Book Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher

Name:  A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
Author:  
C. A. Fletcher
Number of Pages:
365 (Hardback)
Published:
April 23rd 2019 by Orbit
Genre:  Post Apocalyptic

Goodreads

When a beloved family dog is stolen, her owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of our world to bring her back in this fiercely compelling tale of survival, courage, and hope. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and The Girl With All the Gifts.
My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.
My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.
Then the thief came.
There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.
Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

At the beginning of A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is a note asking readers not to reveal any of the secrets found within the story. Call me instantly intrigued. I couldn’t help but wonder what I was about to read, and more to the point, how I would be able to write about the book and stay true to this request? Well, here goes my attempt…

The world as we know it has gradually petered out as people stopped being able to reproduce. Everything seems to have ended quietly as the last generation aged, with no new generation to take their place. Griz has always lived on an island with his family – parents, siblings and dogs. They’re surviving, having endured various tragedies and joys along the way.
Then someone new arrives, and suddenly Griz is thrown into chaos when the stranger steals Griz’s beloved dog Jess.
With little thought for anything else, Griz goes in pursuit, determined to take back his dog and return home to his family. But the adventure will take him a long way from home.

For a world left desolate and mostly empty there is still a great deal of wonder to discover, and when Griz reaches the mainland a whole world beyond anything he’s read about in books opens up. There’s such atmosphere in the locations, they’re so vivid in their solitude and ruination as nature takes over where humans have long since departed. So many images stuck in my mind, abandoned places and remnants of the way life used to be.

Griz has a wonderful imagination and loves books and stories, and there’s a great sense that the stories of bygone times survived even where the people could not, and that stories still have power, even in a world that has fallen apart.
His own story is written in a notebook to an unknown boy in a photograph that Griz found whilst scavenging. It gives him some focus as to who he’s telling his tale to, even though the two have never met and never will.

There’s a bleakness to much that Griz finds, but also something very hopeful about the journey, and the world that remains. In a dangerous situation, there’s appreciation of the small things – a temporary safe haven, the chance to listen to music, or to find something new to read, and meeting new people, although they are few and far between and don’t always have the best of intentions.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is a book to lose yourself in. Melancholy, dangerous, a difficult venture with the odds stacked against Griz, it still offers hope, courage, friendship and plenty of surprises and revelations along the way. It’s a book you really should experience for yourself, and one you’re not likely to forget quickly.

 

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Book Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Poirot #4) by Agatha Christie

Name:  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Poirot #4)
Author:  
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
286 (Kindle)
Published:
March 17th 2009 by William Morrow Paperbacks (Oiriginally published June 1926)
Genre:  Mystery, Crime

Goodreads

In the village of King’s Abbot, a widow’s sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study–but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow’s blackmailer. King’s Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd’s wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim’s home. It’s now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King’s Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd–a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard’s ingenious sister, Caroline.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the book that made Agatha Christie a household name and launched her career as a perennial bestseller. Originally published in 1926, it is a landmark in the mystery genre. It was in the vanguard of a new class of popular detective fiction that ushered in the modern era of mystery novels.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

My love for Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot is still fairly new. I’m working my way very slowly through the Poirot novels and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, well, it’s left me a little lost for words actually.
I did not see that coming! You know the sort of twist that makes you see the whole thing in a totally different light, and almost sends you zipping back to the beginning to read the whole book again? This book has that twist.
It’s certainly put me on my guard for future Christie reads, but I doubt that will do me any good – I don’t think I’ve actually worked out the identity of the killer in any that I’ve read so far, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, because that’s Poirot’s job..

Poirot. I still like him. He’s self-assured, pompously certain of his own miraculous crime-solving skills, and it may become insufferable if he wasn’t always so very right. Nothing gets past the great detective, nothing! He has a certain charm about him, a way with words and manners that is a joy to read and watch as people talk to him and end up revealing more than they maybe intended to.
There’s a comic air about him that makes him endearing, such as his entrance in this novel – lobbing a vegetable marrow over the fence into his neighbour’s garden, where it almost hits Dr. Sheppard who is outside in his own garden at the time. And so these two new neighbours and eventual crime-solving team meet for the first time, after some speculation that Poirot is actually a retired hairdresser.

