>I Still Dream

I’ve been bedridden with a gross chest infection. It’s been the worst, but also the best because I’ve actually had time to read. I’d just finished The Wicked Cometh on Tuesday evening and was raring to start another book.

Weeks ago I requested a copy of the new James Smythe novel I Still Dream which is due out in April 2018. It was a real judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover moment when I first saw the proof, there was a little sticker on the front saying “Cloud Atlas meets Black Mirror” so I was completely on board.

I Still Dream is the first novel I’ve read by James Smythe, I’m not sure why I’d left it this long to read one of his books as he’s always come highly recommended by other booksellers.

1997.

At the age of 17 Laura Bow has invented Organon. Organon begins as a sound-board or kind of responsive journal for all of her teenage dilemmas, everything Laura is experiencing she’s offloading to Organon.

As she grows Organon grows.

The first chapters of I Still Dream will give anyone born in the 80s the most cringeworthy flashbacks. I instantly fell into Laura’s life, I was one hundred percent there. Laura’s experience of the coming technological revolution is written with perfection. Out loud I sighed “oh my god” when reading Laura’s inner debate about the comparisons between the quality of using Sony cassettes or Maxwell ones. Just trying to stifle the noise of your modem booting up was every teenager’s nightmare in ’97. Smythe’s writing was grounded, real and oh too reminiscent of going to a rubbish secondary school in the 90s.

The book takes an unexpected jump forward and your realise you’re in for the long-ride. I was a little sad to leave teenage Laura behind, she didn’t give a shit and I just wanted to read about her sitting in her room programming Organon.

It’s been so long since I’ve read a novel so quickly. I think it’s wrong to compare I Still Dream to Cloud Altas because Cloud Atlas can be a real slog sometimes, this book isn’t like that. Every page holds so much, if you want to put I Still Dream alongside a David Mitchell book put it alongside The Bone Clocks. There’s a lot of comparisons you make between Holly Sykes in The Bone Clock and Laura Bow but Smythe’s character feels more reserved. Laura’s compassionate and protective, unfortunately not always to the people around her but to Organon she’s maternal. She’s grown Organon from the piece of code that began it all but she’s guarded when it comes to who’s hands this software is in.

This book is a brilliant technological adventure that dabbles with the morals of artificial intelligence and privacy but also tells the story of the human experience. The latter half of the novel is almost anxiety inducing, it holds a mirror up to surveillance and how much of our lives are there for everyone to see. Smythe’s book is about choice, compassion and knowledge and what we do when we pass these things on to AI. You see both sides of the coin, good and bad. Going forward we’re integrating AI into our day to day and people like me who aren’t necessarily tech-minded don’t see the depth of the information that these programs are learning. This book sheds light on a fascinating part of our future.

Anyway, this has been one of the best books I’ve read all year and I can’t wait for everyone to get their hands on this outstanding novel next. Regardless it’s a fascinating book about artificial intelligence or just a fun novel about a Kate Bush song?

If you enjoyed Ex-Machina or Black Mirror (especially the episodes The Entire History of You, Be Right Back and San Junipero) you have to read this novel. It’s every bit as thrilling and touching as you can get. I’d also recommend Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari or Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom for further reading.

I Still Dream by James Smythe published 5th April 2018

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The Wicked Cometh

I just finished a wonderful book.

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin is set in 1831. The darkest London is home to Hester White, she’s sharp, intelligent and doesn’t belong in the slums. Hester is doing everything she can to get back to her old life in Lanachesire, a time when her parents were still alive, a time away from the slums of London.  Men, women and children are going missing from the streets of London in broad daylight, the police aren’t doing a thing. Hester becomes embroiled with the Brock family and slowly begins to uncover the wickedness behind the disappearances.

I alway tend to steer clear of historical fiction, I couldn’t get on with The Essex Serpent and I’ve only read one Sarah Waters novel (which I enjoyed but haven’t taken time read any of her other works). I massively enjoyed The Wicked Cometh, I was expecting a slow burn of a book but Carlin’s writing style is action-packed in some chapters. There’s chases, deceit and some passages so intense you can help but give a little gasp under your breath as you read Hester’s story. The last third of the novel is quickly paced and takes some twists and turns I couldn’t have foreseen.

