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.

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.

Provided for Review: Redhand by Tony Leslie Duxbury

This book was kindly provided for review by the author. Thank you!

It is the new age of barbarism, hundreds of years after the collapse of civilization.

Most of the vast knowledge that mankind had accumulated has been lost. The once great cities are either piles of blasted rubble or crumbling ruins. After society imploded, humanity turned on one another. Decades of war followed. The survivors banded together in tribes and clans.

All the bullets and bombs have run out. It’s back to edged weapons and blunt instruments. Technology has taken an enormous step backwards, and so has humanity. 

He belongs to a band of wanderers, mainly peaceful people who gather and hunt. One day they suffer a raid by a group of warriors and in the aftermath, he finds himself alone. All his family and friends killed, and he left for dead. The only survivor was his little sister, which the raiders kidnapped. He vows to rescue her. After a night of mourning, he sets off to get back his sister, not yet a man and without any idea how to go about it. The shock of the raid and the grief that followed it fundamentally changed him. He surprises himself time and again as he tracks down his sister’s kidnappers and gets her back.

Redhand is a book about change. After a catastrophic event referred to only as The Collapse, society as a whole changed. War pitted man against man until the bullets ran out. And even once they were gone, man continued to rally against his proverbial brother; only this time using weapons of metal and stone.

Duxbury does not shy away from showing how brutal and cruel things have become in his novel. His action scenes are vivid and often times gruesome, the protagonist dubbed Redhand unwilling to back down from a fight. The young man isn’t the only one prone to violence though, nearly every character we meet has fought and continued to fight for their survival.

Redhand is told through a series of five short stories; each story a chapter in the young man’s life. The stories are in sequential order so the reader can watch as the protagonist changes from a wide eyed youth to a hardened traveler. The issue comes with the lack of any real character development, even with Redhand himself. Were this a full length novel, it could have allowed for stronger emotional bonds to form between reader and book characters.

The ending of the final story also felt very abrupt. Almost as if Duxbury wasn’t sure how to bring things to an end and simply stopped writing. Such a sudden ending took me by surprise as I was expecting Redhand’s travels to continue at least a little more.

Overall, Redhand is a decent take on the post apocalyptic genre. I think with a bit more work fleshing out the stories and the work of a good editor – the copy I received still had a few editor’s notes left in it – it could become something much better. Readers looking for a fast read might give this one a look.

Doctor Who: Borrowed Time by Naomi Alderman

WHATEVER YOU BORROW MUST BE REPAID…

Andrew Brown never has enough time. No time to call his sister, or to prepare for that important presentation at the bank where he works. The train’s late, the lift jams. If only he had just a little more time. And time is the business of Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop. They’ll lend him some – at a very reasonable rate of interest.

Scenting something sinister, the Doctor, Amy and Rory go undercover at the bank. But they have to move fast to stop Symington and Blenkinsop before they cash in their investments. (via Goodreads)

Who among us couldn’t use more time? Time to get done all the things that need to get done but to also do the things one wants to do? According to Mr. Symington and Mr. Blenkinsop, they have the perfect solution and are quite happy to help. And it’s all available at a quite reasonable rate of interest.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a big Doctor Who fan. I’ve read several of the series novels before and even reviewed them here, though I tend to prefer the actual TV show over the books. The reason being that the novels are very hit and miss when it comes to capturing the essence of the show. When the books in question are good, they are very good; and when they are bad, they are usually awful.

Fortunately, Borrowed Time is a hit. Reading it was very much like watching an episode, albeit in my head instead of on my TV screen. Naomi Alderman does an excellent job of capturing Eleven’s frenetic – almost frantic – way of speech. The way he randomly rambles is caught on the printed page and it is incredibly easy to mentally picture Matt Smith saying the words.

