Category Archives: BOOKS I have loved

A review of ‘The Memory Tree’, by Jennifer Scoullar

I write quite a bit about the dangers of the Australian bush, but there’s a reason we all continue to live in it. That reason is love. I keep rediscovering that reason in the writing of Jennifer Scoullar, a horse-mad Aussie who lives on a property right smack dab in the middle of the bush.

You want to get a feel for what rural Australia, and Australians, are like? Read The Memory Tree. This is the review I left on Amazon:

 

 

Jennifer Scoullar is known as a writer of Australian rural romances, but ‘The Memory Tree’ is something more, it’s a love story that begins where the ‘happy ever after’ ends.

Penny and Matt are married and united in their desire to help save Tasmanian Devils from the terrible cancer that’s decimating their populations in Tasmania. But they both have insecurities, especially Matt whose relationship with his Father has been fiery for years. So when Penny decides to learn the finer points of taxidermy from Matt’s father, she decides to keep it a secret. Just to keep the peace.

And then Matt accidentally kills an animal on the way home one night, a very special animal. For reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, he can’t tell Penny, and guilt starts to drive a wedge between them. When American geneticist, Sarah, arrives to map the genome of the Devils, the tense situation between husband and wife becomes a whole lot worse.

One of my favourite lines in the entire book is this: ‘Matt froze, but apparently Sarah’s vision wasn’t based on movement.” To me, that line encapsulates Scoullar’s writing perfectly: understated, funny, sharp, intensely vivid. [For those few readers who have never seen Jurassic Park, the deadly T-Rex tracks its victims by movement]

And yet, while Sarah turns out to be a bit of a man-eater when it comes to her love-life, she is utterly dedicated to her work and not a two dimensional villain. In fact, there is not a single character in the entire story that’s two dimensional. Even those with just a walk on part seem to move in 3D, and that capacity to make characters come alive extends to every creature in the book, including the ones with fur and feathers.

The thing that kept me reading long past the point where I should have stopped, however, was the question mark that hung over the story. How could Matt extricate himself from the whopping big hole he’d dug? How could he save the animals he loved without totally betraying Penny and his own integrity? How could a marriage survive so many secrets and lies?

I was prepared for the ending to go either way, so long as there was a resolution that felt /real/. I was not disappointed.

For my money, The Memory Tree is simply the best thing Jennifer Scoullar has ever written, and I hope she continues to write love stories about the bush and the living creatures that inhabit it, no matter how many legs they have.

Very highly recommended.‘

https://www.amazon.com/Memory-Tree-Tasmanian-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B07TTM6R72/ref=sr_1_4?crid=19FYZIUYCTVLA&keywords=the+memory+tree&qid=1573765382&s=digital-text&sprefix=the+memory+tree%2Caps%2C384&sr=1-4

cheers

Meeks


Books on my mind

Not so long ago, I wrote a post about sleep, and the effect blue light from digital devices may have on it. To counteract that effect, I went back to reading print books at night. I’ve read eight books since then, all from my home ‘library’:

This is a photo of my actual lounge room. The only thing I’ve changed is the view from the window. Each shelf contains a double row of books, and there are two more shelves on the other side of the fireplace. There is also a long shelf that stretches across the top of each window. A lot of books. 🙂

I spent over an hour just looking through my books, searching for old favourites to re-read. Now they’re piled up on my bedside table. -rubs hands with glee-

This is Amazon’s picture of the first seven books I read:

They are part of the Death Gate Cycle written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The first volume in the series – Dragon Wing – was published in 1990, and I would have read it soon after it was published.

The Death Gate Cycle is fantasy of a quality similar to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I loved it when I first read it, and I loved it the second time around. If you love fantasy and haven’t read this series, what are you waiting for? lol

The eighth book takes me back to my sci-fi roots – Door into Summer, by Robert Heinlein:

The cover of my paperback is very different to the ones shown on Amazon, but that’s hardly surprising as it was printed in 1957! [No! I was just a toddler back then. I bought the paperback from a second hand book shop, sometime in the 70’s]

Unlike some of Heinlein’s later works, such as Stranger in a Strange Land [1961], The Door into Summer is a simple story about a man, his cat, time travel and a bit of revenge thrown in for good measure. What makes the book so memorable is that it’s almost prophetic when it comes to technology.

Heinlein was a trained engineer and, sometime before 1957 [when the book was published], he ‘invented’ driverless cars, Auto CAD, domestic robots far more sophisticated than the Roomba, synthetic bacon, and a heap of other ‘gadgets’ that left me speechless. The only thing he got wrong was the era. The story begins in 1970 and jumps forward 30 years to 2000. We’re only now starting to enjoy some of the gadgets he invented in the mid 1950’s.

