Escape Kit

thehouseai:

Here is a good friend’s post on a book that I would enjoy so I thought I’d pas it along. K

Originally posted on The Automatic Cat:

I’m more familiar with William Thirsk-Gaskill’s poetry than his prose. The self-confessed ‘socially inept Northerner,’ ‘the lost love-child of Ted Hughes and Alan Bennet,’ is a very fine poet, and I’m delighted to discover that he’s also a fine fiction writer.

Escape Kit is a novella in five parts and it’s a little gem. It revolves around four characters – fourteen-year-old Bradley, who’s travelling from York to Stevenage to visit his grandparents; his parents, Celia and Edmund, who have recently parted; and a man who is escaping from a German prisoner-of-war camp.

It would be unforgiveably spoilery to tell you exactly how all this fits together – there’s one beautifully-constructed reveal in particular – but it fits together with the precision of a Swiss watch. The characters are very well-drawn, each voice distinct, the prose is economical and unshowy. There’s no fat on the story at all.

It’s a very…

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Review: The Aquatic Labyrinth: A Venetian Mystery

The Aquatic Labyrinth: A Venetian Mystery
The Aquatic Labyrinth: A Venetian Mystery by Alastair Fontana
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Due to eye problems I am late with it, and apologies to all concerned. This is first and foremost an historical thriller/mystery. Set in Venice, one of the most fascinating cities in the world, in the 14th century, it is a period piece, much like Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. The historical detail, and description, as far as I can tell, is well-researched, and even the outlay of the book itself, with illustrations and such, gives it the feel of a more ancient manuscript. I won’t summarize the plot as that is everywhere, but I can say that the characters were well-drawn, and interesting, which is essential in a book to me. The mystery was intricately plotted and added much to the overall gothic feel of old Venice. whose canals create the labyrinth. My rating of a 4 versus a 5 is due to the heavy reliance on historical facts and details, and the Italian parts of the book. They tend to pull me out of a story. That is not just this book, but any book that has much substance. By nature I prefer more action to fact, although he did do a great job of world-building or in this case recreating a world. Would recommend for any who enjoy works such as The Name of the Rose, Kate Mosse, and even Ellis Peters medieval monk series. Great start for this budding writer.

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Europe In Autumn

Europe In Autumn.

Review: The 13th Apostle

The 13th Apostle
The 13th Apostle by Rachael F. Heller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another mini-review -This was another in a long line of “artifact” thrillers, with an American cyber sleuth and a biblical translator and former Israeli commando female lead. A lot of the book is spent back in the past, as we follow in the footsteps of one who was “there.” The story is fine, although lacking depth, and the characters were also a little bland for me, and I didn’t connect with them as I would have liked – that really colors how I react to a book. And the ending to me was trite, and sort of too mystical? But it is an okay read for the beach, for a trip, etc. No big shakes, but no major flaws to me.

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Review: Rift

Rift
Rift by Kay Kenyon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of my mini-reviews, due to a backlog of books I have grown. My computer was dying and it took too long to write them, so I set the books aside. With my poor memory, I can’t give much, but I will try. Eventually I will get caught up, and we will go from there. So, as for Rift, it’s a good solid space story. A multi-generational space station, terraforming gone wrong, and various factions that want to stay up in space, or come down to the surface and keep trying to get it to work, and people who have been living there, and been “changed” as the planet changes. Add in a strange race of aliens who capture human women, and it becomes a somewhat odd story, from many POVs, about finding what is right for the planet, and for it’s inhabitants. I gave it 4 stars for it’s unusual approach, and subjects. Otherwise I would give it a 3 for simply being too far out for my tastes, and too many characters to follow.

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A Sailor’s Dying Wish

A Sailor’s Dying Wish.

