Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Published in America by Harper in April 2013.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn’t recognize him. The once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened?

Soon Edison’s slovenly habits, appalling diet, and know-it-all monologues are driving Pandora and her fitness-freak husband Fletcher insane. After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it’s him or me.

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: why we overeat and whether extreme diets ever really work. It asks just how much sacrifice we’ll make to save single members of our families, and whether it’s ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.

This review was first blogged at Stephanie Jane in October 2014.

I didn't read anything about Big Brother before I starting on the book itself so was initially intrigued by the premise of Pandora's dilemma at having to accommodate her morbidly obese brother within her family's home for an extended visit. I was drawn into the relationships despite said brother, Edison, being overly irritating and Pandora's husband, Fletcher, feeling somewhat two-dimensional and cartoonish. Something else I noticed early on was that all Shriver's characters have odd first names! After a while I began to wonder where the storyline was as I had read around a quarter of the way through the book and it still felt like scene-setting.

I found it hard to buy into Pandora's decision to dump her husband and his kids in favour of her brother. We are continually told that they are very close siblings and it's impossible to refuse a 'family thing' but this didn't ring true from the way the pair actually behaved at this point. It was like Shriver was contradicting her writing and I wasn't convinced. The diet the pair follow, Edison apparently for a whole year, is dangerous to undertake cold and with just a single doctor's visit and I didn't like that such a drastic measure is being publicised in a best-selling novel. It may work in fiction, but could increase health issues in real life, not solve them.

Finally, after much repetition and the odd inclusion of an Iowan flood, we get to the final climax and its aftermath. Obviously, I'm not going to state what happens as not everyone who reads this will already have read Big Brother, but REALLY?! That's the best you could come up with? It's a disappointing ending!

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Monday, 27 January 2020

Blood Bound by R.J. Blain + #Giveaway + Excerpt

Blood Bound: A Lowrance Vampires Novel by R.J. Blain
Published in America by Pen And Page Publishing tomorrow, the 28th January 2020.

Add Blood Bound to your Goodreads

After waking in a shallow grave and clawing her way to freedom, Penelope Francis hunts for the rogue who stole her life and transformed her into a vampire. Despite being corrupted into a feared preternatural, she clings to her humanity and refuses to prey on innocents, instead slaking her thirst on other miscreant vampires.

In exchange for a chance at revenge, she joins forces with the charismatic master of the Lowrance brood, a choice that may spell the salvation—or destruction—of humanity as she knows it.


Another night, another vampire, another double-dead end. If I didn’t get lucky soon, I’d run out of miscreants to drain, stake, decapitate, and decorate with holy wafers. In reality, I only needed to stake the toothy bastards, but I figured if I was going to kill every damned unclaimed vampire in New York City, I’d do so with style and get a free meal out of the deal at the same time.
In life, I’d done well for myself; I’d become my father’s perfect daughter, dedicating every waking moment to my budding career as a corporate lawyer on a mission to protect his business interests. In death, or undeath as it was, I’d become a big nothing. I couldn’t even claim I’d become a big fat nothing, as I kept losing weight instead of gaining it, no matter how many of my kind I tagged, bagged, drained, and tossed out with the trash.
Penelope Francis was dead and gone to everyone who mattered, even me.
My stomach reminded me of my neglect with a displeased gurgle. Grunting my dismay over having completely drained another vampire without slaking my hunger, I checked his pockets for cash and found nothing but lint, not even a wallet, ID, or pocket change.
If he’d had food hidden in his pockets, I might’ve been tempted to try my luck. If I ever ditched the relentless hunger, I’d never take food for granted again. I resented my maker’s decision to abandon me in a shallow grave, forcing me to fend for myself. The bastard could’ve left a damned note with a few clues, especially in the feeding department. A manual about life as a vampire would’ve been appreciated. I still wasn’t sure what I could eat. Shortly after I’d risen, I’d tried a slice of pizza once and only once. It hadn’t ended well. I dodged food, afraid I’d throw it up along with my literal guts.
Just to be sure, I rechecked my victim’s body to confirm his lack of cash, ID, or food.
Nothing. Color me not surprised.
I hated killing those as destitute as I, but I refused to harbor guilt over ridding the world of a vampire who hunted homeless teens struggling to survive New York’s harshest streets.  While I hoped the kids would survive, I had my doubts.
Miscreants—unclaimed, rogues, or whatever society called the illegal vampires lurking on the streets—couldn’t afford to let their prey live to tell the tale. When found, humans and preternatural alike hunted us to ensure we never bothered anyone again.
Living on borrowed time sucked, as did homelessness. When I found the vampire who’d turned me, I’d take my time draining him. I’d enjoy every swallow. I’d turn his last moments into a masterpiece of brutality.
All I knew was that my maker had been a man, and he’d left some dark mark on me, something that tainted my soul. I could still feel his corrupting influence deep within, a pressure on my heart.
Until I breathed my last for the second time, I’d spend every night seeking him out so I could end his miserable existence. I still wasn’t sure why I’d been targeted or how I’d survived the transition from human to vampire without help. My desire for revenge confirmed one unassailable truth: I was no better than the filth I hunted.

