I have seen the future…

Cover image of "The Psychic Tourist"…It’s 2033: Climate change has left half of the world’s cities underwater. Every so often a Black Wind blows in, suffocating anyone who crosses its path in a dense cloud of killer toxins. Our cellphones are no longer separate from our bodies; they have been implanted in our heads. Cars, buses, trains and planes can steer themselves. We have semblants (computer generated versions of ourselves) we can send to the office in our place if we don’t feel like working. Criminals are sent to the UnMinded Cellblock, where their brains are switched off and they serve their time as obedient zombies, ignorant to the passing years.

Or at least this is the future John Shirley has envisaged for us, in his novel Black Glass: The Lost Cyberpunk Novel. John Shirley is pals with William Gibson, the godfather of cyberpunk . You may remember me mentioning Mr Gibson a while ago, when I first embarked on my Five Book Challenge. I have to say though (please don’t sneer at me) I think I like John Shirley better. He reminds me of American crime writer Don Winslow. His writing style may not be quite as creative and literary as his fellow cyberpunker, but it is much easier to read, get absorbed in and be entertained by.

Black Glass captures what I am beginning to learn is the essence of good cyberpunk: a hero who is a bit rough around the edges but charming nonetheless; femme fatales who are not afraid to use their sex appeal and cunning to their advantage; narcissistic villains who you love to despise; and a bleak and dangerous environment where the reader gets swept up in the thrill of the chase . Basically it’s crime noir with a technological, futuristic twist.

So if  the future John Shirley has predicted includes robots, illegal and addictive virtual reality games, and spy cameras that hover in the air like flies, what kind of future do you predict? In the year 2033, what will the world look like?

Victoria’s Challenge: Steampunk

coverI’ve decided to “throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily.” I’ve ventured into the unknown genre of Steampunk with Dexter Palmer’s The Dream of Perpetual Motion.

This is a bright example of Steampunk genre in modern literature. It’s inheriting steam power elements in the form of a zeppelin that floats high above a fantastic metropolis and fictional technological inventions, such as the cryogenically frozen body of Prospero, the genius and industrial magnate. This is Dexter Palmer’s  debut novel, that combines the best traditions of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.

My Swedish challenge leaves me cold

I am one of only 6 people in the world who doesn’t adore The girl with the dragon tattoo.

I wanted to find out why there is  all this fuss about  Stieg Larsson  – what makes him so compelling?  The appeal of mysteries has always been a mystery to me – the closest I’ve come is  Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brody series and the wonderful Secret History. So I made  Swedish mystery my 5 book challenge with a small deviation to Swedish fiction.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is  a clunky mix of corporate politics, sexual violence, neo-Nazis,  IT and curiously old  fashioned Biblical blood and gore.  Even the relationship between the computer savy and deeply disturbed Goth, Lisbeth, and the gruff, man-alone Blomkvist doesn’t warm me.

I suppose it is all about plot and that compelling quest for whodunnit but I really don’t care because there was no character development of the culprit.  Perhaps I’m too faint hearted for all that gruesome sexual violence but it doesn’t make it any better that it is Larsson’s way of exposing misogyny. The revenge is just as repulsive and voyeuristic.   I have no desire to read the other two.

Henning Mankell is the other doyen of Swedish fiction so I dipped my icy toes into Italian shoes though I cheated a bit as it is not strictly Mystery.  Unlike, Larsson he can write – I liked this well crafted book.  It is also disturbing and mysterious but  so much more. The taciturn and flawed Welin has a dark past  which comes back to haunt him.  The women are strong, the landscape white –  you can feel that strong sense of place.  I was chilled to the bone as  Welin breaks the ice to take his daily swim of penance in the frozen sea of his archipelago but at at least there seemed to be blood flowing in his veins.

I’m reading more Mankell and  Shadow by Karin Alvtegen and look forward to the winner of the CWA’s International Dagger Award,  Swede Johan Theorin with his book Darkest Room.   I seem to be avoiding frost bite so far.

If you are already up for the Swedish challenge, explore some more authors from our  If you like Scandanavian crime booklist.

Victoria’s Challenge: Vampires

coverI’ve decided to “throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily.” My next choice was:

Seth Grahame-Smith Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

After I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula  at the age of 15 I never thought I would be so scared by another vampire novel in my life, but here it comes again in the form of Lincoln’s secret diaries detailing his life as a stalker of vampires.

As a boy, Abraham Lincoln loses his mother to the undead (actually he is witnessing the whole thing!) and swears lifelong vengeance, so he adopts the axe that he hides inside his signature long black coat to use it for vampire hunting. The thrilling part of this newly emerged vampire novel is that the fictitious elements are  intricately interwoven into real life history of American Civil War period and while reading, most times, it’s hard to separate the fiction world from reality.

Victoria’s Challenge: Wilbur Smith

coverI’ve decided to “throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily.” Next cab off the rank was Wilbur Smith’s  The Seventh Scroll.

I  really fell in love with Historical Fiction/Adventure/Mystery all over again! (The last time I read this kind of literature was my intermediate school days). Now I find it’s hard to stop myself from reading it, whenever I have a spare minute or two. Very dynamic, exuberant and full of real adventure flavour, plus gives you the real taste of cultural reality of Egypt and Africa, honestly, one of the best adventure authors I’ve read.

Victoria’s Challenge: Saga

coverI’ve bravely decided to ” throw my fishing net over the huge amount of various New Titles we are receiving daily.” My next pick was a Saga –  The Affair by Santa Montefiore.

