Sunday, October 29, 2017

Short review: When Breath Become Air by Paul Kalanithi

Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
Publication date: January 2016
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Memoir
Source: Borrowed

Description: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

My thoughts: I was intrigued to read about the experience of a man who had been a successful surgeon becoming a patient with a serious illness. I wasn't expecting the book to be as philosophical as it was. Paul writes about how, in his university life, he was very interested in why people do certain things, what motivates people, etc. From there he moved to looking at, medically, how the brain works. He discusses why he himself was compelled to push on with his work as a surgeon despite it being an incredibly intense profession.

He also talks a fair bit about how people adjust to the news that they have a serious illness, maybe a terminal one, and how being in that position himself gave him a new perspective on many things.

Personally, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. It was all very reflective, thoughtful, and philosophical... so quite boring from my point of view! I think I had been hoping for more about the doctor/patient relationship, and how that was affected. I've read better books this year about working in the healthcare industry. While When Breath Becomes Air was an interesting book, and I'm glad I had the chance to read it, it didn't blow me away and I don't think it stands out on a shelf as being overly special. I'm giving it 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book review: Beyond Forever by Kit Rocha

Title: Beyond Forever
Author: Kit Rocha
Publication date: 24th October 2017
Genre: Dystopian/Romance
Source: Review copy
Series: Beyond (bonus novella)

Blurb: Before they were the King and Queen…
Six years before the Beyond series started, an ambitious bootlegger named Dallas O’Kane caught a very pretty thief named Lex with her hand in his safe.
The rest is very sexy history.
In Beyond Forever, follow Dallas and Lex through the turning points in their relationship, from the night he caught her trying to rob him, through his rise to successful bootlegger, to legend, to Sector Leader--with Lex always there, willing to give him the push he needs.

Beyond Forever is a prequel novella that jumps through time to tell the story of the biggest moments in the formation of the O’Kanes and their King and Queen. It will be far more enjoyable if you’ve already read Beyond Control, and contains spoilers for the entire Beyond series.

My thoughts: Beyond Forever begins with the reopening of the Broken Circle after the events at the end of the Beyond series. It then jumps back to the very beginning of Dallas O'Kane's journey in the Sectors, and his first meeting with Lex, and hops forward to critical moments in the founding of the O'Kane gang & business and Dallas's relationship with Lex, finishing a little bit before Beyond Shame begins.

As a big fan of the series, I loved this novella. It's my favourite sort of extra: when we first meet Dallas & Lex, it's obvious they've already got quite a history together, so to go back and see some of that history was great. Partly that's because they're characters who bash up against each others' personalities a lot, which is always fun to read about, especially when you know that they're going to end up very much together in the future.

There isn't a particularly strong plot line as such; instead it's a series of little glimpses at crucial moments. Each chapter looks at one critical moment, and gives enough information, context and conflict for that little bit. And it was so much fun to see Lex upsetting Dallas's world, from his personal opinions to how the business was going to run to how the gang was running. Through the little snippets you get a really good picture of how Dallas and Lex each became who they are at the beginning of the Beyond series.

As an extra to read after you're done with the series, Beyond Forever is a real treat, and I'm sure all Kit Rocha fans will love it. It's intended as a happy bonus, and it definitely delivers as that. I loved getting to know some more secrets about the founding of the O'Kane legacy, and particularly the peaks of Nessa, one of my favourite characters, when she was younger. I'm giving Beyond Forever 7 stars.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Book review: Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

Title: Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe
Author: Debbie Johnson
Publication date: October 8th 2017
Publisher: HarperImpulse
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher, through NetGalley

Description: Welcome to the cosy Comfort Food Café, where there's kindness in every cup of hot chocolate and the menu is sprinkled with love and happiness…

Moving to the little village of Budbury, Zoe hopes the crisp Dorset sea breeze and gentle pace of life will be a fresh start for her and her goddaughter, Martha.

Luckily for them both, the friendly community at the café provide listening ears, sage advice, shoulders to cry on, and some truly excellent carrot cake. And when Martha's enigmatic, absent father suddenly turns up, confusing not only Martha but Zoe too, the love and support of their new-found friends is the best present they could ask for.

Have Zoe and Martha truly found their home at the Comfort Food Café?

My thoughts: I've read a couple of the Comfort Food Cafe books before, and really enjoyed them, and I'm happy to say that Coming Home... is another excellent book from Debbie Johnson.

Zoe is our narrator for this book, a new character who hasn't been in the previous ones. The story starts in the summer of the year Zoe's best friend (and Martha's mum) has died. Following Kate's wishes, Zoe has become Martha's guardian, and they now live together, but unsurprisingly they're both struggling a lot. For 16-year-old Martha, that's taking form in her sneaking out the house, sneaking into clubs, and drinking too much. Zoe is worried for both of them, so uses her savings to quit work for a few months and take them down to the Dorset coast to stay in a picturesque holiday village.