Also worth mentioning is the way Amy and Rory (especially Rory) are kept relevant in the story. They are the Doctor’s companions, his friends; and like in the show they offer another view of what is happening. They help to gather information as well as offer assistance when they can. I especially liked how Rory was used and not simply brushed aside – something that sadly happens too often for him. He can be every bit as intelligent and insightful as Amy and that is used to good effect in this book.

Borrowed Time is a fairly quick read, again emulating the show’s hour long episode format. With only a few minor tweaks I could easily see this book being turned in to an actual episode.

Fans of Doctor Who – especially his Eleventh incarnation – will enjoy this one. I recommend picking it up and soundly rejecting any one who says they can help you with time.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

I always enjoy it when a book grabs my attention in the first few paragraphs before taking me on a wild ride. And that is exactly what happened when I read The Dreamers. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by the story and continually wondering what would happen next.

One of the good things about this book is that there aren’t too many characters to try and keep track of. Yes, the book takes place in a small college town, but what is happening is presented from only a few points of view. The fact that the characters are all different ages and come from different walks of life only adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

The only real complaint I have is in regards to the virus itself. So very little attention is given to it, though it plays a major role in the story. Where did it come from? How did Kara, Patient Zero, originally contract it? Where did the virus eventually go? It’s alluded that it simply fizzled out, but because the whole town wasn’t affected, I find that tiny point a little hard to swallow.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Dreamers; I practically devoured it. I wouldn’t recommend it for hypochondriacs, but for those looking for a good fairly quick read, I say give this one a try.

Provided for Review – Daisy’s Run (The Clockwork Chimera Book 1) by Scott Baron

This book was provided by Netgalley and the author for review. Thank you!

Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. They were still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy.

With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a sense of pending dread tickling the periphery of her mind. 

Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality. (via Goodreads)

As someone who is a very big science fiction fan, when I was offered a chance to read Daisy’s Run, I jumped at the opportunity. It isn’t often that you come across a sci-fi book where the lead character is a female. And especially one who is as strong and snarky as Daisy.

Daisy’s Run is one of those books that hits the proverbial ground running. Right from the first page we are thrust in to a dangerous, and possibly deadly, situation. The space ship has been damaged by debris and if repairs are not done it could spell catastrophe.

At first everything seems to be running smoothly, but when one of the crew is inexplicably sucked out in to space, what was supposed to be a quiet trip back to Earth takes on a more dangerous tone. It doesn’t help that aside from Daisy, almost every other crew member is augmented in some way, and it seems that every one of them has a secret they’re hiding.

As the story continues and Daisy tries to figure out what is happening, it becomes harder and harder for her to know who to trust. She becomes incredibly paranoid and the reader is left to wonder if all these dangers she is seeing are all in her head.

As Daisy becomes more and more paranoid, the story itself begins to feel frenetic. The pace almost becomes as frantic as Daisy’s mind is, only slowing down towards the end when things begin to be explained.

Baron does a very good job of making us wonder just who is telling the truth. Small clues are dropped through words and actions that hint at bigger plots behind the scenes.

While the story itself is a bit slow to start, I encourage readers to hang in there and keep going. When the story picks up, it picks up fast and pulls you along with it. And personally, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Her Cyborg (Bound by Her #1) by Nellie C. Lind

CAN’T FIND MR. RIGHT? WHY NOT CREATE HIM? MedAct is the company that can make all your dreams come true! Just give them a call and let them create the perfect man for you. But remember, you can never give him up. It will kill him, literally. 

Loneliness and failed relationships made Phoebe want a cyborg of her own. With him, she would never be heartbroken again, but getting a cyborg is not easy. So when she turned to the medical and scientific company MedAct, she never expected to become one of the few people who passed their tests to be able to apply for one. 

Now, months later, his creation is complete, and they are about to come face to face for the very first time. The day she has waited for has finally arrived, and it is about to change everything.  (via Goodreads)

Her Cyborg is one of those books where the premise was very interesting but the actual execution ended up being somewhat lacking.

