Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Book review”

Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells

The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you can make an animal into a person, how long do you think it will be before someone can make a person decent?

Edward Prendick survives a shipwreck and is rescued by a supply ship headed for The Island of Dr Moreau. Prendick is cast overboard by the supply ship and is thus stranded on the island where he discovers a mad scientist (surgeon actually) has been at work for many years. The locals are huge fans of vivisection. Things go downhill when Brando is cast as Moreau.

I mostly enjoyed rereading this novel, and I definitely understood more of the issues than when I read it as a kid. At the time HG Wells wrote this famous tale, there was much debate in Europe regarding degeneration, evolution, and vivisection. Wells himself thought that humans could use vivisection for evolutionary purposes. And what better way to discuss these issues than in a science fiction novel.

There were two main issues that stopped me enjoying this novel more. The first issue is common to all of the HG Wells novels I have recently reviewed, and that is the dated style that drains a lot of the tension out of the narrative. The reader is always left at arm’s-length from the story. The second issue is a narrative device that is still commonly used today: book-ending. Book-ending (a term I’ve probably made up) is where the actual story is wedged between an external narrative that is used to recount the story proper. This does two things that annoy me: it adds needless narrative and characters; and it destroys any suspense or mystery. The latter is the worst part. In The Island of Dr Moreau we already know that Prendick survives the island and his experiences have left him emotionally scarred and unable to live among people, because his nephew introduces the tale after finding the manuscript when Prendick dies.

Regardless, this is a creepy tale that is worth reading even if you just want to learn to recite ‘Are We Not Men’.

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Book review: The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells

The First Men in the MoonThe First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Would we have a colony on the Moon if it had gold and a native peoples to wipe out? We know the answer if they had oil.

Perennial con man, Bedford, has escaped his creditors by hiding in the countryside. Here he meets an inventor, Cavor, who is a genius with no idea what he is doing. Bedford cons Cavor into using his invention of Cavorite to fly to the Moon. Upon arrival they discover the moon is hollow and filled with Moonmen (but no Moonwomen….. not sure how that works). And gold. The meeting with the natives follows tradition…

I was disappointed with The First Men in the Moon. This novel was influential to people like CS Lewis, so I was expecting there to be a lot on offer. There are a lot of interesting ideas on display in this novel, but there are also some truly bad ideas as well, even for the time this was written in. For example, Jules Verne criticised the use of Cavorite when both he and Wells had already utilised the more realistic idea of cannons for interplanetary travel. The story is also told in a way that isn’t particularly engaging, particularly the last quarter, which is possibly the most drawn out way to tie up a loose end I’ve read.

This was also one of the many works of HG Wells that was accused of plagiarism. Twenty-six years prior, Robert Cromie had written A Plunge Into Space, which was heavily borrowed from but never acknowledged. Wells’ contestations that he had never heard of Cromie nor his book would have held more weight if the accusations of plagiarism weren’t quite so common throughout Wells’ career.

Skip this classic.

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Book review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interplanetary war breaks out in Woking, Surrey England. Newsreaders even less sure where that is than countries in the Middle East.

The War of the Worlds is about Martians invading Earth using advanced technology, like 21 metre tall tripod machines, heat rays, and toxic smogs. One man is able to recount his experience of living through the invasion from the first landing to the start of the rebuilding of southern England.

It is hard to comment on such a classic novel. The War of the Worlds has gone on to influence culture in many ways. The obvious influences are in books and movies, most notably the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and the entire alien invasion genre. But it also had an impact on science, such as Freeman Dyson’s search for extraterrestrial life and Robert Goddard’s rocket development. Not many books can claim that (seriously, read the Wiki article for a brief overview). Makes it very hard to comment…

While I enjoyed this book I came away from it underwhelmed. Much of the novel is interesting, not least of which is the understated setting – because now you would be considered mad to set an alien invasion story anywhere without a prominent monument that can be destroyed. The characters the narrator meets are also interesting, particularly the artilleryman who has big dreams about leading the resistance movement. But this is all told in a memoir style that lacks immediacy, tension, and excitement. Southern England has just been invaded by aliens with death rays, yet the narrator could just as well be relating the time he watched a cricket match in Surrey.