Review: The Twelve

The Twelve
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second book in the series, this sequel/prequel to The Passage was very different, but equally good. Splitting it’s focus between the early days of the outbreak, and how it affected a few key people, and the continuation of events in The Passage, it presented a fuller picture of how and why, and fleshed out characters, as they parted ways, came together, found old friends, new ones, etc. Some of the main characters from the first book remained key players, but a few minor ones rose to prominence, and some old ones from the beginning of that book also showed up in the battle against The Twelve. At times mystical, at times gruesome, it is much more grandiose in scope about an outbreak of disease, like the zombies in World War Z, which was a sharp contrast – a slim volume that packed a loaded punch on the zombie war. This is more Micheneresque, broader in scope, and flowing in and around like eddies. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if they are zombies from WWZ or vampires from these – the end result can be the same – the near collapse of civilization, and the loss of hope for some, and the glimmer of it for others. Prose that is both poetical and laconic at times. Descriptive and insightful.

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Review: The Passage

The Passage
The Passage by Justin Cronin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Addendum to review: I really loved this book. But after writing my review, I read some of the others, and found a large spread, which leads to an overall rating of about 4.0. Reading them, I was struck by the different expectations of the reviewers/readers. Some objected to it’s length, over 700 pages, and some found it dull at times, or with uneven pacing. Let me clear this up with my thoughts on it. This book is not guts and glory, blood and gore (although that’s not such a bad thing at times). It is not your typical vampire/zombie book. It is the journey of the intertwining lives of several people, over a space of time and place. At first it starts out with how. Then moves on to the journey they take, and then the why. You don’t have to believe in God, I don’t, but I think it helps if you believe in some uniting thing, like humanity, “the Force,” or simply cosmic threads that interweave – the Butterfly Effect, or even Kismet, fate, etc. It is both a metaphysical journey in places as well as the personal journeys of these people. Its companion book, “The Twelve,” both a prequel and sequel combined, says on the back that it was a top ten book for 2010 for Time and Library Journal, as well as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, Esquire, U.S. News and World Reports, NPR, etc. So my stance on it is in good company. But if you are cautious about exploring new avenues, I encourage you to read the other reviews as well, to get a feel for the divergent views on this book, ranging from 1 star to 5. Since they all balance out to 4 stars, I’d say the majority gave it a high rating.

This over 700 page book took me 5 days to read – a rec ord, since I read for hours each night. But it was worth it. A tour de force, in a undead-vampire hybrid book. It starts out with the story of a military experiment gone awry, which quickly escalates into chaos that collapses the U.S. and possibly the world. Left are at least one pocket of survivors. Most of the book focuses on the group – how it came to be, and some central characters, strongly delineated, that stood at the heart of the book – ones that wanted to know, not just survive. Among them was “Amy” a young girl, maybe 13, who arrived at the Colony walls one day, about 100 years after the virus came and wiped out most of the population. Where she came from, how she got there, how she survived was a question she couldn’t answer. She didn’t speak. But some realized that she was different – that she radiated a power and a peace about her, and were determined to protect her at all costs. This led to a dangerous journey from southern California to Colorado – to the heart of where it all began, and finally down south to Texas. Sweeping, majestic, full of hope, human triumphs and failure, it is the most upbeat book on a world of chaos, which is why I didn’t classify it as “dystopian,” even though things are not rosy. Much is gone and most are barely hanging on, knowledge lost. But throughout the book, the message is clear – that if you open your mind and heart, answers will come, and things will get better. It delves deeply into each of the twelve that started out – with complex interpersonal relations, secrets, and yet abiding deep friendships. A must-read. Not sure how I missed this book that graced a large number of best books lists of 2010.