Carlin fleshes out her female characters well, they’re slightly tied by their time period but Carlin makes up for it with the dialog and sultry glances they throw towards each other. Hester is a formidable main character and reminded me of a grittier version Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart.

I was so engaged with this book. I could not stop turning the pages of The Wicked Cometh, my favourite chapters were the ones that took place at Waterford, it had hints of Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

If you enjoy twisting Victorian tales you must pre-order a copy of The Wicked Cometh, it’s great for fans of Sarah Waters or Daphne Du Maurier. Get this book on you TBR pile now!

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

Published 8th February 2018 9781473661370.

Picture this

We’ve read I Want My Hat Back and Sunk to death. They’re great books but it’s time for an autumn refresh of the pre-bedtime toddler fodder.

First up is Kevin by Rob Biddulph. A new Biddulph book is always a cause for celebration, I’ve read Grrrrr more time than I can count and Sunk is still one of my daughter’s favourites. Kevin is a funny, charming, rhyming story of little Sid Gibbons who blames his cheeky behaviour on his imaginary friend Kevin. Every page is beautiful and it’s guaranteed to get your little one to sit still for ten minutes.

Mopoke by Philip Bunting. If you’re only going to get one of the books I recommend: get this one. It’s one of the best I’ve come across this year. Mopoke is a weird little book about some strange variations of this Australian breed of owl. This is one that parents will have lots of fun reading. It’s also super stylish and a must have for Klassen fans. I can’t wait to see what Bunting’s next book will be.

Oi Cat! By Kes Gray and Jim Field. This is the one we’d been waiting for. We LOVED Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! Guess what… Oi Cat! Doesn’t disappoint, it’s hilarious and ridiculous and just a total joy to read at any age. The rhyming in this book is next level and the illustrations are ace. As soon as my daughter saw Oi Cat! she was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

The Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Another treat from the best selling duo that brought us Triangle, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn. Darkly funny tale with lots of funny twists. Every illustration in this book looks like it could be a wall print in the chicest nursery.

The Grotlyn by Benji Davies. This book is lovely. The delightful mystery of the Grotlyn who’s scuttling through houses will keep any toddler entertained. It’s a must read if you enjoyed Davies’ The Storm Whale.

Thank You Mr Panda by Steve Anthony.

If there’s one thing my spawn loves, it’s a good panda story. After reading this book my daughter wanted to read it again, which is always the sign of a great kids book. Thank You Mr Panda was our first Steve Anthony book and since reading we’ve ordered all his other Panda titles.

There Is A Tribe Of Kids by Lane Smith. Winner of this years CLIP Kate Greenaway Medal, this book is just lovely. I don’t tend to go for prizewinning books but I couldn’t resist this title. It’s got everything. A beautiful story, it’s fun, lovely illustrations and by the time you get to the last page you’ve learnt something valuable.

I try my hardest to get my daughter to read nothing but the best picture books but even I can’t escape the odd Hey Duggee book but who cares, as long as she’s enjoying a book I don’t mind.

Don’t Wake Them Up

I’ve fell off the blogging wagon over the summer. But I’m back! I read so many ace books over the summer but I’m not here to talk about those, I’m here to talk about the new 718 page behemoth that hits shelves next week, Sleeping Beauties.

What makes this even more exciting, not are we getting one King, we’re getting two! Sleeping Beauties is co-written with his son Owen King.

All across the world something strange is happening to women: as soon as they fall asleep, a mysterious virus shrouds their bodies in a cocoon like gauze.

Now time is the enemy.

Women are fighting to stay awake.

Men are fighting each other.

And the women of Dooling, West Virginia are about to open open their eyes to a new world altogether…

I was lucky enough to get an exclusive proof copy from the great team at Hodder, I was so excited starting this book. I was also taken back by the size of the book but on second thought if a novel’s going to have two authors it might as well be a long story.  One of the most interesting things starting Sleeping Beauties is the dedication. Stephen and Owen King dedicate this novel to Sandra Bland, this is a particularly heartbreaking dedication and I urge you all to google her story. The other interesting thing about this novel is the character list at the start of the book, I didn’t look at this as I was worried it might spoil some of the story but there’s so many characters in this book I found myself referring back to this page a number of times when I was roughly about halfway through.