Sadly, getting the timing right is something even the best science fiction writer can’t manage because inspired guesswork can only go so far. 1984 anyone? The future never turns out the way we think it will. Probably a good thing. 🙂

To keep track of all the print books I intend to re-read, I’ve created a new category for the blog. It’s simply called ‘Books’. Within Books there are two sub-categories:

  • Golden Oldies
  • Awesome Indies

I won’t review the Golden Oldies as they are famous already, but I will discuss what it is that I like about them, especially when it comes to the development of science fiction. I will review the Awesome Indie titles though. They are every bit as good as my beloved Golden Oldies. Indie books I’ve reviewed in the past will be moved to this new category as well.

So, do you ever take a walk through your reading history? Are there any books in there that have withstood the test of time? Care to share?

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Review – The Prince’s Man by Deborah Jay

I gave Deborah Jay’s novel – The Prince’s Man –  5/5 stars and posted this review on both Goodreads and Amazon:

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading ‘The Prince’s Man’, but the reality blew me away. The story is a grown up fantasy reminiscent of Robin Hobb’s Farseer series [which I also happen to love]. You’ll find Machiavellian politics, intrigue, loyalty, a hint of love, and a cast of characters you can relate to. Yes, they have their flaws, but don’t we all?

To my mind, watching the characters change and grow is at least half the fun. The other half is getting to know the world in which those characters live. In all types of speculative fiction, the world is as much of a ‘character’ as the characters themselves. Think how important the planet Arrakis is to the story of Dune.

As readers we want to step out of our everyday lives and get lost in another world. And the author does not disappoint. The otherness of The Prince’s Man is evident right from the start, but there are no boring info. dumps. We learn about the world in the same way we learn about the human characters, by watching the story unfold, a bit at a time.

And finally, I’d like to say something about the plot. It. Is. Not. Predictable. To me, that’s one of the book’s greatest strengths. I like to be surprised, and nothing puts me off more than ‘the same old same old’. In The Prince’s Man, the author kept me guessing right to the end.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book of the series, and I highly recommend this one to anyone who likes a story with real meat on its bones.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2770933130

I’ve been horribly slack about posting reviews the last year or so, and for that I apologise. Diana Peach’s review of Nabatea reminded me of the impact our reviews have on the authors who write the books we read. I have posted some reviews on Amazon, but not enough. From here on out, I intend to update my Goodreads account with reviews of the books I’ve enjoyed the most. I read an awful lot so I can’t review everything, but I will do better than I have been doing todate. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


Devil in the Wind – Black Saturday

I’m not a poetry person, at least not normally, but I’m sitting here crying as I read this poem by Frank Prem. It’s about the Black Saturday fires that claimed 173 lives here in Victoria. 

I was at home in Warrandyte that day. I’d sent the Offspring away, but I was at home with Dad and the animals because Dad had mild dementia and…I don’t think any of us really believed. I listened to 774 radio all day and some horrific reports were being phoned in, but we had the best roof sprinklers money could buy, and fire-resistant shutters. I was sure we’d be fine. And we didn’t really believe. 

The next day, the reports started coming in and finally, we believed. That’s the background. Here is the poem that’s brought me to tears.

evidence to the commission of enquiry: all in the ark for a while

well

you have to go back

to the chaos of that time

back to february

 

as the day got on

we realised we were in strife

because the thing was bigger and hotter

and faster and more unpredictable

 

it was more everything really

 

and we’d started to get word of huge losses

in other places around and about

people

property

animals

whole towns

 

so we were head-down-and-bum-up

and worried

about what was going to happen next

 

anyway

out of the smoke came a sort of convoy

led by a horse whose halter was held

by a woman driving a ute

 

in the back of the ute

a dog was running around

like a mad thing

 

after that came another car

with a float and two more horses

 

next was a vehicle that a police fellow

was driving

 

he’d been up in a chopper

trying to winch people out

but the wind got too big

so he dropped down and helped

by driving the car

with whoever he could get into it

 

then there were a couple of deer

that jumped out of the bush

when the cavalcade went past a clearing

 

and a pair of koalas

 

and three kangaroos

 

and some lizards

 

all running as part of the convoy

 

they scattered pretty quick

when the procession of them

emerged from the smoke

and the flames

but it was all in together

for a while

 

It was ‘all in together’ for a while after Black Saturday too. We grieved, and donated food, and money, and hay because the animals were starving, and because we were alive and so many were not.