Worth reading as a classic, especially if you forgive the narrative style.

NB: It also influenced music, such as this one by Devin Townsend.

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Book Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4 by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have twelve labours to perform do you get an energy drink sponsorship deal?

Jack West Jr was retired. The Fifth Greatest Warrior had saved the world and become a family man. But his old nemesis Iolanthe recruits him against his will to compete in The Games. This battle to the death takes representatives from the Four Legendary Kingdoms to compete to become the champion: a modern-day Hercules. Oh, and that champion allows an ancient machine to stop a rogue galaxy from destroying the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the chocolate bar.

With few exceptions – The Tournament, Seven Deadly Wonders – I’ve loved Matthew Reilly’s novels. They made by taking pure adrenaline, injected with amphetamines, and poured into a stack of paper. The stakes are always high and time is always short. This time Jack West Jr has to save the galaxy by winning a tournament. No doubt Reilly’s next novel will involve saving the universe…

I was a little wary of The Four Legendary Kingdoms. While The Great Zoo of China was a return to form, The Tournament was somewhat of a letdown for me. There was also the fact that Seven Deadly Wonders, the first Jack West Jr novel, is my least favourite book from Reilly. But any fears I had were well and truly stabbed in the neck. I can’t wait for the next instalment in this series.

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Book review: The Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

The Devil's CountryThe Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has there ever been a religious cult started for something other than allowing the leaders to have sex with the congregation?

Arlo Baines is wandering the state of Texas in an effort to forget the murder of his family. The former Texas Ranger sees a couple of guys up to no good, and starts making trouble in the neighbourhood. He gets in one little fight and has the local sheriff and a religious cult wanting to see him leave (for Bel Air).

It was refreshing to dive into a different take on the itinerant vigilante genre. Obviously there are similarities between any of the novels in this genre, the most prominent being Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series (of which I’m a fan). But Harry Hunsicker has brought a more haunted and reluctant hero to the page, one who feels a little more vulnerable, but no less unstoppable.

This is a fast-moving novel which hits all the right beats. While it doesn’t stray from the itinerant vigilante genre path, nor offer up any surprising twists, The Devil’s Country was an enjoyable read. Recommended for any fans of Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Zoe Sharp, et al.

NB: I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Book review: The Time Machine by HG Wells

The Time MachineThe Time Machine by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if vegans object to the Morlocks’ diet?

In what is now a classic of the Science Fiction genre, an un-named narrator has local dignitaries over to his place once a week to tell tall tales and show off his latest inventions to. On one of these evenings he limps in the worse for wear, in desperate need of a steak, and discusses his pocket flower collection.

When I was a kid I read a lot of the classic science fiction stories from the likes of HG Wells and Jules Verne. It has been so long since I’ve read them that I thought it was time to revisit these classics. While I can still fondly remember the 1960 movie – let us not ever speak of the 2002 adaptation – the book felt unfamiliar and akin to virgin reading material.

Whilst The Time Machine does deserve its place in history for influencing/creating Science Fiction as we know it (fantastical ideas explored, social issues analogised), as a novel it is lacking. One example of this is the lack of tension in scenes that are literally life or death struggles. Instead of fearing for the narrator’s life and wondering how he’ll survive, we are treated to a recounting of the events that could have instead been describing someone having a cup of tea while watching the rain out of the dining room window. A wondrous adventure told as though it was just another day at the office.

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Book review: The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Scam (Fox and O'Hare, #4)The Scam by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone launders your money do they also iron and starch it? Why yes, I am a dad, why do you ask?

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again using Nick’s talents as a conman to take down criminals on the FBI’s list of bad guys. This time they are after a casino owner who is helping launder money for anyone from mobsters to terrorists. Given the company he keeps, is it any surprise he has a tank of piranha in his office for ‘negotiations’.