Meet the Author 
RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning. In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until satisfied.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a $25 Amazon gift card and a mystery box of autographed RJ Blain books.
Open internationally until the 6th February.

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Sunday, 26 January 2020

Tomorrow's Ancestors: The Base of Reflections by AE Warren

Tomorrow's Ancestors: The Base of Reflections by AE Warren
Published in the UK by Locutions Press on the 6th July 2019.

The first of my 2020 More Than One Challenge reads.

What happens when the future abandons the past?

Elise and her companions have made it to the safety of Uracil but at a price. Desperate to secure her family’s passage, she makes a deal with Uracil's Tri-Council. She’ll become their spy, jeopardising her own freedom in the process, in exchange for her family’s safe transfer. But first she has to help rescue the next Neanderthal, Twenty-Two. 

Twenty-Two has never left the confines of the steel walls that keep her separated from the other exhibits. She has no contact with the outside world and no way of knowing why she has been abandoned. With diminishing deliveries of food and water, she has to start breaking the museum’s rules if she wants a second chance at living.

One belongs to the future and the other to the past, but both have to adapt—or neither will survive…

This second novel in AE Warren's Tomorrow's Ancestors series, The Base Of Reflections, carries on from the first book, The Museum of Second Chances, and I would suggest that the series does need to be read in its intended order. Warren does drop welcome brief reminders about the first book's events, but I don't think this would be enough for a new reader to really appreciate the detail of her imagined future world. In this story we are given a vision of life for the people at Uracil, a community beyond the structured society existing elsewhere. We also get to see inside a second of the official bases when we meet a fourth Neanderthal, Twenty-Two. I loved how Warren has created Twenty-Two's character very differently from Kit's. It would have been easier to envisage a single Neanderthal mindset, but instead Warren takes into account their disparate early lives. Twenty-Two is so much more guarded and almost expects to be let down and abandoned again.

The little details of Uracil's physical appearance really appealed to me, especially the ingenious ideas to keep this settlement obscured from prying eyes. The contrast between the people's flamboyant dress styles and their paranoia about remaining hidden makes for an interesting dynamic. I'm glad I don't have to traverse those tree house walkways though. Just imagining the ropes swaying brought on my vertigo!

The Base Of Reflections is a great title, in both senses of 'to reflect' because I felt the story contains many of uncomfortable truths about our own ways of living in the present day. Warren doesn't thump an environmental drum however, but seeing her characters dealing with this convincingly plausible aftermath is certainly thought-provoking. That said though, the novel itself is a fast-paced and exciting page-turner which, again, kept me gripped from start to finish. I understand AE Warren is writing a third Tomorrow's Ancestors novel at the moment and it can't be finished soon enough for me!

Meet the author   

AE Warren lives in the UK. A not-so-covert nerd with mildly obsessive tendencies, she has happily wiled away an inordinate amount of time reading and watching sci-fi/ fantasy and gaming. She is interested in the ‘what ifs’.

The Museum of Second Chances is her first novel and she is currently writing the third book in the 'Tomorrow's Ancestors' series.

Author links: 
Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram

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by Jeremys Rock Garden in
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Saturday, 25 January 2020

Not as Nature Intended by Rich Hardy

Not as Nature Intended by Rich Hardy
Published in the UK by Unbound on the 23rd January 2020.