Sheppard himself narrates this tale, which obviously centres around the murder of title character Roger Ackroyd. He serves almost as the replacement Hastings, going along with Poirot to investigate, trying to work out what the great man is thinking, and failing at every turn.
He has a sister, Caroline, local gossip and general nosy neighbour, who has her domestic network of investigators, from maids to friends to bar staff to cleaners. It’s amazing that this small community can’t actually solve the murder without Poirot’s help!

I don’t want to say too much more because the last thing I want to do is spoil this book for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading it yet. A crime is committed, there are many suspects, and many colourful characters with many hidden secrets, and all you need do is sit back and watch Poirot at work. Twists, red herrings, suspicions, all add to the narrative, but the ending is what makes the book. It’s a solution that I doubt I’m ever likely to forget…

Book Review: Sleep by C. L. Taylor

Name:  Sleep
Author:  
C. L. Taylor
Number of Pages:
368 (Hardback)
Published:
April 4th 2019 by Avon HarperCollins
Genre:  Thriller, Mystery

Goodreads

All Anna wants is to be able to sleep. But crushing insomnia, terrifying night terrors and memories of that terrible night are making it impossible. If only she didn’t feel so guilty…
To escape her past, Anna takes a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when seven guests join her, what started as a retreat from the world turns into a deadly nightmare.
Each of the guests have a secret but one of them is lying – about who they are and why they’re on the island. There’s a murderer staying in the Bay View hotel. And they’ve set their sights on Anna.
Seven strangers. Seven secrets. One deadly lie.
Someone’s going to sleep and never wake up…


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

If you’re reading this then I am no longer alive. Someone has been stalking me for the last three months and, if I am dead, it wasn’t an accident.

Intriguing opening, isn’t it? It certainly grabbed my attention, and from then on I was hooked to the pages of this psychological thriller. Sleep was one of those books that I found myself making time for ‘just one more chapter’.

It kept me guessing throughout, as the story was gradually pieced together and several subplots led me to believe that this or that person was behind the attempt to drive lead character Anna to death.

Anna was involved in a tragic accident in which two of her colleagues were killed and one ended up with life-changing injuries. The guilt leaves her unable to sleep, even though what happened was not her fault. In search of a new start she splits up with her boyfriend and takes a job in a hotel on the Isle of Rum.

Seven strangers arrive for a walking tour and all have some secret or other. I could never have guessed which one had the motive to seek revenge on Anna, who is convinced that she is being stalked and that her stalker has followed her to Rum with the intent that Anna will not leave alive.

I love the setting of the remote island, cut off from the rest of humanity – it provides great atmosphere, especially as the weather turns stormy and the possibility to call for help becomes restricted. The river floods, cutting off access to the rest of the island, so this small group with a potential killer in their midst really are up against a lot. It raises the stakes in the fight for survival and provides a really claustrophobic atmosphere.

Sleep played into what I love about this kind of tale, that I didn’t see the final reveal coming. I like to try to pick up the clues, but I prefer it when I’m totally wrong. At some point there’s reason to suspect almost any of the guests, and there were twists and revelations aplenty until the truth finally came out, and it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. This is my first C. L. Taylor book, and I’m certainly tempted to read others after really enjoying this one.

Book Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Name:  Once Upon a River
Author:  
Diane Setterfield
Number of Pages:
380 (Hardback)
Published:
January 1st 2019 by Doubleday
Genre:  Fiction, Historical

Goodreads

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Once Upon a River blends historical, mystery, hints of folklore and magic into an engrossing, meandering tale of life along a stretch of the river.

Many lives are played out alongside the riverbank, and we see them all, tied together on the night of the Winter Solstice, when a young girl is rescued and bought into the Swan at Radcot. The girl has drowned, and is dead, but in a turn of events she revives. Is it magic? Is it science? And who is the young girl at the heart of this tale?

Several people believe she belongs to them, that there is a place for her in their family, or that she is their daughter/sister/etc, lost some time ago. So, is this mute young girl a missing daughter of one family, the granddaughter of another, or the sister of someone else? Or is she someone else entirely?
W delve into these various lives, witnessing all manner of things – love, family, friendship, but also darker things – fear, loss, scheming.