One of the things I like about Debbie Johnson's writing is that she does a 'tragic backstory' very well. It's not overdone, it doesn't feel forced - she writes grief very well, and that comes through in all the Comfort Food Cafe books. I'm reluctant to call the book 'contemporary romance' - there is a slight romantic element to the book, but predominantly it's about dealing with tragedy, making fresh starts, and raising a teenager. I really enjoyed the focus on those elements, and how the importance of friendship shines through in the books. The village of Budbury, with its social focus being the Comfort Food Cafe, has a really strong little community, and gradually Zoe and Martha both start to engage with it, and discover some incredibly supportive friends.

Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe is a beautifully heartwarming story that will have you crying both sad and happy tears! It's about the ups and downs of starting over, the importance of friendship, and about being a parent. Cosy autumn reading, with a lovely Christmassy finish. I'm giving it 7/10.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book review: The Bastard Legion by Gavin Smith

Title: The Bastard Legion
Author: Gavin Smith
Release date: 5th October 2017
Publisher: Gollancz 
Genre: Science Fiction 
Series: The Bastard Legion #1
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and "rehabilitated" in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Corbin, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman's Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska's own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?

My thoughts: I loved the concept of the book as soon as I heard it, and since I'd heard good things about Gavin Smith's writing, I thought it would be a good book to start with. The story starts as Miska is about to take a small group of the prisoners she has been trying up onto an asteroid to take back control of it from a rebel group. It quickly becomes apparent when they arrive that Miska has not been given the full story about the rebels, their capabilities, and any reasons they might have to rebell. The bulk of the story focuses on the campaign to take over the asteroid, with occasional flashbacks to Miska's past: partly as she was securing the job and beginning to train the prisoners and partly looking at the events that led her to steal the prison ship in the first place and the bigger reasons for her taking it.

There aren't too many scientific terms or explanations in the book, but there are a lot of sci-fi weapons, equipment and body modifications. The fights between Miska's team and the rebels, and a few other people, are described in great detail. Personally I didn't need to know the names of each weapon being used at any time, but as Miska has been a marine, I think it makes sense that she (as the narrator) would call things by their proper names, so I adjusted to it after a while.

I liked the characters, particularly Miska who we get to know best. Some of the others are very intriguing as well, and I'll be interested to see how they develop over the trilogy and to learn more about their backgrounds. Overall I enjoyed the book - it's a fun read with a lot of mouthy mercenaries and vivid gunfights, as well as some interesting imaginings of technology and society in the future. I'm giving The Bastard Legion  by Gavin Smith 7/10. And I'm glad to hear that book 2 is also out this month, on ebook! 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Book review: Wychwood by George Mann

Title: Wychwood
Author: George Mann
Release date: 12 September 2017
Publisher: Titan
Genre: Crime
Source: Bought

Description: After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother's house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-Under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong. Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwood: a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. 
Elspeth recognizes these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court ddp in the forest. As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades. 

My thoughts: The story begins with Elspeth pulling up to her mum's house, come to stay for a while, only to find that police have blocked off the road. No one is allowed into the crime scene area, but Elspeth pops through her house and hops over the wall at the bottom of their garden. While sneaking around, she not only sees the body, but also bumps into her childhood friend Peter, now a police officer.

I really liked Elspeth as a character. She's warm and relatable, and determined to get back on her feet after the blow that sent her back to her mum's. She works hard, and her curiosity almost always gets the better of her. Wychwood is a fairly standard police investigation into a string of murders, with Elspeth accompanying Peter as he interviews several people who might be able to shed light on things.

It's a really good book, I was hooked early on, but I was disappointed by the lack of magic or fantasy elements in the book. I guess I went into it expecting something more like Ben Aaronovitch or Paul Cornell's books, where police discover that there's magic in the world, and the magical becomes a big part of the story. In Wychwood, the only reason the reader knows that magic is definitely involved is because of occasional short interludes from the killer's point of view. I'd also hoped that it might be the start of a series, but while there can easily be more cases for Elspeth and Peter, I'm not sure how believably anything magical could be tied to the town again, after the events of Wychwood.

All in all, I did enjoy Wychwood a lot, and have been recommending it to people, but it wasn't quite the book I was expecting when I started reading. A page-turning crime thriller set in a cosy English town, this book is a perfect autumn read, particularly with Halloween coming up. I'm giving it 7/10, but I'll be more cautious going into future books by George Mann.