After being disappointed in the second instalment in this series, The Chase, I was unsure if I would read any more of the Evanovich and Goldberg series. I already had The Scam on loan from the library, so I decided to chance it. This was a rewarding decision as The Scam delivers an entertaining read.

I was disappointed with The Chase because it felt like an episode from one of those will-they-won’t-they crime shows – such as Castle or Bones – during their declining years. You know, just as they are lining up the ramp over the shark cage. But The Scam felt like an early episode at the beginning of the series when Castle or Bones are still awesome, even though there are plot elements here that set this firmly later in the series (can’t say more without major spoilers).

So skip The Chase and read The Scam.

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Book review: The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Chase (Fox and O'Hare, #2)The Chase by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no con you can pull on a politician, given that they invented them all.

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again teamed up as the will-they-won’t-they odd couple. This time their mission is to recover a stolen artefact of national significance to the Chinese government. They have to steal it from the people who stole it before someone realises it was stol….. You get the idea.

I’ve read many Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich novels and have always found them humorous and entertaining. But The Chase felt like a by-the-numbers follow up to The Heist, a book that established a potentially good series. This was like an episode from a TV crime show like Castle, or Bones, or any of the dozens of those similarly constructed dramedies. And not an episode from the start of the series when it was good, but in those later episodes when they are lining up the ramp over the shark tank.

That isn’t to say that The Chase fails to entertain, quite the contrary. This is a fun novel and series, but could feel a bit too formulaic.

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Book review: Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9)Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who knew trolls were brightly coloured down there. Something to keep in mind during your next internet argument.

Adam and Mercy’s pack is quickly becoming the go-to problem solving group. Vampire dispute: call the pack. Wayward fae: call the pack. Troll rampaging on a bridge in town and threatening to kill everyone: call the pack. Since that isn’t happening anywhere else, Mercy claims the Tri-cities as their territory and any and all are under their protection. Only took a few seconds for someone to take up the protection offer and give them another headache in the form of a fire-touched human hunted by the fae.

This instalment in the Mercy Thompson series sees some of the older conflicts resolved, only to be replaced by new conflicts as the importance of the Columbia Basin pack in the wider world grows. The way Patricia Briggs has gradually grown the Mercy’s world, and the characters who live within it, has felt natural, whilst upping the stakes. Of course now that I’m up-to-date with the series, I have a fortnight to wait for the next instalment to be published.

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Book Review: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are dyed blue are you at risk of being abducted by Smurfs?

Mercy and Adam have an unwelcome house guest, Christy, Adam’s ex-wife. She is fleeing a stalker who has killed at least one person and burned down a condo. Oh, and he might be a volcano god. Even more reason for Christy to try to manipulate her way back into Adam and the pack’s life.

This instalment of the Mercy Thompson series is filled with tension. The injection of Christy back into the werewolf pack politics, the new enemy, the need to protect people who are trying to hurt you, and the suspicion of the werewolves being responsible for a rash of murders, could induce reader anxiety. Patricia Briggs has certainly left no obstacle out of Mercy’s way in Night Broken.

Needless to say, the review of the next instalment, Fire Touched, will be coming soon.

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Book review: Rick and Morty Volume 4 by Kyle Starks

Rick and Morty, Volume 4Rick and Morty, Volume 4 by Kyle Starks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“If I’m being too vague, I’m talking about your penis here.”

Are you missing Rick and Morty? Can you believe it has been 1 year, 4 months, and 9 days since the cliffhanger of Season 2? Can you believe we still have a month to wait for Season 3?

Well this collection of short adventures will tide you over. So many of these stories feel like lost episodes that we missed out on. It’s a Ricklicious fix. Rick and Morty fans will enjoy this collection no end.

I received a digital copy of this collection ahead of release in exchange for an honest review, focussed on science.

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Book Reviews: Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Nine Princes in Amber (Amber Chronicles, #1)Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m confused: are gods meant to wear flowing robes or leggings and cloaks?

