Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear

Originally posted elsewhere on 4 March 2015.

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, #1)The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb: This novel of awesome beauty and power is a moving saga about people, relationships, and the boundaries of love. Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.

A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.

My review: I started reading this book in August 2013, but didn’t finish it until February 2015. That’s right, it took 18 months. In fairness, I did have a lot happening in my life which was a contribution; but, having said that, I read numerous other books during this time.

When I started the book, I was drawn in and held. I enjoyed the character of Ayla. I was fascinated by her situation and interaction with the Clan. However, half way through the book I got bored. I was tired of the never ending descriptions and the long lessons on how plants and roots were used. Honestly, I didn’t care to know these things and found myself skimming whole paragraphs and then whole pages until something appeared to be happening in regards to the actual storyline again.

I put the book down one day and didn’t pick it up again for twelve months.

Then in February I decided that as I had read half the book, I really should finish it. I didn’t hate the storyline, I just didn’t enjoy the author’s ramblings. So once again I visited the world of Ayla. And, yes, I did skim the rambling parts and only concentrated on the storyline itself. When I did this, I was fine with the book and was happy to read it. Sadly, I was even happier to finish it.

Although I do own the second book in the series, I have no desire to read it.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is not awful, but it is not for me. I cannot recommend this book.

Book Review: Still Alice

Originally posted elsewhere on 2 March 2015.

Still AliceStill Alice by Lisa Genova

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever.

At once beautiful and terrifying, Still Alice is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Ordinary People.

My review: My mother has early dementia. Eight months ago I moved into the family home to become her primary carer. I would be lying through my teeth if I said it was easy, because it’s not. Sometimes I feel as if I cannot continue. Sometimes I feel as if I will let my father down (before he passed away I promised him that I would look after her). Often I feel I will let my Mum and myself down too.

Then, I was given Still Alice. What can I say? I needed to read this book, at this time. It helped me see things from Mum’s point of view. It showed me the confusion she must be experiencing, the total loss of control over her life, the sadness and grief she is going through. Yes, I include grief, because she is grieving her old self, just as I am grieving for that same person.

This book helped me to accept what was happening, and to find a new level of patience.

If you have a family member suffering from dementia then you should read this book too. But even if you don’t know anything with the disease you should still read the book because it is quite simply brilliant.

Alice is the top of her friend, in the prime of her life and then she starts forgetting things and getting confused. She thinks she’s working too hard, or perhaps she has started menopause, but she doesn’t think for a section she actually has something like early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. For heaven’s sake, she’s only 50.

But she does have the disease and once it takes hold, it progresses quickly. Before she knows it, she is forgetting how to get to the lecture room, let alone what she is meant to be lecturing. She is disorientated in places she has been visiting for decades. And the faces of people she should know are not recognisable.

Confused? Of course she is. Scared? Yes.

The story shows the effects of the disease as it slowly eats away her life. It shows how it affects the relationships she has with the people closest to her (family, friends and work colleagues).

It left me feeling sad for those affected and sad for the carers. But it helped me to understand and accept my own family’s situation.

Honestly, the book is brilliant and I couldn’t put it down. A must read.

Book Review: The Hunger Games Series

Originally published elsewhere on 20 February 2015.

Sitting on the train beside a complete stranger, I was not surprised by the fact that the young girl was totally absorbed in her reading. I usually sat reading too, but my stop was approaching and I was readying myself to leave the train.

The girl closed the book with a huge sigh and we suddenly had eye contact.

“Good book?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “But I’ve just finished it and feel…” She searched for the right word. “…I don’t know, I want it to continue.”

“What’s the book called?” I ask.

“It was last book of The Hunger Games,” she replied, holding up the book for me to see. “If you haven’t read the series, you should. It’s brilliant!”

Strangely, I had been given a copy of the first book, The Hunger Games, some weeks before this recommendation. I had watched the movie several years beforehand. I could remember, vaguely, the plot, and knew I had enjoyed the movie, but the book (in most circumstances) is always better.