N for my 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge and a Book With a Vegan

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relying on a hidden camera, a bluff and a little bit of luck, award-winning investigative journalist Rich Hardy finds imaginative ways to meet the people and industries responsible for the lives and deaths of the billions of animals used to feed, clothe and entertain us. What he discovers will shock, but it may just inspire you to re-evaluate your relationship with all animals and what role you let them play in your life.

Sometimes dangerous, often emotional and occasionally surreal, this one-of-a-kind perspective examines what it's like to live and work amongst your adversaries and what you can achieve if you feel strongly enough about something.

This review was first blogged on HirlGrend

Not As Nature Intended is a hard-hitting collection of ten essays by Rich Hardy, each recounting his undercover experiences to document factory farm animal cruelty across the globe. From chickens to quail, rabbits to reindeer, England to Australia, what each of the accounts has in common is Hardy's continued witnessing of a stunning lack of compassion towards the animals that farmers so often claim they 'really do care about. Honest!'

I frequently felt nauseated by the scenes Hardy describes. Dead animals or birds decomposing amongst the living, buckets full of empty antibiotic containers used to ward off epidemic diseases, animals left in obvious pain and distress with infected injuries, clouds of black flies everywhere. How can anyone remain convinced that this is how food should be produced? I was amazed too to discover that it's not just cheap pie fillings and pet foods that result from such unsanitary conditions. While I still ate meat, I had bought into the marketing inventions of free range meaning outdoor pastures and organic indicating animals fed food that was healthy for them. Hardy's peeping camera shows these concepts to be painfully untrue.

Not As Nature Intended felt like a different style of animal welfare book for me. Hardy is often obviously very upset by what he encounters, but this isn't an angry book. I never felt hectored or preached at, but at the same time this isn't by any stretch an cosy tale of the Old MacDonald's farm that so many consumers like to pretend is still the norm. I hope this collection is widely read and manages to find an audience beyond those of us who are already vegan because I believe it would be instrumental in making a lot more people really care about the provenance of their food.

Hardy's brave activism has already had results in chipping away at the secrecy of this massive industry, and his closing message has an uplifting tone. When people en masse become aware of individual acts of cruelty they generally will swiftly act to stop it. Not As Nature Intended opens the doors of cages, barns and slaughterhouses across the world. Now everyone needs to step up and look inside.

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Friday, 24 January 2020

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
Published in America by One More Chapter on the 11th June 2019.

I'm linking up this review with January 2020 Foodies Read at Based On A True Story

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie fled after an argument seven years ago, and now Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around – she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realise that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along…

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is a wonderful 'comfort food' meal of a story! Set almost entirely on one neglected street of San Francisco's Chinatown, it depicts the community at a time which is a turning point in all their lives. Lim's gentle prose and whimsical magical realism allows her to tell a story of deep emotional truths without the narrative becoming stodgy. (It's so tempting to use many foodie puns throughout this review but I will try to restrain myself!) At the heart of the novel is three generations of the Tan family, each a single woman trying to find her place in the world and, sadly, estranged from the other two. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is as much a musing on the importance of family as it is on the magical properties of good food.

As a confessed foodie myself, I loved concepts such as the steam from a bowl of soup wrapping its consumer in a comforting blanket. Sometimes I've eaten dishes that created the same emotional warmth. I was envious of Natalie's gift of a historic Chinatown restaurant although not, obviously, of the event that led her to own it. The whole concept of this story appealed to me on so many levels. Perhaps the prose was a little too repetitious at times, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with this book. It's a perfect heartwarming story to ward off rainy winter days and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves cosy domestic fiction with a sprinkling of magic glitter!

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Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 1991.

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing.com
One of my WorldReads From Nigeria

How I got this book:
I swapped for this book at a book exchange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘So long as we are alive, so long as we feel, so long as we love, everything in us is an energy we can use’

The narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. He is born into a world of poverty, ignorance and injustice, but Azaro awakens with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected. But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro's loving parents are made destitute. The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this latter-day Lazarus's story. Despite belonging to a spirit world made of enchantment, where there is no suffering, Azaro chooses to stay in the land of the Living: to feel it, endure it, know it and love it. This is his story.

This review was first blogged at Stephanie Jane in October 2014.