The love has disappeared now, but for a while we had it and I thank Frank Prem for helping me remember. Parts of this post will become my review on Amazon because this is my memory of the devil-wind.

 


Hunting the Phoenix, by Audrey Driscoll

I don’t think I can define the difference between a craftsman and an artist, but I know it when I see it, and Audrey Driscoll is an artist. I know, because I am a craftsman, a good one, but not an artist.

So, enough navel gazing. What is it about ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ that’s so special?

Simple answer: everything.

‘Hunting the Phoenix’ is the fourth and last book of the Herbert West series, but it is also the climax of the preceding three books. Imagine the steps of a pyramid with the Phoenix as its apex. Or if music is more your thing, imagine a classical symphony in which each movement builds upon the last to achieve the soaring notes that grab your heart and lift you out of yourself. That is the Phoenix.

At its core, every work of fiction strives for just one thing – to persuade the reader to suspend disbelief, to become part of the story, and the Herbert West series is no different. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classical literature, the story lulls the reader into a pleasant sense of security. ‘Oh, this is what the story is about…’ And then the surprises begin. Small ones at first, as you realise the author is more daring than you thought, then more profound as the truly shocking events begin to unfold.

Each book in the series is like this, but in the Phoenix the shocks go deep. I admit, there were a couple of spots where I had to stop and shake my head in disbelief. Such careful, restrained, beautiful writing and she takes it there?

Yet ‘there’ is exactly where the story needs to go in order for the ending, the climax, to feel both unexpected and absolutely right.

I’m sure no one will be surprised when I say that the quality of the writing is superb. What may surprise some people is that it is written in the First Person POV [point-of-view], and I don’t usually like First Person POV. This time, however, I barely noticed because Driscoll effortlessly avoids every single pitfall that goes with First Person POV. As with C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series, the POV is perfect and exactly what the story requires.

I wish I could give ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ a 10 out of 5 but even my limited math knows that’s impossible. Suffice to say that this book, in fact the whole series, is as close to perfect as a story can get. It joins a relatively short list of books, including Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, that I consider to be exceptional, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants more.

I’m just about to use parts of this post as a review on Amazon. If you want to read the series, the order of the books is:

  1. The Friendship of Mortals
  2. The Journey: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 1
  3. The Treasure: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 2
  4. Hunting the Phoenix

And please, leave a review on Amazon because these books truly do deserve to become modern classics.

cheers

Meeks

 


Not On the Cards, by Cage Dunn

Cage Dunn is an Australian writer who answered my recent call for beta readers. Cage not only tested my latest how-to book, she introduced it to two groups of potential writers at her local library. Their combined feedback was so much more than I could ever have hoped for.

Curious, I decided to read one of Cage’s books. That book was ‘Not on the Cards’, and this is the review I just left for it on Amazon:

At its heart, Not on the Cards is a story of love and responsibility: Gate Keeper to Key Master, mother to child, Gate Keeper to multiverse, yet for much of the time, its set in a carpark near Camberwell Junction. On the weekends, that humble carpark becomes a Trash & Treasure market with a deliciously bohemian atmosphere. I know, because the market is in my home town of Melbourne [Australia], and I’ve been there many times.

In Not on the Cards, that market atmosphere becomes something else, something more like a Carnival and Freak Show combined. It’s the perfect setting for Chiri, a Reader of Cards who also happens to be the Gate Keeper of the Icosa, a construct spanning multiple universes within the multiverse.

Chiri should not be in Camberwell Junction. She should not be living Saturday, over and over again. She should not be lost, unable to find her way back to the place and time where her daughter may or may not be alive.

And then the Thief arrives with a Key that isn’t really a key, but it’s the closest thing to a Key Chiri has felt in a lifetime of waiting. Trouble is, following this Key that isn’t a Key could lead to the destruction of the Icosa, the construct she has sworn to protect.

Do not expect this story to be a comfortable read that you can skim while waiting for the train or standing in a queue. Not on the Cards will challenge you, but oh how lovely it is when you ‘get it’.

The last time my brain received such a workout was when I read Firefall by Peter Watts. Very different stories and storytellers, but the same result – a reward commensurate with the challenge.

Why climb Everest? Because it’s there.

So blown away. 🙂

Meeks


The Communion of Saints – a review

I haven’t done a review in a long time, but I finished The Communion of Saints last night, and I simply had to review it.

But first a little background. Communion is the third novel in the John Ray series that began with Hope Road and continued with Father and Son. My reviews of Hope Road and Father and Son are here and here. It’s been a long time between drinks, but the wait was worth it. Here is the review I just posted on Amazon:

Like ‘Hope Road’ and ‘Father and Son’,  the first two John Ray thrillers, The Communion of Saints is that rare beast: a character driven genre novel. And like its predecessors, Communion is brilliant.

