Make Life Simple by Andrew Gibson – 5/5 Stars

Make Life Simple by Andrew Gibson - Front Cover

‘In our modern world we have moved away from this principle. As a society, we have embraced complexity and seem to take pride in finding complex solutions to complex problems.’

Make Life Simple (MLS) is a solution-focused approach to life, whether it’s giving presentations, raising your children, looking after your mental or physical health, or helping people. MLS advises us to look for noticeable differences instead of jumping into actions, to save time and really take stock of what we want in life.

Solution-focused practice may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but some of its principles have helped me assess what’s valuable in life and what’s most important in some big decisions, which have given me the confidence to see things from a helpful angle.

I’d recommend this book to anybody who needs a new angle on anything that’s time consuming, complex, and important – and that covers a lot of life. The advice is heartfelt and trustworthy. Will it get ‘results’? It’ll get you happier and more manageable results, and I can speak from personal experience.

Make Life Simple on Amazon

 

 

The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle – 5/5 Stars

‘If my future were black, it was better surely to face it like a man than attempt to brighten it by mere will-o’-the-wisps of the imagination.’

‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’

The Sign of Four is a Sherlock Holmes story with a cursed murder theme. We’re introduced to the familiar reasoning of our favourite detective before a case finally lands on him to alleviate his boredom. The case itself is about a set of pearls delivered to Lady Morstan every year following the mysterious disappearance of her father.

There are elements of Watson’s personal life that intrude on the plot, with his family, hopes, and dreams. Watson is seen as warm while Holmes, cold.

Praise

As with most Sherlock Holmes stories there are the fascinating, outlandish series of events summed up perfectly logically at the end, in this case where a monologue explains all, where I was engrossed in learning the backstory to the murders, based in several different circumstances and involving all sorts of things.

Criticism

By modern standards, the book, as with many 19th century stories, is not culturally appropriate or doesn’t hold back from stating opinions that would likely be censored nowadays. Sometimes I didn’t mind this – there was no way to get around it short of boring the reader – while at other times I felt it was too typical of the attitudes at the time.

Overall

Worth reading? Yes. Was it as good as The Hound of the Baskervilles? I’m not certain whether this was true.

The State of the Art by Iain M Banks – 4/5 Stars

The State of the Art by Iain M Banks - Front Cover

The State of the Art (TSOTA) is not a novel: it’s a collection of stories, but written by one of science fiction’s foremost writer of space operas and weird science fiction you can’t go wrong with this collection that tests the limits of our humanity and morality with its comparisons to otherworldly forces, aliens, beliefs.

The longest, main, story is The State of the Art, about the character Linter who decides he wants to stay on Earth despite the protests of Sma. They’re both from the culture, and mutual liking is indicated in their unflowered relationship, but unfortunately, against all reason, Linter wants to stay on Earth rather than choose the more sensible option of returning to the advanced civilisation of the Culture. Linter actually likes the news, cafes, operas, shows, and all the primitive human creations we take for granted but which the Culture look down on as petty distractions. And, crucially, he’s willing to risk his happiness against the dangers that can appear on Earth: crimes, wars, mortality.

I didn’t enjoy all of the stories – some were nonsensical and obtuse – but I will say there are some gems in this collection: A Gift From The Culture, Descendent, The State of the Art. Some reviewers commented on how they prefer the author’s epic longer works, but I’m inclined to disagree in some cases as at least if you don’t like some of the stories in this collection there are others to read.

The State of the Art on Amazon

 

 

Scythe by Neal Shusterman – 5/5 Stars

Scythe by Neal Shusterman - Front Cover

As far as the Young Adult genre goes, I’d say Scythe is one of my favourites, and I much prefer it to  The Hunger Games that it’s compared to, for its dark comedy, brilliant young protagonists with real challenges and emotions, and its originality. It makes what we’d know as an evil act of killing and breaking up families into some new everyday normality where death is not death, with ambudrones always on standby to revive those who have been killed (but there are loopholes!).