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Review: The Passage

The Passage
The Passage by Justin Cronin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This over 700 page book took me 5 days to read – a rec ord, since I read for hours each night. But it was worth it. A tour de force, in a undead-vampire hybrid book. It starts out with the story of a military experiment gone awry, which quickly escalates into chaos that collapses the U.S. and possibly the world. Left are at least one pocket of survivors. Most of the book focuses on the group – how it came to be, and some central characters, strongly delineated, that stood at the heart of the book – ones that wanted to know, not just survive. Among them was “Amy” a young girl, maybe 13, who arrived at the Colony walls one day, about 100 years after the virus came and wiped out most of the population. Where she came from, how she got there, how she survived was a question she couldn’t answer. She didn’t speak. But some realized that she was different – that she radiated a power and a peace about her, and were determined to protect her at all costs. This led to a dangerous journey from southern California to Colorado – to the heart of where it all began, and finally down south to Texas. Sweeping, majestic, full of hope, human triumphs and failure, it is the most upbeat book on a world of chaos, which is why I didn’t classify it as “dystopian,” even though things are not rosy. Much is gone and most are barely hanging on, knowledge lost. But throughout the book, the message is clear – that if you open your mind and heart, answers will come, and things will get better. It delves deeply into each of the twelve that started out – with complex interpersonal relations, secrets, and yet abiding deep friendships. A must-read. Not sure how I missed this book that graced a large number of best books lists of 2010.

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Review: The Selection

The Selection
The Selection by Kiera Cass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit being skeptical about this book, even as I was drawn to the cover, and took my time about putting it to the top of my library TBR pile. But it came up, and I started it, and was hooked. A simple story of a future, not too far removed from ours in terms of technology and clothing, etc., which was my one sticking point. For all that happened politically, wars, rebuilding society, etc., it must have happened in a short time, since nothing else really changed. But it is a YA book, and as such, can be forgiven for glossing over some technical details. That said, it is a charming tale, the first of a series, about a society, in a future America that is now a Kingdom. The Ruler is just, but vast social and financial inequities exist. At the start of the kingdom several generations ago, it was determined that whatever skills you had were the “caste” into which you and subsequent family members were born, and they would retain the same trade or skill set in succeeding ones. The lowest the caste, an 8, was reserved for the poor, the outcasts, and others who ignored the rules set down. You could marry between castes, although it was not encouraged. America Singer belongs to a family of artisans, level 4, which enables them to live in a decent house, and usually have enough on the table but not for treats and luxuries. She is a singer, her brother is an artist, etc. They work by commissions from wealthier families to perform at events, etc.

The king’s daughters, and for the generations before, are usually married off to neighboring kingdoms for alliances and strategic purposes, but for the prince, Maxon, he must, as princes before him, select a girl from his own country in a process known as The Selection. Each girl over the age of 18 and still of marriageable age, is invited to fill out an application, be interviewed, and from that, 36 are chosen to represent the best contenders from various provinces. After that, they are whisked of the the palace to begin a “Bachelor” style series of dates with the prince, being suitably coiffed and dressed, and appearing in TV segments with interviews, and glimpses into their lives. They are filmed whenever they are out and about inside the castle. They can not leave, unless the Prince asks them to. They develop a fan base on the outside, and the opinions of the people are kept in consideration. Meanwhile, the families of those selected, usually from level 5 and up, are compensated, and America knows her family needs the money. In addition, after a contender is rejected she becomes a 3, a high level of caste, since she will have become accustomed to the style of living in the palace. If she is chosen by the Prince, she is automatically in the royal family and a one. But the catch is that America has already fallen in love with a six, a day laborer, who often does odd jobs around their house, and for others. They have been meeting secretly, since such meetings after curfew, and unsupervised, are forbidden, and are harshly punished. He feels guilty about her higher status and what she would give to be his wife, and encourages her to apply. Things get out of hand, and he breaks it off. Heartbroken, she goes through the selection process and becomes one of the 36. But she is outspoken, and honest, and lets the Prince know right off the bat that her heart is given to another, but hopes that he will allow her to stay for the sake of her family. They become friends, and his interest in her grows. Will he keep her? Will she renounce him for her love back home? Not all is revealed by the end of the book, as more is to come. A fun, easy to read, light-hearted book that is charming and enjoyable.

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