The Communion of Saints can be read as a standalone novel because the author weaves enough prior knowledge into the story to make the character and motivation of the protagonist  realistic and satisfying. Nevertheless,  I highly recommend that you read the earlier novels first.

Why? Because all three novels are character driven thrillers, and it’s the character of John Ray, the protagonist, that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.

John Ray is the last surviving member of a crime family. He’s the white sheep, the one that broke away and tried to live a straight life. But it’s hard to remain divorced from your past when you see your brother shot to death in front of your eyes. It’s even harder to stay detached when the Law tries to lay every nasty crime at your door.

After the gruesome death of his father, the old crime boss, John Ray tries to start afresh. He gives his business away and takes a job as a lowly lecturer’s assistant, but he’s shrivelling up inside.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk. She needs John’s help. Or, to be more exact, she needs the help of his historical links to the underworld because someone is making allegations of child abuse against an institution to which they both have ties.

In the process of unravelling truth from lies, John discovers yet more about his own past, none of it good. He also becomes a suspect in two murders, simply because of who he is.

The plot is tight, with no ‘what the…?’ moments, and the prose is elegant, painting a vivid picture of the characters and their world without ever being flowery or pretentious. But the true joy of Communion is in the characters. Not even the walk on/walk off characters are two dimensional. All of them possess a vitality that makes them feel real, no matter how minor.

As for John Ray and Shirley Kirk, they’re real people to me.  I care about them. I’d like to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them. More importantly, they are people I will not forget.

I cannot think of greater praise for an author’s work.

Something I didn’t write in the review was that I wondered whether I’d still have a wee bit of a crush on the charming rogue, John Ray. The answer is yes. He’s still a bad boy with heart, and we know how women like them. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


Two #5star #reviews for two very different novels

I read all the time, but sometimes the quality of my reading material goes through a bit of a slump. Then, as if to make up for it, fate sends me two wonderful books in a row. The two wonderful books I’ll be talking about today are Pride’s Children: Purgatory, by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt, and The Earthquake Doll, by Candace Williams. And because I’ve already reviewed both on Amazon, I’ve included those reviews in full.

prides children purgatory

Click the picture to see the book on Amazon

Pride’s Children: Purgatory, by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

The writing in Pride’s Children, Purgatory is beautiful – literary without being at all pretentious – but if you’re anything like me, it’s the characters you will love.

Sexy, good-looking Irish actor Andrew O’Connell is the perfect foil for shy, retiring author Karenna Ashe, but this is no predictable romance. It is, however, a lovestory about grown ups who have to keep on growing in order to deal with the pain of loving someone they shouldn’t. It’s also a novel about choices. And finally it’s a novel about taking risks when your body suffers from a chronic illness. In other words, this is a novel about being human.

I loved every word and my only complaint is that there isn’t any more…yet. Very highly recommended.’

 

Click the picture to see the book on Amazon

Click the picture to see the book on Amazon

The Earthquake Doll, by Candace Williams

I’ve loved all things Japanese for a very long time, but my genre of choice is sci-fi so I only just stumbled onto this little gem. What is so good about it? Pretty much everything:
-The characters are very likable, especially the main character, Miyoko who is a young Japanese girl growing up in postwar Japan.
– All the characters have a ‘voice’ – meaning each one is quite distinct and you know exactly who’s speaking or doing what at all times.
– The setting feels very genuine; definitely not the same old same old.
– Because the plot grows out of a culture that is very different to anything found in the West, even the simple plot of star-crossed lovers feels fresh and new,
– And the storytelling is clever. By letting us see through Miyoko’s eyes, the author has worked a gentle sort of magic which allows us to see our own culture through fresh eyes,
– And finally, the writing is clean and simple, speaking to the heart much like the Good Wife by Pearl S Buck.
I really can’t recommend this book enough. Simply lovely.

In many ways, these two novels could not be more different if they tried, both in style and content, and yet…they both have that touch of magic that lifts them out of the mundane into the extraordinary. These will be books you remember. That’s a promise. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Halfskin – a review

Science fiction is supposed to be about pushing the boundaries, and coming up with new concepts, but much of the time it simply regurgitates old ideas. And we’re happy with that because those ideas are familiar and comfortable, like a well-worn pair of slippers. We don’t have to think about them, we can just enjoy the entertainment on offer.

And then there are the stories that challenge us too much. Here I’m thinking of China Mieville’s Embassy Town. I enjoyed it, sort of, but I certainly did not understand it, and that left me feeling inadequate.