Overpopulation is a fact and the way to deal with it is the Scythedom, a cult-like organisation that gleans (kills) the mortals, filling a quota per year. In a comic style, Scythe Faraday, the scythe the two young main characters are introduced to, uses mortal-age statistics as his approach to selecting those he gleans: yearly road accidents, tragic deaths of heroes, etc. Mortal society lives in fear of the scythes wherever they crop up, and yearn for that opportunity to kiss a scythe’s ring that grants them immunity from being gleaned for a year.

Instead of the gritty, sinister, dystopian circumstances of The Hunger Games, which is tournament-oriented in its survival and killing, there are the personal challenges of Rowan and Citra who have both been taken on as apprentices by Scythe Faraday – two apprentices is unheard of – but only one of them can make it to scythehood. And there are moral conundrums within the scythehood itself: should they enjoy gleaning and treat mortals as lambs to the slaughter, or should they put their honour above all else? Both these influences inform the apprentices’ trials, interesting the reader in how they’ll respond in that crucial moment when they’ll really be tested.

I enjoyed every chapter and I was so pleased I took the chance to read Scythe. It blasted through my expectations. If you’re a young adult fan, or not, you may be surprised by just how much there is to enjoy out of Scythe. It felt like an urban fantasy story, even though it was set in future Earth.

Scythe on Amazon

Anemogram by Rebecca Gransden – 5/5 Stars

Anemogram by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

First impressions

I was curious about author Rebecca Gransden’s other fiction after having read her surreal science fiction story set in a glass tower, Sea of Glass. Anemogram is at first glance a story about a young child called Sarah on the run, experiencing her surroundings vividly. Around every corner could be either an opportunity, threat, or a chance to learn something new. I’d be careful not to say Sarah was ‘at one with nature’ or that she was an ‘orphan’ as I was uncertain; she wasn’t feral or primitive, though she was perhaps hypersensitive. She had a keen ability to read between the lines and was better at it than the adult men she was adopted by.

The first thing I noticed was that there was more than what meets the eye, as the author is careful not to tell us who Sarah is and where she’s come from, though her impact on the reader is profound. I felt we took the journey with Sarah, back into a childhood most of us have forgotten, on those traffic journeys on hard seats, behind condensed windows, rubbing away sticky fingers, etc.

Praise

I was completely immersed in the story, fascinated by Sarah, David, Mungo, and the intense circumstances, making meaning out of the turns of everyday life and interaction in a way we take for granted. I won’t say any more.

Quotes

The author has a skill for finding the right adjective that paints a picture of the situation or scene without taking anything away from it:

‘The frog remained still. He poked at it with the point of his shoe. It was fused onto the path.’

‘But rising to a clash of dissonant clang.’

Overall

Some passages were heavier to read than the average book, but with a bit of patience you’re rewarded tenfold for taking your time and visualising to get a sense of how things look, feel, and are. I’d say the word ‘surreal’ would describe Anemogram. On my shelf, it’s a book with a specialness I don’t understand but appreciate all the same and the reader may not feel the same afterwards. In this way Anemogram was hypnotic!

Author Website

Moojag and the Auticode Secret by NE McMorran – 4/5 Stars

Moojag by NE McMorran - Front Cover

‘The more they had, the more they wanted, even when the stuff was no good for them. That’s why they were always thirsty and never satisfied.’

What’s Moojag supposed to be about?

The book description says Moojag is a cli-fi futuristic adventure about finding your true self, for readers over ten years, neurotypicals and neurodivergents alike. Moojag is a book that promises a different kind of world, where neurologically different people have harmony with the environment and they’ve found self-acceptance or … happiness. Moojag gives us an insight into the neurodivergent mind:

‘I might be silent or look like I’m doing nothing at all, but I’m actually very busy. We are all busy every moment of our life.’

‘But my words don’t make it out.’

‘I want to laugh, smile back even, but my face is, as usual, refusing to listen to my brain.’

Many reviewers have already commented on similarities to other children’s books such as Alice and Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Perhaps the Wizard of Oz could be added here also. So this is the sort of story you could expect to read, with a modern perspective on difference and acceptance.