This short conversation on a train with a stranger inspired me to pick that book up and start reading it. Yesterday, I sat in my back yard and put the third book down with a big sigh, knowing how that young girl on the train felt, because I felt the same way.

 

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

My review: The book kept my interest. I enjoy reading about possible futures of our world. The concept of The Hunger Games wasn’t new, but quite captivating. Couple this with characters such as Katniss and Peeta, as well as a number of others, and it makes for an excellent read.

Some might find Katniss a little annoying, but my take on this is that we never truly know how we would react to any given situation, until we are thrust into it. Because of this, I was willing to accept Katniss’ behaviour for what it was and just enjoy the story.

I found the story to be well plotted, emotional and full of twists and turns. And it made me want to grab book two and continue reading, and that is exactly what I did.

 

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

My review: The story picks up shortly after the first book ends. I felt a little disconnected to begin with, but soon got back into the storyline, and characters. To win the games and then have to go through what they went through would leave me feeling confused and untrusting too.

I don’t want to give too much away. But the Games in this book was a lot shorter and in some ways I felt it was a little rushed. However, I guess the author didn’t want the book to be too repetitive or a copy of book one. Again, I accepted that decision.

The characters continued to speak to me. I enjoyed their stories, their interaction. I felt as if I knew them extremely well.

This book ended with a cliff hanger, which I am not a fan of. However, I already had the third book so kept reading, but feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t have the book ready to go.

 

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: “My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.”

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Though she’s long been a part of the revolution, Katniss hasn’t known it. Now it seems that everyone has had a hand in the carefully laid plans but her.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay – no matter what the cost.

My review: I have mixed feelings about this book. The plot unfolded nicely and the characters blossomed, so to speak. Yet, the tone of the story was different, darker. The story was more gruesome.

Where the story goes is not surprising. When I sit down and think about it, the author had given plenty of clues along the way. There was no need to be shocked, but it left me feeling incredibly sad for the two main characters (Katniss and Peeta). In fact, I actually shed a tear I felt so sorry for them.

After I read the final words of the book and put it down, I thought about what had happened and where the characters ended up for a very long time. And then, later, I realised I miss reading about them and that, dear readers, told me everything.

The books left an impression and I enjoyed them immensely.

I recommend you read them all to get the full effect. You will not be disappointed.

Ebook Sale, only 2 days to go

Only two days remain to buy ebooks from my website or from Kayelle Press for $1.00 each. This offer WILL expire at midnight on 31 December 2014, Australian EST.

Head to either of the two websites, a larger selection is available from Kayelle Press, and grab some reading material (fantasy, science fiction and horror) right now before you miss out.

Don’t forget to tell your friends and family, especially those who received an ereader for Christmas.

Semi-Online and Forging a New Routine

The last three months has seen my entire life change. Sadly, Dad passed away at the end of June from lung cancer. Those last few weeks were horrible, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget certain details from that period. The pain. The confusion. The acceptance. The moment I realised he was gone.

Then the changes started. Moving house. Transferring location at work. Forging new routines. Learning to cope with Mum’s condition and the constant questions. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, at times I found myself sitting staring at the floor consumed with thoughts that scared me. But, like all bad situations, there were teething problems but it is settling down now.

My only constant during this time is that I have found time to read. I finished “The Lavender Keeper” by Fiona McIntosh, which was a brilliant book set in WWII. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I also finished “Wanted” (A Leopold Blake Thriller) by Nick Stephenson, which reminded me of The Da Vinci Code without the history lessons (and believe me when I say that’s a compliment). Currently, I’m reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. Many people that I trust recommended this book to me. At first, I found the backstory annoying, even though it is a large part of the plot, however, the storyline is quite twisted and I’m so engrossed in it now that I find it hard to stay away from. I look forward to seeing the movie when I’ve completed the book.

Anyway, I set up my laptop yesterday and here I am … checking on things, writing updates, sifting through emails, catching up with news.

I don’t think I’ll have the same internet experience anymore, not like I used to. I just don’t have the time. But I will write updates when I can. And I will attempt to start writing book reviews once more, but no promises.