Corwin awakes in a hospital after a car crash. Not everything is on the up and up, as the staff are keeping him overly sedated and aside from a lack of memory he appears to be healthy. He sets out on a quest to find out how he ended up in hospital and why all roads lead to Amber, whatever that is.

The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny is a series that kept popping up in recommendations of awesome fantasy. So I found a copy of the first in the Corwin cycle to see what the fuss was about. Quite frankly, I’m still trying to figure out whether I understand what the fuss was about.

On the one hand this tale of gods roaming parallel worlds and fighting for the throne of the empire (Amber) has a lot of interesting and novel fantasy elements. On the other hand things just tend to happen without much in the way of tension. We are presented with the tyrant who has usurped the throne via a “hero” who sounds just as bad. This novel raises so many conflicting aspects that you could almost mistake it for a first draft of something that will be great. Maybe.

I’m not sure I’ll read any more of the series despite how interesting the fantasy world on offer is.

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Book Review: Slipping by Lauren Beukes

Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other WritingSlipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Could zombies be a viable replacement for slave labour? Asking for a certain electronics company. And most clothing manufacturers.

Slipping is an interesting collection of writing from the brain of Lauren Beukes. From enhanced athletes to bored ghosts, these stories display Lauren’s spec-fic interests. There are also a few essays at the end of the collection, one of which explains the personal inspiration behind The Shining Girls; an essay well worth reading.

I met Lauren at a writers’ festival where she was running a workshop on, surprise surprise, writing. I really enjoyed reading the aforementioned The Shining Girls as it was a highly enjoyable mix of crime and spec-fic. So I was looking forward to reading this collection. As with any collection of previously published works, there are highs and lows. For me the highs outweighed the lows, with Slipping, The Green, and Ghost Girl being amongst my favourites. I think the strengths of this collection come from the South African cultural influence to Lauren’s writing, which gives far more grittiness to the bleak sci-fi stories than you usually see.

If you’re a spec-fic fan, or a fan of Lauren’s writing – and how could you not be? – then you will find some compelling stories in this collection.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7)Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is the correct term for the abduction of shapeshifters werenapping?

Our favourite coyote is back, the rest of her pack less so. Some mad fool has decided to abduct Adam and the rest of the Tri-Cities werewolves. They also come after Mercy and all of her friends. That’s one way to invite yourself to be dinner I suppose.

Halfway through the novel I was reminded why I’ve been enjoying the Mercy Thompson series so much. Patricia Briggs sets a plot in motion but doesn’t follow the standard path you would expect. Without spoiling things, we get more plot and a different endpoint than you were initially expecting. Most authors would set that initial plot in motion and try to make the ride enjoyable. Briggs makes the ride to the shops enjoyable but also changes the destination for somewhere with ocean views.

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Book review: River Marked by Patricia Briggs

River Marked (Mercy Thompson, #6)River Marked by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are times when you really need a bigger boat.

Mercy and Adam have decided to get married and go on a honeymoon. Of course, everyone else has plans on their time, including a few odd jobs they could do. Such as figure out why so many people are disappearing near the river… At least Mercy isn’t repairing cars on her honeymoon.

In River Marked we have some reveals about Mercy’s real father. This hints at things to come as well as explaining why she seems to have been attracting trouble. As always, Patricia Briggs has progressed the series and characters, filling in the gaps in a natural and satisfying way. We never get all the answers, but Briggs is revealing them without it feeling like she has been obstinately hiding details or making them up on the fly.

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Book review: Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson, #5)Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Returning overdue books has never been quite this dangerous.

Mercy borrowed a book to help her understand the fae. But when she tries to return it she finds the bookstore owner has disappeared and several nasty foes who wouldn’t mind eating her. If only Samuel was feeling himself and someone wasn’t trying to sabotage date night with Adam she could deal with this situation.