It took me about 100 pages to really get into the language and style of The Famished Road as it is a very different book to anything else that I have read recently, if at all. Ben Okri's writing has an amazing fluidity that roams from harsh details of life in extreme poverty to incredible flights of surreal fantasy that left me amazed at how he invented such scenes. One one hand, not a lot happens in the novel. Azaro, a young boy whose eyes we see through, spends his time observing the adults around him, avoiding his drunken and abusive father, and hanging out in a local bar. Azaro is a spirit-child who has chosen to remain among humans, but is frequently contacted by bizarre apparitions who try to persuade him to die and, in so doing, come home.

Azaro's neighbours don't come out of the story well, being by turns greedy and grasping or opportunistic and selfish. The bar-owner, Madame Koto, aligns herself with local political heavies to become rich and powerful, also becoming fat and gout-ridden in the process. The rubbish-strewn street is frequently flooded and muddy, the rooms leak and are falling down, there is often not enough to eat and Azaro's mother especially works ridiculously long hours, yet there is always a strand of hope that makes what should be a depressing novel into an uplifting one.

I will criticise its length as the near 600 pages I think could have had more intensity if reduced to around 450. However, that aside, The Famished Road is a wonderful achievement of fantastic writing and magical surrealism.

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Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Agricola’s Bane by Nancy Jardine + #Giveaway

Agricola's Bane (Celtic Fervour series #4) by Nancy Jardine
First published by Ocelot Press in November 2018.

Add Agricola's Bane to your Goodreads

A.D. 84 Northern Roman Britain 
Nith of Tarras helps Enya of Garrigill in the search for her kin, missing after the disastrous battle at Beinn na Ciche fought between the Caledonian warriors and the mighty Ancient Roman legions. Enya soon has a heartrending choice to make. Should she tread Vacomagi territory that’s swarming with Roman auxiliaries to find her brother? Or, should she head south in search of her cousin who has probably been enslaved by the Romans? 
The Commander of the Britannic Legions and Governor of Britannia – General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola – is determined to claim more barbarian territory for the Roman Empire, indeed plans to invade the whole island, but finds not all decisions are his to make. It increasingly seems that the goddess, Fortuna, does not favour him.
The adventures of the Garrigill clan continue...

In Book 4, the tales of the Garrigill Clan come to readers of the series via members of their second generation of Brigantes – their fight against the oppressive forces of the Ancient Roman Legions and their General Agricola a continuing and unending struggle. 

Set not long after After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, Nancy Jardine's Celtic Fervour series continues in this fourth installment, Agricola's Bane. The Roman army encroaches ever northwards forcing our Celtic tribes to either submit to Roman rules and taxes, or to flee leaving behind their derelict villages and fragmented communities. Jardine again switches focus to give new characters the lead roles. In this story we have hints of a romantic triangle, but I actually felt that the romance aspects were overly underplayed. I know it's unusual for me to want more romance in a novel!

I liked how the prose is sprinkled with Latin names and phrases to give a sense of the language at the time. Mistaken homophone uses are unfortunate, but overall I felt that Jardine portrays both the conquered and the still rebelling peoples well. It does make such a change to be reading historical fiction where the British are the oppressed people, rather than the oppressors! Like Donning Double Cloaks, this is also a journey story and there are a lot of minor characters and similar tribes to keep track of. I found this difficult so am sure I missed out on some of the important political shenanigans. Agricola wasn't the great demon character I had expected either so that was an interesting portrait.

I had got the impression that Agricola's Bane was the last of a four book series so expected a strong conclusion, however the Celtic Fervour series continues on into at least a fifth book. Jardine is not yet done with the adventures of the Garrigill clan.

Meet the author
Nancy Jardine writes historical fiction; time-travel historical adventure; contemporary mystery thrillers; and romantic comedy. She lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, where life is never quiet or boring since she regularly child minds her young grandchildren who happen to be her next-door neighbours. Her garden is often creatively managed by them, though she does all the work! Her husband is a fantastic purveyor of coffee and tea…excellent food and wine! (Restorative, of course)

A member of the Historical Novel Society; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland; Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Independent Alliance of Authors, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.

Author links: 
Website ~ Blog ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads ~ Amazon

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

Win x1 signed paperback of Agricola's Bane to one UK winner and x1 kindle copy worldwide
Open internationally until the 30th January 2020.

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*Terms and Conditions – Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box above. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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