The story

The characters have environmental suits, which I found cool, and they’re friends with one another, but there is something missing and this drives the main character to go to Gajoomdom with her friends in search of answers. I did find the world peculiar and I liked this, and feel many children will like this also. Now, Gajoomdom is what the characters see as the past in their world but what many neurodivergents in our world see as the present, where ‘auts’ are only seen as being good for one thing: sat on a computer for hours on end with little emotional stimulation, in order to fix genius problems.

The message

In this way Moojag, in my mind, was partly a message about the dangers of stereotypes, fitting people with labels in a box because it’s convenient for those in charge. But there is much more to Moojag, about the horrifying dangers of curing those who are different by experimenting on them, which tears apart families, leads to low self-esteem and can give the victims no clue as to how they fit in, so they stick out, subject to name calling and bullying.

How is Moojag different?

There is much humour, which I liked. I found the references to neurodivergent people, even just hearing the names and labels, to be endearing when used between them: Pof Pof, Kitty, Sparkles, Sparkly, Moojag, Gajooms. Sweets in Gajoomdom are used as temptations and greed, but perhaps less moralistically than in Roald Dahl’s works.

‘Then, there are the Super-Auts who created Gajooms and keep to themselves … And, of course, there are the Pofs who keep the place tip-top.’

Criticism

I usually prefer books for an adult audience, which is why Moojag wasn’t my usual type of read, and I wasn’t the best person to review a children’s book. I enjoyed the characters’ speech and diverse characteristics. There were lots of characters and I couldn’t always get inside their heads, and in this way I felt the speech, the worldbuilding, and the messages in the story were more important than a single character’s point of view.

Overall

It was with fondness that I started reading Moojag, and the feeling remained. It’s a story about hope for our future, to show we don’t have to be shoved into a box believing we have little potential and that if we make use of our abilities and work together, especially from a young age, then we have much room to grow and change our world. Moojag was a lovely, inspiring book that may work wonders for imaginations young and old!

Author Website

Moojag on Amazon

 

Asperger Syndrome and Social Relationships: Adults Speak Out about Asperger Syndrome – 5/5 Stars

Asperger Syndrome and Social Relationships - Cover

Each chapter covers social relationships from a different author based on a slightly different topic. The book is now old so some of the websites and links are outdated, however, it helped me accept the way I am and the way I think, reading from others who have thought about social relationships similarly. In this way it has helped me see that although I see things differently to most ‘neurotypical’ people, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just because I’m naïve, unsure of myself, or that I have trouble fitting in to mainstream society – it’s a separate point of view, an individual’s point of view, I mean, which many on the autism spectrum relate with.

The book has helped me think on strategies to read people better, to be more cautious when giving out personal details online, and to remember that in thinking everybody is the same as us, even people on the autism spectrum are guilty. I assume everybody is honest, genuine, with no ill intentions, and this can make people like us vulnerable to others who think different because we have weakened theory of mind.

I do believe it has been exceedingly valuable reading the perspectives of the authors. It turns out that if you put a lot of heads together that are on a similar wavelength, you can learn things through relatable experiences.

Publisher Website

The Circle by Dave Eggers – 4/5 Stars

The Circle by Dave Eggers - Front Cover

‘They were hidden in the dark water, in their black parallel world, and knowing they were there, but not knowing where, or really anything else, felt, at that moment, strangely right.’

The Circle (TC) is a story about the perils of social media and in this way you could say it fits right in to the dystopian science fiction genre. But it’s not some pseudo-1984 book we have on our hands here, though first impressions and tone signify that things aren’t all they seem. What’s confusing is that main character Mae goes along with it for so long despite this, but she does have her motivations.

Motivations for Mae’s gullibility

Mae’s father isn’t doing too well with multiple sclerosis, and it plagues her mind that her parents are struggling with the insurance company, spending more time getting him medication and appointments than actually getting him treated. Mae was a high achiever at her old job, and it didn’t resemble the promising, exciting future she’d anticipated.

So when her friend Annie comes along with an offer for her to work at The Circle, Mae jumps for joy and leaves her old job, hoping it’ll save her ego and her parents’ struggles. She’s outfitted with a new office working for Customer Experience to get ratings on her performance, and screen after screen is installed. First she has two screens, then as the story progresses she had to adapt and receive different types of notices on a number of screens. Later she ends up interacting with technology in such a way as to make her look a buffoon to some, but dedicated and vitalised to others.