From the start you can tell that this is co-authored, Owen’s style is noticeable amongst Stephen’s style. I makes this book fresh. Even though the start gives you flashbacks of The Stand and I figured it was going to be reminiscent of that novel it quickly changes direction. There’s touches of Alderman’s The Power and Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale at the edges of this novel but I found it to be one of King’s most politically charged novels. There’s a good few comments about Trump and lots of references to other stupid men such as Cliven Bundy (Dollop fans’ll know who this is).

Unlike The Stand, Sleeping Beauties unfolds slowly and the main characters the plot follows are some of the most interesting that the Kings have developed. It’s a book with pace, dark gender politics and it sucker punches you in latter end of the novel.

I wanted to post my thoughts on Sleeping Beauties before I finished the book for a couple of reasons: firstly I’m just so excited about this book and secondly I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I’m just coming up to the end, I don’t want this book to end but I can’t wait to see everyones reaction to it when Sleeping Beauties is release.

There’s been so much buzz about this book and more than any other Stephen King book before fans in my hometown have come in force. Since the release of Dark Tower and IT, I’ve had about 5 conversations a day about Stephen King.

Constant readers will not be disappointed by this book and possibly down to Owen King this has been one of the best of King’s modern novels.

Sleeping Beauties is out on Tuesday 26th September, it’s not too late to pre-order your copy and for the hardcore fans Waterstones is doing a stunning limited slip-cased edition (it really gorgeous) AND IT’S SIGNED!

The United States of Absurdity

THIS IS DEFINITELY MY NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR.

The United States of Absurdity by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds illustrated by James Fosdike is one of the funniest books I’ve ever come across.

I was only introduced to The Dollop a few months ago by one of my best friends. I’m somewhat of a podcast addict, I love Night Vale, My Favourite Murder and Hamish & Andy. When I first listened to The Dollop is wasn’t feeling it, then my friend said “Listen to the Rube episode.” after that I was hooked.

Earlier this year the hosts of The Dollop announced they were releasing a book, obviously I couldn’t wait.

I don’t even know where to start when taking about this book as it’s so obscure. If like me you have no interest in American history whatsoever, this is the book for you! Every page of The United States of Absurdity is hilarious. Dave Anthony and Garry Reynolds have plucked some of the most ridiculous stories from America’s past, by the time you reach the end of this book you’ll be left fathoming how as a race we are still alive.

Have you heard of Oofty Goofy or Ten-Cent Beer Night? No, of course you haven’t, but they’re amazing stories you need to read to believe!

The illustrations by James Fosdike are great and a little traumatising (check out The Stomach Men page for nightmare fuel).

This book is worth every penny and I really hope they decide to do a sequel.

Game On

I reckon about a third of my life is dedicated to books and another third to my toddler but that last third is taken up by gaming. I’ve always had a console, my mum got me a Sega Megadrive when I was tiny and I haven’t been without a console since. I’ve never considered myself a gamer as growing up it was always a mild interest but in the past few years I’ve fallen in love with RPGs. I love the epic sprawling ones that take way too much to complete like the Final Fantasy games, Kingdom Hearts, Bioshock and the Tales series.

This week I finally caved and got Persona 5. I’ve played the others and I avoided getting this one as I knew it’d take over my life. I only started Persona 5 a few days ago and I’m already nine hours deep, it was while I was playing I was mulling over why I got so absorbed in these types of games and it’s obvious: they’re great stories.

The story writing and editing of these types of games parallel the best novels out there. Bioshock Infinite for one left me shook and years on I’ll still go back and watch the ending on Youtube just to fathom it once more (and tbh I’m still trying to get my head round it). More recently I’ve devoted a large portion of my life to Final Fantasy XV. I bloody love everything about this game, I haven’t been as emotionally invested in a FF game since FFX which left me in bits by the time I got to the end. The fact that each part of the game is divided into chapters says that you’re not just playing a game, you’re taking part in a story that a team have put their heart and soul into.