First off, all the cyborgs mentioned in the book are male. There is no mention of female cyborgs either having been created or even considered for creation. This means that the only individuals who can create their “perfect” mate are heterosexual women or homosexual men, and while the former are mentioned numerous times, the latter are not mentioned as being candidates at all.

Second, the “bond” that is created between cyborg and human is mentioned to the point of being ridiculous. Practically every page there is some mention of this bond, of how it is part of the core programming of the cyborg and should the female they are bonded to sever it, how the cyborg will die or go insane. Every character, whether human or not, talks of this bond – of its importance – and it gets tiring pretty quickly.

Third, there is almost no character development to speak of. We are given so little background on Phoebe or any of her friends that I found it difficult to actually care about them. Even when certain events came to pass and lives were in danger, it was hard to be concerned.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, was a detail I noticed that might make some readers uncomfortable. It’s mentioned that when a cyborg first awakens the bond between him and his human is particularly strong. So much so that the two of them must be practically isolated for their first month together. The way Lind describes Shade’s thoughts and actions during this time, it borders on the obsessive and could be triggering for some readers. And while his possessiveness is dismissed as part of his programming and will lessen with time, it was still troublesome to read.

Sadly, as promising as the premise of Her Cyborg is, the book itself is as one reviewer put it “A hot mess.” There is a second and third book in the series that continues the story with characters introduced in the first book. If they are anything like this one, it is not worth the money or time. Something which makes me sad because I really wanted to like this one.

The Fall of the House of Cabal (Johannes Cabal #5) by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, has come into possession of a vital clue that may lead him to his ultimate goal: a cure for death. The path is vague, however, and certainly treacherous as it takes him into strange territories that, quite literally, no one has ever seen before. The task is too dangerous to venture upon alone, so he must seek assistance, comrades for the coming travails.

So assisted–ably and otherwise–by his vampiric brother, Horst, and by the kindly accompaniment of a criminologist and a devil, he will encounter ruins and diableries, mystery and murder, the depths of the lowest pit and a city of horrors. London, to be exact.

Yet even though Cabal has risked such peril believing he understands the dangers he faces, he is still underestimating them. He is walking into a trap of such arcane complexity that even the one who drew him there has no idea of its true terrors. As the snare closes slowly and subtly around them, it may be that there will be no survivors at all. (via Goodreads)

The Johannes Cabal series is one I have read and enjoyed from the first book to (sadly) the last. Like any series there were books I enjoyed more than others. And like most series I’ve read, I am sad to see this one end.

The one thing I have loved most in reading the Cabal series is watching how Johannes has grown as an individual. From the self-centered, self-serving necromancer in the first book, to the man who willingly gives his brother an incredibly valuable gift; Johannes has come a long way. And with Howard’s writing, his growth is believable.

In this fifth and final book, Cabal believes he has found the one thing he has searched for for numerous years – a way to bring the dead back to life. An esoteric tome of unknown origin promises treasures untold and though Johannes has his doubts, it is the thought of what he could do if the stories were true that drives him on.

And drive him on it does, to a rather fire-y conclusion.

I am sad that this is the final book in the Cabal series because I have greatly enjoyed it. Fortunately, Howard has left the ending open so it is possible that one day he will return to the Cabal brothers. I certainly hope he does.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Following the death of her mother, Mary Jekyll is now alone and near penniless. Curious about the secrets surrounding her father’s mysterious past and subsequent death, she begins a search for any information about the man who died when she was a small child. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s friend and research partner, may be nearby. Hyde is wanted for murder and there is a reward for information that leads to his capture. Money that Mary knows could solve many of her immediate financial problems.

Mary’s hunt however, leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana. A troubled child, she has been abandoned by her father and orphaned by her mother, and is now left to be raised by nuns. Eager to leave the company of the nuns, Diana joins Mary in the search for Edward Hyde. The two women soon enlist the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and with their help find other women like them – women who seem to have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When the investigations point to a secret society of immoral and power hungry scientists, each young woman wonders if the past has finally caught up with her.