The story asks you straight if you would risk everything for love: your exciting career of children’s book writer, stable and even successful marriage and your children’s happiness. Angelica has to deal with all of these nasty questions when she meets Jack – a romantic womanizer and the owner of a vineyard in South Africa. Will Angelica follow the footsteps of her sadly known literature predecessors: Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary? Being a huge fan of Leo Tolstoy and Gustave Flaubert myself, I savoured this highly emotional and sensual modern British novel with a very curious twist at the end.

Victoria’s Challenge: Memoir

coverI’ve decided to throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily. My next pick was the memoir The Dancer from Khiva by Bibish.

I’m not a particular fan of Memoir genre, but a challenge is a challenge, so I followed Clare’s kind reference and read this one practically overnight.

Being familiar with Uzbekistan’s culture from my friends’ travelling experience and newspapers and magazines articles, I wasn’t really surprised to learn the real life story of the brave Uzbek woman who found enough courage to let the whole world know how cruel life was – and still is for a Muslim girl, born in a poor Uzbek family.

This book will be very helpful for someone studying a cultural differences topic.

My Very Versatile 5 Book Challenge Experience

I guess it’s time to share my 5 Book Challenge experience.cover

Firstly, I’d like to list down the books I selected for the challenge:

  • Bibish The Dancer from Khiva (Memoir) (just in case Bibish’s Memoir genre wouldn’t count towards the Popular Team choice)

Secondly, I’d like to contemplate on the mode I was reading these 5 (6) challenging books. Instead of picking up the one genre I’ve never read before or liked to read the least, I’ve decided to throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily. My efforts were not in vain and I’ve pulled out quite an impressive amount of new titles (The Affair, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), or even new authors (!), like Dexter Palmer, or Bibish.

My choice of: “Let it be one book from each particular genre” was really paying off during my reading hours and this is why: if I found some authors to be extremely challenging, like Dexter Palmer, for instance, to the point when I wanted to return the book back unfinished (sounds like a real blasphemy for the librarian!), I would simply switch onto reading a book from a more pleasant genre to me, like Adriana Trigiani’s Brava Valentine, which is considered by many literary critics, including me:), “the tiramisu for the soul”. After  having a slice of a “tiramisu for soul”, I’d return back to the least favourite author. This method worked very well for me, saving me from committing a real crime of throwing the least favourite reading back into Returns boxes before actually finishing with them!

Brava Valentine is the second in the series of  Valentine  books. What I really enjoyed about this book is that one can find everything (or almost everything) in it: family, drama, love story, adventure, contemporary American fiction in its best embodiment! If you are a big fan of Jane Austen translated into today’s environment plus  a bit of  You’ve Got Mail  movie type of person, then, Valentine is your next stop.

All in all, I’ve greatly enjoyed myself during the 5 Book challenge, practically, because you turn your attention to the writers, titles or genres you’ll never think of reading first place and, when you are finished with these readings, you cannot help the feeling of complete satisfaction with yourself, similar to the Olympic champion’s feeling when he finishes his marathon. Bouquet to Bronwyn – now I am not feeling uncomfortable when I hear the mysterious word Steampunk any more!   I would gladly take part in the next 5 Book Challenge. Would you?

Read more of Victoria’s Challenges.

What’s the lure of vampires? Cornelia’s challenge

coverSo far I have never been tempted to read anything to do with the suckers. Why did I change my mind then? A colleague recommended Sunshine by Robin McKinley as the best in literary terms.

The book is heaven for readers with a sweet tooth. Rae, also known as Sunshine, is an expert baker and dessert maker in the family’s restaurant, and the names of her sweet creations all sound similar to ‘death by chocolate’. The world is populated by humans, demons, weres, and by night, vampires.

Vampires are nasties who want to take over the world but there is always the odd one who is different. Constantine is not a knight in shining armour but still he is the good one. Pity though his looks…his eyes have the colour of stagnant bog water and his skin’s colour is that of old mushrooms. I don’t want to spoil it for other newcomers so will not give anything further away.

Still challenging

five drawings of womens facesOnward Christian Soldiers was the theme song this weekend as I got on with the five book Christian Fiction challenge under the generalship of Miss Francine Rivers.

Unveiled is the first in her Lineage of Grace series of five novellas (yes I know, a novella but I am truly on a mission here so I’m counting it as one of the five) about biblical women  in the genealogy of Jesus. The others in the series are Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary.

At the age of 14 Tamar is given in marriage to Er, son of  Judah. Those who were not paying attention at Sunday School or during productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat may not remember that Judah was one of bad boy brothers of Joseph,  who sold him into slavery.

Er is an abusive bad-tempered mama’s boy who is struck dead mid-rant. According to custom  Tamar is then given to second son Onan in order to beget a son in Er’s memory. That is not going to happen married to unsavoury old Onan, and clearly the Lord has bigger plans for Tamar than being married to either of these losers, as Onan also dies. Shelah is the third brother but Judah is none too keen on custom by this stage of proceedings so he keeps the two apart. Tamar is sent back to her father’s house where she is treated as little more than a slave before she eventually triumphs.

Unveiled is an engrossing read, short but satisfying.  Tamar didn’t appear in my Child’s Big Book of Bible Stories so I wasn’t familiar with her but she’s a compelling character and Francine Rivers isn’t one of the biggest names in Christian Fiction for nothing. I would read more of her but I am now about to embark on a ‘bonnet read’ – that is what Faith Fiction (this term is preferred to Christian Fiction apparently) publishers call romances set in closed communities like the Amish.