If like me you love a game for it’s story you might find these books right up your street.

Lyonesse by Jack Vance – I read the first book in the Lyonesse trilogy about six years ago. I picked up a copy purely because the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks edition has a stunning front cover and I wasn’t expecting much from what sounded like a paint-by-numbers fantasy novel. This book is very epic considering it’s the first in a trilogy, it’s a heady mix of fantasy, fairytale, myth and legend. I’ve not made it round to books two and three yet but I managed to get copies with the original 1986 cover.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Taylor’s previous series was wonderful escapism so obviously this new novel was going to be just as ace. Strange the Dreamer starts with Lazlo running away from his abusive life and he takes refuge and solace in a library where he becomes to inhabit. Lazlo’s love of books is so beautifully written and as he starts to discover that there’s a strange truth to the books he considered as fairytales you find yourself being sucked into an emotionally deep fantasy. It’s got really brilliant characters and some wicked cool Gods, have a read.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King – OBVIOUSLY THESE BOOKS WOULD BE MENTIONED! I think everyone should read them, not only has King created an epic intricate world that could rival any Final Fantasy game, he also gives readers an amazing journey. Seven books (and Wind Through the Keyhole) which leave you wanting so much more and a cast of characters so rich you can’t help but agonise that you hadn’t read them sooner. This is must for Bioshock fans, the complexity of the story is outstanding. Most of The Dark Tower books read like really cool RPGs and there’s so many chapters and fights that you can’t help but think “this would make an amazing video game”.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – It’s magical realism at it’s finest. 1Q84 is a book made up of three volumes and from the start you feel your world changing around you as you become so completely involved in Aomame and Tengo’s story. When her taxi becomes stuck in a traffic jam Aomame is warned by the driver that getting out of the cab could change reality the world, not wanting to be late for her meeting Aomame gets out of the car. 1Q84 is one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. It’s long, it’s complicated but it’s as close to perfect as a novel gets. It’s David Mitchell meets FFXV.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – Now this is a bit of a life-ruiner of a book. It’s weird, really weird and mind bending and amazing and just head-shattering. I finished Annihilation about three months ago and I’m still numbed by the ending. I can’t bring myself to even consider book two in the Southern Reach trilogy yet. The story follows a nameless biologist and her companions as they set out to explore Area X. That’s all you need to know about Annihilation, just go and read it.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – This is one of the best road stories out there. After being released from prison Shadow ends up travelling across the States with a ‘man’ only known as Mr Wednesday. American Gods is beautifully written balance of travel, mystery and mythology. This is a must read and I’m about to re-read this as I first finished it about five years ago. I just finished the television show (which was brilliant) and after watching I had the strangest sense to play Devil May Cry for the billionth time.

Honourable mention – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I hope you enjoy these recommends for gamers and give me a shout if you know of a stand out RPG I must play!

Parade

Last week I finished reading Parade by Shuichi Yoshida. Villain had been a novel on my radar for a while but the blurb hadn’t gripped me enough to buy it. That’s when I saw Parade, I read the back cover and figured that this book sounded cool.

It’s a fairly short book that surrounds four people flat sharing in Tokyo. I really loved the way Yoshida nails the mundanity of modern life, especially when you’re in your twenties, you live in a big city but it’s lonely as hell. Parade took almost no time to read but I found myself let down by the ending. It’s something you sort of see coming but the build up didn’t feel good enough. Considering you have such a cast of such complex characters and their situations vary so much it seems insane that they know each other, let alone live together.

Having read a lot of Japanese fiction this book didn’t connect with me the way that Kawakami or Minato did. Or so I thought.

It’s currently 3AM and I’ve sucummed to an awful summer cold. All I can think about at this time of night is Parade. I wasn’t going to review Parade as I concluded that it was just a bit ‘meh’ but this book has gotten more under my skin than I orignally thought.

Maybe it’s the Lemsip induced delirium or maybe it’s Yoshida’s subtle writing style. I dunno.

Any way here’s to an averagely enjoyable book that has stuck with me for no apparent reason. Read it… or don’t.