And, no, I haven’t written during this time, but I have found myself thinking about my works-in-progess. If time permits, I think I’ll try to dedicate that time to finishing those works-in-progress rather than spending time on other activities.

Going Offline for an Indefinite Period

back-soonIn coming weeks, due to family illness and a need for me to become the primary carer, I will be moving in with my parents for an indefinite period of time. They don’t have the internet connected and due to the circumstances (my father has lung cancer and my mother has early dementia) I will not be pushing to change this.

I may be able to access emails from another location, but it will not be often, so I am going to say that even emails will not reach me.

Yes, I will be totally internet free for several months. Yes, it will feel weird, but we will have more important things on our minds.

Eventually, more permanent decisions will have to be made. I envision this to be two or three months down the track, at the earliest. And I suspect I will be relocating permanently at that time. This will mean lots of changes; selling my home and my furniture, making arrangements where my job is concerned, new routines, new priorities, but I’ll face that when I get to it.

Right now, I am spending time pulling back from anything that can be put on a back-burner, including writing. I have spent hours unsubscribing to websites and newsletters (I don’t want to log in to my email in six months time to discover 1,000s of emails sitting there waiting for me). I have loaded heaps of ebooks on to my iPad in anticipation of having time to read in the evenings (I won’t be able to take a multitude of books with me, so this is a fabulous option). I have prepared this website so it can be left unattended.

I will return. Not sure exactly when, but when decisions have been made and put into action, and when I am settled in then I will return to the internet. Until then, I hope life is good to you.

Audio Book Review: Secrets of the Dead

The Secrets of the DeadThe Secrets of the Dead by Tom Harper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Description:

In a villa on the coast of Montenegro, Abby Cormac witnesses the brutal murder of her lover, diplomat Michael Lascaris. The last thing she remembers is a gun pointed directly at her. She wakes to find herself at the centre of a diplomatic nightmare. Everyone wants an answer but no one wants to listen. Even her employers at the Foreign Office believe she’s hiding something. She is completely alone. As Abby tries to piece together the last few months of Michael’s life in order to get at the truth, she soon realises that he wasn’t quite what he seemed. What exactly was his relationship with one of the most ruthless men in the Balkans – a war criminal who has never been brought to justice? And what links Michael’s gift to her of a gold necklace with its Christian monogram, a 4th century manuscript left in the shadow of Emperor Constantine’s palace at Trier and an inscription on a tomb in Rome? When Abby investigates further, it becomes clear that someone wants to suppress a secret, one that has been kept hidden for centuries. And they will stop at nothing to do so…

My Review:

During a visit to the local library, I was waiting for someone else to make their selection (I had quickly picked up a couple of books that interested me; although my reading list is already quite long and I don’t need more books to add to the pile), and I wandered over to the audio book section. Secrets of the Dead sort of jumped out and screamed, “pick me, pick me”. So I did.

I’ve listened to a couple of podcast books in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an audio book. To be honest, it was a pleasant experience. I discovered that I could do more than one thing at once, such as play Candy Crush or scanning the old family photos while reading. It was a win-win situation.

Secrets of the Dead is NOT the type of book, by that I mean paperback or ebook, that I would normally read. It’s too big worded for me, and there are too many foreign words. I’d stumble over the pages and quickly loose interest. However, listening to someone read the book was totally different. The narrator, Francis Greenslade, was excellent. He is easy to listen to and he made those difficult words blend in to the story and brought a complicated plot to life. I was impressed … and I learned the pronunciation of numerous words from him!

The book itself is actually two stories running parallel to each other — one historical and one present day. I felt the historical content was well researched and totally convincing. I ‘believed’ in the characters and the events. The only drawback was the flashbacks. After a while I found them a little annoying (even if the content of the flashbacks did move the story forward). The present day storyline was also convincing, although it took me longer to settle into this side of the book. It wasn’t the characters that troubled me (those I accepted straight away), it was the events taking place. Some things seemed too convenient. Anyway, I remember thinking I’d hate to get caught up in anything similar to what was happening to Abby Cormac. I’d be terrified. Both stories were a type of murder mystery and had certain factors that tied them together.

