Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic.¬†But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! ūüôā

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great

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Limited Wish – Mark Lawrence

limited wish cover

“I never expected to die in a punt chase.”

Following on from¬†One Word Kill¬†(so if you haven’t read that go and avoid any people-who-survived type spoilers!!), Nick Hayes, 16-year-old mathematics genius, now knows that he has about 25 years to invent time travel before coming back to meet himself last month. So, he decides it’s time to stop pretending to be ‘normal’ and accept early admission to a posh University filled with upper class nobs, where he can try to dumb down his explanations to his new maths professor. He also has to try to reclaim the girl that he was trying to save in the first book, but who is understandably a little freaked out by all the ‘destiny’ with their relationship.

Much as I enjoyed OWK, it didn’t quite hit all the buttons I would have hoped for. Still, I was looking forward to this sequel to see where the story would go. And I was not disappointed! In fact, LW is the story getting much more into its stride, and as a result I enjoyed it even more.

Time travel has always been one of my favourite plots in speculative fiction, and I very much like how it’s handled here. The characters feel a lot more grown up, too, despite the passing of mere months. And with different expectations after book one, the gentle nods towards the ‘period’ (hey – I lived through it, it’s not exactly the Victorian age!!) made me smile rather than being disappointingly light. There is a great deal of amusement, I thought, from the mention of modern band names and how nonsensical they would be in the 1980s – Lady Gaga? Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Fnarf.

I also loved the way the D&D game reflects the events in real life for the kids, without being overly forced. This takes a while to show up, as in the first book, but is a nice little touch.

Recommended, and bring on the third installment already!

NetGalley eARC: 222 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 28th May 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 2
Read from 11th-19th May 2019

My rating: 8/10

One Word Kill – Mark Lawrence

one word kill cover

“When Dr Parsons finally ran out of alternatives and reached the word ‘cancer’, he moved past it so quickly I almost thought I’d imagined it.”

Having recently fallen in love with Mark Lawrence’s fantasy series,¬†Book of the Ancestor,¬†I jumped at the chance to get this sci-fi offering, billed as¬†Stranger Things meets¬†Ready Player One. It ended up living up to neither for me, but still a decent read.

Nick Hayes may be a mathematical genius at 15, but he’s as unprepared as anyone to be told he has leukaemia. As he starts chemotherapy, he distracts himself with his D&D sessions with his friends, including a newcomer to the group: their first girl, Mia. But he still has to put up with the psychotic school bully, and a strangely familiar man who might be stalking him…

Teenagers with cancer, in the 80s no less, turns out to be a bit of a trigger for me. I was kinda happy that the author got a few bits wrong (contrary to popular imagery, chemo often leaves its victims bloated from steroids, not concentration-camp skinny). As the book goes on and Nick’s story involves more than just hospitals and life expectancy odds it was easier to cope with this bit of the story, but possibly for the first time I feel like offering a warning to other readers.

That aside, I wouldn’t suggest this story hits the heights of either of the ‘meets’ titles. The 1980s nostalgia is fairly light – mentions of using phone boxes and a few tech oldies aside, I’m not sure I would have noticed the ‘period’ setting much, which was ever so slightly disappointing. The characters are fine, but the teenage-ness of it all did little for me. I was put in mind a bit of Neil Gaiman’s¬†Interworld; it all felt a bit for-younger-readers.

Plot-wise it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, but the group of teens end up on a quest that doesn’t feel a million miles from their board games.

Overall, I enjoyed this but it’s not grabbing me anywhere near as much as¬†Red Sister. Still, sequel already started, and I’m curious to see where the story could go.

NetGalley eARC: 201 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 1 (of 3)
Read from 5th-8th May 2019

My rating: 7.5/10

When We First Met (2018)

when we first met poster

Noah (Adam Devine,¬†Pitch Perfect) thinks he’s made a connection with Avery (Alexandra Daddario,¬†Percy Jackson) after they meet at a party. Three years later, he’s still carrying a torch and wondering what went wrong as she celebrates her engagement to Ethan (Robbie Amell,¬†The Flash). Drunk and bitter, he discovers something amazing: a photo booth that lets him travel back in time. Can he figure out his mistake, redo the whole evening, and create the perfect future?

This is a rather saccharine romcom version of¬†The Butterfly Effect, with a time travel device that’s surely related to the aging wish-granter of¬†Big. Noah tries again and again to alter his path to true love, and we’re shown most of the ways in which he gets it wrong along the way.

There’s nothing either surprising or objectionable to this, it’s just… fine. The cast are all pretty and/or bland, although the lead borders on irritating. There are a few laughs along the way, and exactly the message you’re expecting after about, oooh, reading the description ūüėČ

So, while nothing special, if you have Netflix and nothing better to do for Valentine’s day, this isn’t the worst option. Probably ūüėČ

Released: 9th February 2018 (Netflix)
Viewed: 10th February 2018
Running time: 97 minutes
Rated: 12

My rating: 5/10

Paris Adrift – EJ Swift

paris adrift cover

“The anomaly¬†is waiting.”

Running away from her old life and old sense of self, Hallie lands in Paris and Millie’s bar. Surrounded by other travellers and misfits, it’s the closest Hallie has felt to home in a long time – until, that is, she stumbles through a time portal in the basement. At first terrified, then obsessed, can Hallie retain her sense of self as she is drawn again and again to explore the past of this city she has grown to love?