Despite their standalone nature, the plot of the books in this series overlap a lot. While you could jump into the series with Silver Borne and enjoy it without any problems, the significance and development of the plots would be a little incomplete if you hadn’t read the previous instalments. That said, this novel feels like a turning point in the series, with Mercy starting to come into her own. Hard to comment without spoilers, and it really is just easier to read and enjoy.

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Book review: Make Me by Lee Child

Make Me (Jack Reacher, #20)Make Me by Lee Child
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Does Reacher leave enough people alive to have criminals warning one another on the Deep Web about not messing with him?

Jack Reacher decided to catch a train to a small town for a change and by walking around as per usual he managed to piss off the local criminals. This will end well for the criminals.

Lee Child is a master of not wasting words. If there is exposition then it is important to the plot. Make Me is no exception. The twist for this thriller is revealed in little details throughout the story. It comes through as no less shocking.

While I have grown a little tired of the formula for the Reacher novels, they still remain entertaining reads.

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Book review: Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson, #4)Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vampire ghosts: the undead undead?

A few weeks earlier, Mercy killed one vampire too many, and now Marsilia and her vampire seethe have found out. Out of the blue pops her old out-of-state college friend with a ghost problem that she hopes Mercy can help with. What convenient timing.

It is refreshing to read a fantasy series that doesn’t get bogged down in world building waffle. Aside from being written as though they are standalone novels – whilst being a continuing adventure – there isn’t any fat on this lean series. And as the series has progressed it hasn’t fallen into a rut, nor become formulaic. I’m already halfway through the next in the series and enjoying each Mercy Thompson outing as much as the first.

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Book review: Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson, #3)Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A walking stick that follows you around is surely a sign to slow down, right?

Mercy is asked to help investigate a series of Fae murders, because mechanics are great at that sort of thing. That goes so well that her friend and former boss, Zee, ends up on the hook for a murder he didn’t commit. Of course, what happens on the rez stays on the rez, so the Fae are quite happy for Zee to take the fall. Mercy isn’t happy for Zee to take the fall.

Patricia Briggs keeps upping the ante with this series. Mercy may have some devoted friends but there is quickly becoming very few groups in the Tri-Cities area that aren’t pissed at her. Whether it be the vampires, the Grey Lords of the Fae, her two competing suitors, elements within the wolf pack, or the local anti-magical beings hate groups, Briggs has made Mercy’s life tough. This makes for compelling reading. Some people won’t like the climatic scene for how far it goes, but what is a decent protagonist without deep psychological scars? <— not a spoiler… kinda.

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Book review: The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello

The Jekyll RevelationThe Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When life imitates art, which was imitating life, which goes on to inspire art, do you have to still underline meaningful phrases in a book for when you’re caught? Asking for a friend…

Rafe is your average underpaid civil servant scientist living in Topanga Canyon, California. As long as he avoids the local bikies and their meth lab, two local petty criminals, and his landlady’s boyfriend, he should be able to study his coyote pack in peace. Yeah, doesn’t happen. When he discovers a trunk which belonged to Robert Louis Stevenson things go sideways, and he uncovers the truth about Jack the Ripper.

The Jekyll Revelation is an interesting novel that combines historical fiction with a modern day tale. Leveraging an intriguing factoid suggesting Robert Louis Stevenson was a person of interest in the Jack the Ripper murders – due to the play based upon his novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – made this story compelling. Masello manages to emulate Stevenson’s style* for the found-diary passages interspersed between the chapters of Rafe’s modern adventures. And the twist. I thought I had figured it out early on. I was wrong.

As a kid I was a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson’s, so this was an enjoyable read. I’m not normally a fan of stories that co-opt famous historical figures – unless it is done in the style of a James Rollins or Steve Berry historical McGuffin adventure – as it can feel like shoehorning. But I enjoyed the melding of two timelines to tell a tale of Jack the Ripper. It worked well, with this feeling like Stevenson’s final tale.

* I’ll admit it has been decades since I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s oeuvre as a kid, so my memory of his style could be muddled.

NB: I received a review copy ahead of publication in exchange for an honest review.

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