Overall, I’d be more than willing to ‘read’ another audio book. It’s the perfect way of discovering new authors and new genres. I’m glad I gave Secrets of the Dead a chance, and while I know I would never read an actual printed book by the author, I certainly would listen to another audio book written by him.

eBook Review: The Godslayers’ Legacy

The Godslayers' LegacyThe Godslayers’ Legacy by Lee Carlon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description:

The gods cleansed Newterra, killing all but a few survivors. Dune d’Turintar, the daughter of a god’s chosen and member of Avril’s scattered cadre, has taken up the fallen Godslayers’ cause and will take the fight to the man who bound her at birth, Lord Obdurin, to make him answer for his god’s crimes.

For Avril Ethanson, Dune represents much more than his first challenge as Lord Obdurin’s newest first-sworn, she will force him to decide if he stands with the chosen or against him.

The Godslayers’ Legacy is the second book in The Bastard Cadre series and returns to post-apocalyptic Newterra to pick up the story where A God-Blasted Land finished.

My Review:

A little over two years ago I read the first book, The God-Blasted Land. You can read my review here. It’s difficult to pick up a story two years later and fall back into the plot and the characters. Although this was a bit of a concern for me when I picked up the second book, The Godslayers’ Legacy, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I became absorbed in it.

Of course, the author’s writing has a lot to do with that. The story is fast-paced. Something is always happening, which is my type of story. I enjoyed the characters I recognised from the first book, and was happy to discover new characters who complimented them quite nicely. Put them all together and you have strong characters, with strong personalities, and they are as stubborn as anything. It makes me smile to think how this lot are going to come together and work together in future books. Now that’s something to look forward to.

I consider the books to be science fiction fantasy. By this, I mean there’s dragons and magic, as well as futuristic technology. I remember liking the way the author combined the two in the first book and I wasn’t disappointed in this regard in the second book either. It’s somewhat refreshing to read.

And although Newterra is an imaginary world, I can relate it to our world. And because I have a liking for imagining how I would cope in our world if everything was turned upside down tomorrow, I enjoy reading post-apocalyptic stories. It’s intriguing to see new ways of life blossom from the dead. And by ‘dead’, I’m not talking about people. I’m talking about technology, ways of life, beliefs, the strength to survive and carry on.

This series has it all – great characters, a fast-paced plot, post-apocalyptic storylines … and it’s well written. All this makes for a pleasant, absorbing, entertaining read time. I’ve already purchased book three, The Dead God’s Shadow.

Highly recommended.

eBook Review: One’s Aspect to the Sun

One's Aspect to the SunOne’s Aspect to the Sun by Sherry D. Ramsey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description:

Captain Luta Paixon of the far trader Tane Ikai needs to know why she looks like a woman in her thirties–even though she’s actually eighty-four. She isn’t the only one desperate for that information.

The explanation might lie with her geneticist mother, who disappeared over sixty years ago, but even if her mother is still alive, it’s proving to be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the furthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart.

My Review:

There was a time when I read a lot of science fiction, but that was long ago. Like everyone, my tastes changed and I found myself favouring fantasy adventures over space travel. However, the thing about taste is that you can yearn for something you haven’t tasted for a while and I’ve found myself wanting to return to the undiscovered worlds of aliens, space ships and technology.

Amongst the stars is Nearspace, which has many planets across galaxies connected by wormholes. PrimeCorp is a company all about money and greed, but they’d like you to think their first thought each day is about you and your health. The two together make a good backdrop for Luta and her family secrets.

All families have secrets, but Luta’s are massive. She looks 30-something, but is actually 84. Her husband of over fifty decades is 90 and looks it. But the thing that causes the biggest problem within Luta’s family is that her children are starting to look older than her, which is difficult to explain. Hence, the secrets. And when Luta’s husband asks to die in space, instead of an old-people’s home, their daughter is NOT happy.

It took a while to set up the storylines, the world, the history and how they all fitted together. However, once that was done, I was totally absorbed and the book became a page-turner.