The power of stories and storytelling,  love of a good narrative, and the tendency for stories to be adapted with each telling is plain in Once Upon A River, as locals gather in the pub to recall the initial finding of the girl, and develop their own storytelling skills with other tales.
There is a magical quality to some of these tales, such as that of Quietly, the ferryman who dwells upon the river, somewhere between life and death; he is there to meet those who fall in. If it’s their time, then over to the other side of the river they go, if not, Quietly will help them back to safety.

Once Upon a River is a real slow burner and remains so throughout, it meanders like the very river it centres around, travelling here and there, touching various places and lives before reaching its conclusion. It’s a tale to become fully immersed in, savouring the language and the imagery, and is very much centred around the everyday whilst being touched by an air of the magic and mysterious.

 

Book Review: Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Name:  Last Ones Left Alive
Author:  
Sarah Davis-Goff
Number of Pages:
280(Hardback)
Published:
January 24th 2019 by Tinder Press
Genre:  Fiction, Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic

Goodreads

Watch your six. Beware tall buildings. Always have your knives.
Growing up on a tiny island off the coast of a post-apocalyptic Ireland, Orpen’s life has revolved around physical training and necessity. After Mam died, it’s the only way she and her guardian Maeve have survived the ravenous skrake (zombies) who roam the wilds of the ravaged countryside, looking for prey.
When Maeve is bitten and infected, Orpen knows what she should do – sink a knife into her eye socket, and quickly. Instead, she tries to save Maeve, and following rumours of a distant city on the mainland, guarded by fierce banshees, she sets off, pushing Maeve in a wheelbarrow and accompanied by their little dog, Danger. It is a journey on which Orpen will need to fight repeatedly for her life, drawing on all of her training and instincts. In the course of it, she will learn more about the Emergency that destroyed her homeland, and the mythical Phoenix City – and discover a starting truth about her own identity.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Last Ones Left Alive features an Ireland devastated by the Emergency. We never actually find out what this event was, only that it happened before lead character Orpen’s lifetime, and her mother and her partner Maeve retreated to an island to live an isolated existence in order to keep young Orpen safe. Safe did not however mean unprepared, and her parents train Orpen in all matters of survival, including fighting and combat, for the world has been overtaken by skrake, aka zombies, and they’re fierce.

There are two narratives in which we learn of Orpen’s past, and in the present we discover her mother has died and Maeve has been bitten, forcing Orpen to undertake a journey in the hope of finding the elusive Phoenix City, a place not marked on any map, but she believes Maeve knows the location.

There are some heartbreaking scenes throughout as Orpen’s history is slowly revealed, and the violence is bloody and brutal when the skrake attack. Shambling mindless zombies these are not, they’re deadly, strong and fast, and if a person has recently turned, there’s always the chance that at first they’ll appear almost like themselves, for a short time at least. What a prospect to be faced with, knowing there’s only one inevitable conclusion to such an encounter.

Having lived her life on the island, Orpen goes off into the dangerous land of the mainland with many questions. She’s never really encountered people or anything like regular humanity before. Along the way Orpen encounters skrake and people, and the enigmatic banshees, a group she has read about but never encountered before, who become more than just a myth or whisper.

Last Ones Left Alive features a brave young woman setting out on a dangerous journey across a desolate and bleak landscape. She has questions, not all of which will be answered, and I would enjoy a return visit to this skrake- and banshee-inhabited world in the future because there is so much I still want to know.

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Name:  The Priory of the Orange Tree
Author:  
Samantha Shannon
Number of Pages:
827 (Hardback)
Published:
February 26th 2019 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre:  Fantasy

Goodreads

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Wow, talk about epic fantasy. 800+ pages that made me decide as soon as I saw the sheer scope of this book that if it wasn’t brilliant then back to the library it would go. I couldn’t face lugging such a huge tome around with me if I wasn’t really enjoying it.
Fear not – every single page/chapter was warranted. From the moment I began I was totally absorbed in this wonderfully vivid fantasy world. There is so much packed into this tale, and I loved the fact that the whole saga was contained within one beautiful book, rather than breaking off and having to wait anxiously for the next instalment.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is enthralling from beginning to end.
This whole new fantasy world is built in such a way that feels natural – there’s plenty of history, and a Queendom built upon the rule of the Berethnet matriarchs, descendants of the first Queen of Inys who vanquished a powerful and terrifying dragon known as The Nameless One. For a thousand years the threat from dragons has been dormant due to the continuation of the Berethnet bloodline, but in this tale, that thousand years is almost done, and dragons and their offspring are waking from their slumber, threatening the world once more. The current queen, Sabran the Ninth has yet to provide a female heir to guarantee the continued imprisonment of the Nameless One.
As well as the threat from the otherworldly, there are also dangers closer to home, as in the court of Queen Sabran, there is plenty of intrigue, political schemers, those with ambitions beyond their station, and spies with their own agendas and points to put forward.