I was fantastically intrigued by the description of this book, and, for a large part, it does deliver. Despite the time travel elements, this isn’t really a science fiction kind of a novel. It’s borderline on ‘New Adult’ (YA, but a little older?) or even – eeep! – a bit of romance. And, especially by the end, it’s a lot about self-discovery, but in a very good way – in fact, the closing epilogue-y chapter gained this back a few points for me.

Because, while it’s well-written, and intriguing, and definitely has some cool ideas, there was also just something that didn’t quite click here for me. I’m not entirely sure what. Perhaps I’m just too old and un-travelled to have been quite as swept up by the whole life-in-Paris side, which I’d been hoping to find more evocative. Or perhaps I’ve just read too much time-travel to not find a few too many loose ends with the storyline. Or, there’s just not quite enough of any of these elements pushing through the mix.

Whatever didn’t quite satisfy me, I’d still cautiously recommend this book. Full marks for being something a bit different, and while not living up to¬†The Time Traveler’s Wife¬†(one of my favourites!), it might still appeal to fans of that.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 2nd-11th February 2018

My rating: 7/10

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

“The second cataclysm began in my eleventh life, in 1996.”

Harry August¬†is born in a railway station bathroom in the middle of winter. After a long and largely uneventful life (don’t worry, not detailed in the story!), he dies. Harry August is born in a railway station bathroom in the middle of winter… no, not a typo. Harry lives and dies and starts over again and again. The obvious comparison would be to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, but with the difference that Harry remembers everything from all of his previous incarnations.

This changes the scenario¬†entirely, of course! Although it takes a few years for Harry’s infant brain to catch up with all of his memories, and a few years more to be old enough to be able to do much about any of it (this reliving of childhood being the main discouragement to ‘resetting’ yourself on purpose), the ability to carry forward knowledge and skills is a rather amazing one. Certainly,¬†it appeals massively to me – imagine, all those lives to be able to try out any and every occupation, hobby, or pursuit that could ever take your fancy.

And this is exactly what Harry does, learning engineering, medical and a host of other skills that he carries over to his next ‘reincarnation’, although that’s not quite what it is. Of course,¬†for a few lives it’s far from that simple, as he tries to figure out what’s going on. Eventually, though, he discovers that he is not the only one, and indeed a chain of ‘ouroborans’ (after the snake eating its own tale, representing infinity) stretches both back and forward through time, passing messages via stone carvings, hidden caches, or its own members at the point of rebirth.

And then one day, one of these messages sends a chilling warning: the world is coming to an end.

I¬†really enjoyed Harry’s adventures, particularly the scope of imagination around the possibilities of a groundhog day life. It’s tough not to compare the book to the aforementioned¬†Life After Life, but I’d say the story line here is a little more concrete – you’re not left wondering ‘what was all that about’ quite so much – but the rich historical detail¬†isn’t present, despite the similar time periods used.¬†In that respect it was far less immersive, and probably won’t stay with me as long except perhaps as a rather ingenious concept. On the other hand, I liked that – despite the looming end-of-all-existence threat! – it was a lot less bleak of a read.

Hardback: 405 pages / 82 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: none
Read from 8th-22nd October 2016

My rating: 8/10

The Gradual – Christopher Priest

“I grew up in a world of music, in a time of war.”

Being a musician in the midst of¬†war is a tough thing. Alesandro’s muse is the chain of mysterious neutral islands known as the Dream Archipelago, a few of which are¬†visible from his coastal home in a dismal, military dictatorship. The exotic lure of the islands is to shape, destroy, and eventually remake his life, as he follows the pull of the music into the strangest journey through time.

Having recently enjoyed the first book in the¬†Dream Archipelago series,¬†The Affirmation, I jumped at the chance to try the fourth –¬†The Gradual –¬†when NetGalley offered a free ARC copy. Perhaps I should have tried the intermediate volumes first: I ended up quite disliking this book. Not enough to give up, but it was more than a bit of a slog, mainly driven by curiosity to find out what was going on – and the disappointment at the weakness of the reveal¬†is what turned to a large dose of ‘meh’.

The main problem for me was the pace.¬†Between the title and the opening chapter talking about music, I thought the ‘gradual’ being referred to was probably a clever (ahem) reference to a musical¬†chanted response. But no, I can attest that ‘gradual’ is very much about how slow the story is! It was fully a third of the way through the (not short!) book that something¬†finally happened. But hold your excitement, it doesn’t last, and there’s another interminable trudge through the main character’s doleful thoughts until anything particularly interesting happens again.

Even then I might have forgiven the pace if the narrator¬†hadn’t irritated me quite a bit, or if the¬†actually interesting ‘what’s going on’ had been handled better. Crammed into the last several chapters, the ‘reveal’ sort of stutters out, almost telling you something, then not quite, then… hang on, you’re introducing what now? And what about..?! I frequently reread parts, trying to grasp the sudden jumps and looking for a proper explanation that I either missed or wasn’t actually there. Again – perhaps if I’d read books 2 and 3, or if music was something I felt as passionately about as I do writing – which is what carried me through the first volume?

Those more into their literary fiction than me might rave about all of this pacing and slow building of a character’s inner thoughts. Personally,¬†though, I’d rather have had a¬†better story.

Netgalley eARC: ~400 pages / 79 chapters
First published: September 2016
Series: The Dream Archipelago book 4
Read from 29th August¬†–¬†19th September¬†2016 (yes, I kept moving onto more interesting reads!)

My rating: 4/10 – just not for me, ymmv