I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Luta, her husband and their daughter. I felt sorry for all of them. It wouldn’t be easy living their lives surrounded by secrets and missed opportunities. Maja, the daughter, was angry about so many things and I understood and accepted why. But like so many children (even adult children), she didn’t understand the choices her parents made. And, like so many parents, Luta and her husband never explained their decisions properly to their children, which never helps.

However, no matter what I felt in regards to the parent/child relationship, it was nothing when I thought about the relationship between Luta and her husband. To watch the person you love grow old. Knowing that person will soon die. Looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing a young face. It was heart wrenching. It actually made me feel choked up and incredibly sad for Luta … and her husband!

The story is very well written. It reminded me of a mystery set in space. I liked how the author allowed fragments of the whole picture to come through at just the right moments. They were like twists in a plot that would send the characters spiralling in other directions. The technical side of the story was totally convincing, I had no trouble believing any of it. However, what sold this story for me were the relationships; absolutely loved the interaction between the characters.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves science fiction.

Oh, and I believe the author has been contracted to write a sequel. I look forward to reading that one too.

eBook Review: Grey Area: 13 Ghost Stories

Grey Area: 13 Ghost StoriesGrey Area: 13 Ghost Stories by Nancy S.M. Waldman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description:

Imagine that you are trapped in a grey area, neither here nor there, in-between time, space, colours, lives. The vivid stories in Grey Area: 13 Ghost Stories bring this scenario to life, with tales of ghosts and forerunners, unlikely hauntings, and messages from beyond. Thirteen strong authors show us what it is like to be in-between in this contemporary, varied, spooky and often touching collection.

My Review:

The words “trapped in a grey area, neither here nor there” drew me to this book. Sometimes I feel this way in life, imagine the consequences in death! Anyway, this was enough for me to want to read the book and as an avid fantasy reader, I felt it was time for a change. Ghost stories have always been another favourite of mine.

Often you’ll see descriptions that claim “strong authors” used as a selling tool, and the book doesn’t always measure up, but in this case it’s 100% true. I rarely read a collection of short stories where I enjoy every story. There’s always at least one that doesn’t make the grade for me, but “Grey Area” doesn’t fall into that category. I enjoyed EVERY story in this book. They were tight, well written and different from each other.

Is it possible to cry when reading a ghost story? You bet! I did. Twice! “Mildred Mudd’s Epiphany” by Charlotte Musial touched me. As did “This is My Land” by Diane J. Sober. Both are simple, well written stories yet they are powerful in their messages. Both left me feeling sad (for different reasons, but mainly for opportunities lost). Both made me cry because they feed deep feelings of regret and longing. They reminded me that no matter how much we wish to, the past cannot be changed, and we need to make the most of today so we don’t have regrets tomorrow. Of course, things happen to us that are completely out of our control but we can allow those things to shape us. Do we allow ourselves to be free and happy, or do we become bitter and nasty? The ‘allowing’ is our decision.

“Out of the Deep” by D.C. Troicuk is a totally different type of story. It spoke to me because I have connections to a family of miners. Although I’ve never been in a mine, I know how dangerous they can be. This story brought mining to life. It allowed me into the mind of a miner and showed me what it would have been like; the fear, the wait, the pain, the loss. It’s a beautifully written story, with enough detail to spark the imagination, but allows the reader to interpret in their own way too. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

On the darker side is “Teetering on the Edge” by Voula Kappas-Dunn. This story spoke to me on a different level as I’ve known suicide first-hand and I know how it affects a family. This is a story about a woman who carries so much grief and fear that it threatens her sanity and her life. Believe me, fear can take over a healthy mind so quickly it’s frightening. This story can, in fact, be quite true. In the story, the woman receives help from friends and the other side. The important thing is that she does get help.

These are the four stories that impressed me the most, but that doesn’t mean the other nine stories were less entertaining. As I’ve already said, I enjoyed the entire book. Some of the stories explore the possibilities of what might happen after death. Some have those who have passed over coming back to help the living. All left me feeling satisfied and eager to read on.

Recommended.