As a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, I will admit I was a bit cautious in my initial approach to The Strange Case… In the past I have learned that the writing in these kinds of books can be rather hit or miss. When the writer “hits the bulls eye” with their writing, they capture the feel of Victorian England and draw the reader in to the described realm completely. When the writer misses…sadly, they tend to miss completely.

For me, Goss has done an excellent job and while she doesn’t completely hit the bulls-eye, she is not terribly far off either. In combing through the rich treasure trove of stories of the time, she has taken well known characters and combined them with new and unique ones. As these ladies are the daughters of numerous well known “mad scientists”, their simple existence is completely plausible. That they all exist in the same world, while not probable, is equally plausible. Who is to say?

If there is one thing about the book that I don’t particularly like, it would have to be the occasional “interruptions” from the characters as the story goes along. Having the characters interject with commentary – some before we have even met them – while not detracting from the story as a whole, was something I found distracting. At times it pulled me completely out of the story.

On the whole, The Strange Case… is a decent read. Readers who enjoy some of the more gothic classics, like myself, will likely enjoy this first book in the series. Personally, I will be keeping an eye out for the second book, and hopefully one day a third and a fourth.

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

“Are you happy with your life?”

These are the final words Jason Dessen hears before a masked stranger knocks him unconscious. When he wakes he is strapped to a gurney and surrounded by people he does not recognize. A man Jason has never met leans over and with a smile says, “Welcome back, old friend.”

In this new world, Jason’s life is not the one he remembers. He was never married and his son was never born. He doesn’t teach physics at a local college, he is instead a celebrated physicist who has somehow achieved the seemingly impossible.

Which life is real and which is the dream? Jason is finding it more and more difficult to tell. And should the other life be the real one, how is he going to return? The answer lies in a mysterious box and the stranger who accosted him.

Dark Matter is a story about the road not taken. It is a story of “What if…?”s and “What would happen…?”. It is a story about choices, and what one man’s choice can ultimately accomplish.

Jason Dessen is a family man. Married to his lovely artist wife Daniella, they have a teenage son, and for all intents and purposes they are happy. Still, Jason cannot help but wonder if things might have turned out differently. When he and Daniella married, they were both on the cusps of their respective careers. If they had not married, what would have happened? Would Daniella have become a famous artist? Would Jason have become a famous physicist?

What Jason does not know is that there is another version of him that made a different decision to the one he had made. This second Jason didn’t marry Daniella and instead focused on his career. After winning an elite scientific award, this Jason joins Velocity Laboratories where he eventually creates a device that allows travel between the infinite dimensions of the vast multiverse.

While the first Jason wonders if he made the correct decision in starting a family, the second Jason regrets his decision not to. This leads second Jason to actually use his device and cross the dimensions in order to switch places with first Jason and have the family he desired. When first Jason realizes what has happened, he decides to use the device himself in the hopes of returning home.

That last sentence reminds me a great deal of the television show Quantum Leap. In it, the scientist Sam Beckett leaps from life to life trying to find his way home. There are numerous differences between the two stories, but the essence is alike.

On the whole, Dark Matter is an interesting book. The majority of the characters are well thought out and written in a believable manner. Others, sadly, are not and are very one dimensional. For instance, Jason and Daniella’s son Charlie; aside from his age and his love of drawing, there is almost nothing else given about him. This is sad because for Jason, the thought of seeing Charlie again is one of his reasons for continuing his search. Yet we the readers are never let in on why.

There is a good deal of heavy science referenced in Dark Matter. Generally, Crouch does a good job of parsing the information in an understandable language, but there are a few passages that get bogged down with techno-babble. Crouch’s prose is rarely, if ever, ambiguous and aside from some of the science speak, hard to understand. Readers who like an engrossing read will do good to pick this one up. I found it to be an exciting page turner and one that held me from beginning to end.