet August he is at the end of his eleventh life and we are then taken back to his first life. This jumping back and forth could be a bit disconcerting for some, especially once the plot really starts moving along.

Those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy like Doctor Who or the movie Groundhog Day should give The First Fifteen Lives… a try. I enjoyed it a great deal and recommend it to my readers.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and her long time boyfriend Jamie break up.

After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself.

Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.

Trigger Warning: Animal death. While it might be considered a bit of a spoiler, I still believe it’s something that readers should be notified of.

Dearest reader, writing this review for The Pisces is probably one of the more difficult ones I’ve had to do. Simply because I wanted to like this book and I was so disappointed.

Not because I don’t like romance novels and not because I don’t enjoy the “chick lit” genre, I’ve read more than my fair share from both. I was disappointed because the main character Lucy was just SO unlikable! She is selfish and self-centered, not caring if her actions hurt any one around her. She is an addict in every sense of the word.

One instance that comes to mind is when Lucy and Theo (the merman) have sex on the couch in Lucy’s sister’s house. Lucy had just started her period and of course some blood ends up on the white couch cushions. Instead of trying to clean the mess up, Lucy simply flips the couch cushions over and thinks no one will notice. But of course her brother in law notices and when called on it Lucy only shrugs.

On the whole, I thought The Pisces was downright crude and base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a woman exploring her own sexuality, when she does it at the expense of others then something is definitely off.

I’m so glad I didn’t purchase this book like I had intended to and instead borrowed it from my local library. If you are truly curious and want to read it, I encourage you to do the same.

The Trouble With Being God: 10th Anniversary Special Edition by William F. Aicher

A naked priest hangs crucified on the wall of an abandoned brewery – the first in a series of grisly murders plaguing the city of Courtsdale. A recurring nightmare of blood, intimacy and death haunts the dreams of journalist, Steven Carvelle.

Someone stalks the city, and with the inside help of homicide detective, Kevin Miles, Steven investigates – searching for the connection tying the terrifying events together. But as the search unfolds and the murders strike closer and closer to home, Steven soon realizes these killings bear an uncanny resemblance to his dreams. Is it connection? Or coincidence? 

Do we really ever know who we are? 

And what is the trouble with being God?

Trigger Warning: Blood and gore as well as graphic descriptions of murder victims.

I admit, dear reader, that I read all of The Trouble With Being God in one evening. I started reading it, expecting to finish it in a few days like I do with most books but found myself so absorbed by the story that I couldn’t put it down.

Yet as much as I enjoyed the story, I simply could not stand the main character, Steven. I found him incredibly annoying. He is verbally and emotionally abusive to his girlfriend. He is rude and sometimes even mean to those he supposedly calls his friends. Though honestly, the same can be said of almost every other character in the book. Aside from Detective Miles, nearly every other character that plays a part in the story is bitter, selfish, and mean.

What saves the book from being a total dumpster fire is Aicher’s writing. The pacing and prose keep the story tight and suspenseful. It is enough to keep the reader engaged and guessing right up to and past the final page.

The way Aicher ends the story will certainly not appeal to everyone. I personally liked it since not everything in real life ends all neatly wrapped up like in books or movies.

The 10th Anniversary edition comes with additional extras like the original epilogue that was not published with the first edition of the book as well as a new afterword by the author. The afterword was interesting and gave insight in to the author and how his feelings towards the book have changed over the 10 years. The epilogue was worthless and didn’t add anything to the story. Personally, I’m glad it was scrapped.

Fans of Aicher’s books will likely enjoy The Trouble With Being God if they haven’t already read it. For any one else, I encourage them to at least give it a try.

Solaris by Stanisław Lem (Translated by Bill Johnston)

When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that he is not alone in this and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify?

Long considered a classic, Solaris asks the question: Can we understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?

Solaris, though written in the 1960’s, continues to be a book that is recommended to sci-fi lovers. It is continuously being “re-discovered” by each successive generation. It has been made in to two different films and has been translated in to over 40 different languages. It is considered a masterpiece of writing.

And it left me sorely disappointed.

Despite the accolades, despite the numerous glowing reviews, despite the incredibly interesting premise – I was let down reading Solaris.

I found it boring and tedious. I cannot speak for any other of Lem’s books, but in this one he is quite fond of info dumps. Pages of information that have little to nothing to do with what is currently happening plot wise and do not move the story along one bit. I found myself skimming the pages during these times, trying to get back to the original plot.

Solaris is one of those books that falls in to a difficult category, at least for me as a reviewer. While I personally did not enjoy it, the book itself is still lauded as a classic by so many others. All I can do is give my own opinion and urge my dear readers to also make their own.