Halfskin, however, is that happy medium all writers aspire to – a bright, shiny new idea wrapped in the comfort of characters we can relate to, characters who do not so much challenge as persuade. They are not Other, they are like us, and so we can understand their motivation. In fact, most of us would probably agree with their motivation. I know I do.

The story begins with a familiar enough scene – a bunch of young kids getting up to mischief and egging each other on. One of them, Nix, gets cut, and we realise that Nix isn’t bleeding blood, he’s bleeding biomites.

Biomites are the result of bionanotechnology, and act like stem cells, becoming whatever the body needs to function properly. In reality, however, biomites are microscopic computers, and they are all linked wirelessly to a massive computer system dubbed MOther. But MOther, standing for Mitochondria Terraforming Hierarchy of Record, does more than just receive data, it has the ability to monitor the level of biomites present in each and every human body. And when one of those bodies becomes a halfskin – i.e. half flesh, half biomite – MOther has the ability to switch the biomites off.

But if 50% of the functioning of a body is handled by biomites, and they’re suddenly switched off, what happens to the other 50%, the flesh percent?

It dies, that’s what. Enter the villain of the piece, Marcus Anderson.

Marcus Anderson, Chief of the Biomite Oversight Committee, and a ‘pure’ who has no biomites in his body, believes that Halfskins are not human any more. Furthermore, he believes that if biomites are allowed to proliferate unchecked, homo sapiens are doomed. Something will survive the biomite invasion, but it won’t be human any more.

And this is where the persuasion comes in. Because we know that biomites saved the life of young Nix, and make ordinary people ‘better’ than they would be naturally, it’s very easy to empathize with Cali, Nix’s sister as she moves heaven and earth to keep her baby brother from being switched off as a Halfskin. We see being switched off as cruel, and unnecessary. We want Cali and Nix to survive because they are the human face of Halfskins, and they’re still nice people, right?

The delicious thing about Halfskin is that with just a little change of perception, the story could easily become as scary as the old Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Imagine if the biomites were tech gone wrong. Imagine if they took over those they infected …and turned them into zombies!

No matter how much I may dislike Marcus Anderson as a character and a person, I can see the fear that motivates him. Self righteous he may be, but maybe, just maybe he has cause.

Halfskin is just the start of the story, and I for one am very, very curious to see where the author, Tony Bertauski, takes it next. Will he give us his answer? Or will he continue to gently push us to find our own?

Without a doubt, Halfskin is one of the best science fiction stories I’ve read this year, and I’ve read a lot. The writing is smooth and assured, with no awkward sentences or embarrassing typos. The characters too are perfect. As a mother myself, I have no trouble understanding Cali’s fierce protectiveness. Faced with the same circumstances, I know I’d do exactly the same. And even Marcus the Villain isn’t completely two dimensional. Nonetheless, for me, it’s the underlying ethical questions that truly make this story stand apart.

Halfskin – 5/5 and very highly recommended.

Meeks

p.s. You can buy Halfskin from Amazon as a stand alone book for $3.50 or you can buy is as part of the eleven book Taste of Tomorrow bundle [for 99c].

Standalone:

Bundle

http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Tomorrow-Dystopian-Boxed-Collection-ebook/dp/B00HPM3PDA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415571362&sr=1-1&keywords=A+taste+of+tomorrow


Cats in Clover – 5/5

I read this little book back in June, and liked it so much I left a glowing review on Amazon, but somehow I neglected to review it on the blog. I meant to, but time slipped away from me. Or perhaps I thought Cats in Clover would be so popular it wouldn’t need any additional help from me.

Sadly, when I stumbled on it again today, I discovered my review is still the one and only. What the hell? If reviews are a measure of the popularity of a book then something is very wrong here. This book deserves better. 😦

Why? Because it’s the funniest thing I’ve read since My Barsetshire Diary, that’s why. And oddly enough, My Barsetshire Diary starred a cat as well… Hmm…

Anyway, moving on. Whether you actually like cats or not, you are going to find this story about two middle-aged cat owners laugh out loud funny. Seriously. The cats are gorgeous but the people, the people are hilarious. 😀

http://www.amazon.com/Cats-Clover-Adriana-Island-Book-ebook/dp/B00GW5U7SC/ref=la_B00GW5PJ7Q_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410416519&sr=1-6

Buy it! Read it! And if you agree that it’s a fantastic pick-me-up then please leave a review! [And no, I wouldn’t know this author from a bar of soap so no kick-backs are coming my way].

cheers

Meeks

 


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