The story follows several main characters – Ead Duryen is an outsider bought to Sabran’s court who becomes part of her royal household. Tané is a young orphan raised with the dream of becoming a dragon rider in the High Sea Guard, and Niclays Roos is an alchemist whose actions displeased Sabran enough to see him banished from court. Lord Arteloth Beck and his sister Margret also reside at court and are two of Sabran’s closest friends.

Each of these characters face their own challenges, threats, dilemmas and adventures that will take them far from their beginnings, but to go into too much detail about how and why would only ruin the story for you, so I’ll just say that I really enjoyed each of their stories.

With long fantasy novels featuring several viewpoints I tend to find I’ll have a favourite or two, and then always find myself longing to get back to their perspective when reading about other characters. That didn’t happen here at all, especially with the ladies. Each of their stories was wonderfully drawn out, and I didn’t favour one over another; I liked them all and was happy to spend time in each chapter with whichever of them featured.
I loved the friendship that developed between Ead and siblings Loth and Margret, and I liked the secondary characters who appeared in certain narratives.
I couldn’t wait to see how they all came together in the end, united in the seemingly impossible task of stopping the Draconic Army and the Nameless One.

There are dragon riders, mages, knights, pirates, royals, and so many more colourful characters in this amazing story. Fierce dragons and wyrms, legends and quests both old and new, this book really did have it all. It grabbed me right from the opening pages and swept me away.
There was excitement, surprise, magic, romance and enduring friendship, all set against a fantastic backdrop of a world under threat from mythical beasts.

If you’re looking for an epic fantasy, complete in one volume (although I really wouldn’t mind a return visit to this world), with great characters, a rich history and plenty of plot then don’t be intimidated by the size of this book like I almost was. The Priory of the Orange Tree is definitely one you should read.

Book Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Name:  The Last
Author:  
Hanna Jameson
Number of Pages:
  392 (Hardback)
Published:
January 31st 2019 by Viking
Genre:  Mystery, Post-Apocalyptic

Goodreads

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington
Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead
Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm
Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.
Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.
Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.
As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

In The Last a nuclear attack has apparently bought about an end-of-the-world scenario. Communications fail, the internet is lost and it is unclear which areas if any have survived the devastation. In a hotel in Switzerland a group of strangers band together in the aftermath.
They’ve survived, in the short-term, but their continued existence means they will need to trust each other and work together as a team, which may prove difficult upon the discovery of at least one body, leading to the suspicion that a killer may be among the group.

The story is told through the diary entries (although he insists it isn’t a diary) of Jon Keller, a historian staying at the hotel for a conference who remained behind as his colleagues fled. He documents life in the days following the main event, and tells various tales, some of daily life around the hotel, some of the people he meets if they are willing to talk about their past lives.
We get glimpses of many lives, and some strange stories. There are missing relatives, possible hauntings, arguments, clashes and friendship.

The setting is really good; this huge hotel, isolated out in the wilderness would be atmospheric enough, but there’s the added danger of the end-of-the-world, and the threat that may come from unknown quarters. The hotel is so huge that it is suggested there may be people there of whom the original group have no knowledge, which in itself is creepy, and later more direct threats add to the air of tension. There is definitely something a little sinister about the place.

I thought the murder mystery element may be more central to the plot, whereas it went more down the line of day to day survival. Various scenarios involving conflicted groups of people throw up a number of questions, touching on ethical and moral issues.
Then there are more direct questions – Are there other survivors? Have they been into the hotel without the original group knowing? Are they a threat? And what will happen when supplies run out and the hotel is no longer a safe haven?

For all this the pacing felt quite slow at times, offering more character-based issues than big action scenes, although when people did venture out of the hotel to find out what if anything of the world remained I did enjoy those scenes.
While I enjoyed The Last it was a book that I had looked forward to for so long I thought I’d absolutely love it. You know that sometimes you get over-hyped? I think that may have happened for me with this one.