TC is a subtle critique of social media companies

Author Dave Eggers makes the staff at the Circle highly sensitive to not receiving replies, though in the past such attitudes would have seemed silly, obsessive, and concerning. She’s strongly ‘encouraged’ to be involved with after-work clubs. Along with the screens installed and with the pressure Mae is under, it’s surprising she doesn’t have a mental breakdown.

There is this concept of completing the Circle also, and how this act may propel the world into a techno-future, but not much is said initially about exactly what underpins the completion of the Circle. Then, there is Mae’s ex Mercer who comes across as many things: reasonable, pompous, obese, uncaring, and old fashioned to Mae. Mercer is the old voice in TC lecturing Mae on how she’s missing social cues and not listening to her own parents. In essence, Mercer is a dying breed and Mae thinks so, but there are times we really want her to listen to him.

Overall

TC is an enjoyable read. I wouldn’t say it’s fast-paced, but it keeps the pages turning. There are times when it’s frustrating that the story doesn’t get to the point, opting instead for exaggeration. It’s thankful there is enough interest in Mae, the characters around her, and the ever-changing world that much resembles the technological revolution we’ve been through. There is no accurate vision of the future quite like the present.

Author Website

 

A Dream of Kinship by Richard Cowper – 5/5 Stars

A Dream of Kinship by Richard Cowper - Front Cover

‘Next Saturday. A tragic accident on the hunting field. We saw no other way, old friend.’

‘What Luther, Calvin, De Solero, Mountjoy, Fabian and all their legions failed to achieve, this whelp of a boy with his puny pipe and his ridiculous White Bird has been threatening to accomplish single-handed!’

The second book in Richard Cowper’s The White Bird of Kinship, A Dream of Kinship (ADOK), is much unlike the first, though tied in with both the characters and history that occurred in the first book. It’s less prophetic. The first book introduced us to the Boy Piper, the wizard who guided him, the Falcon who betrayed his cause.

There isn’t a link between two centuries in ADOK, unlike vol.1. You’d be forgiven for believing that things are just a little messy in The White Bird of Kinship. We start with the curiously named ‘Magpie’, who is a man with an aura of danger and powerful masculinity about him following a vision, ‘huesh’, to prevent the death of his old friend, Jane.

  • Then, we’re cutting the action to Cardinal Constant of the Secular Arm in York (non-kinsfolk) who wants an end to the threat represented by the heretical kinsfolk and has some schemes in mind that are reminiscent of Game of Thrones-style treachery. The Secular Arm had as good as taken over Britain after the Drowning event. We’re in the future, in the 3000s.
  • Then, we’re back to the Magpie; only he’s partnered with Jane’s friend Allison now (who he almost strangled earlier in the story) and they’re raising Jane’s son who resembles the Boy Piper of legend.
  • Then, we’re on Lord Marshal Richard’s conflicts of conscience and loyalty, either to the kingdoms’ kinsfolk or Cardinal Constant in York. The story is at tipping point here, and I had to read what happened.
  • The story moves on further to when Tom is grown up, and he’s an underachiever or aloof messiah figure infatuated with the alluring, feminine, and proud Lady Alice, who we know is a noble and is there to test Tom’s love or destiny.

As you can see, events are dizzying, and though the characters are all connected and related the situations aren’t.

To be frank, the characters were fascinating. If it’s not the Magpie’s ferocious strength, it’s Richard’s loyalty, Tom’s infatuation with Alice, Cardinal Constant’s grimness, cyclopean Brynlas, and more. I felt I was infatuated with Alice and that my mother loved pottery and that there were real threats against the kinship and success of the kingdoms. The author really put me in his shoes. Things moved so fast I was fascinated by the change in circumstances. The scene that stuck with me, for its atmospheric detail, has to be in the theatre. You have to read it!

ADOK was one of those rare examples where the second book is better than the first. I really felt surprised and absorbed by the worlds, politics, and characters. If you’re interested in British or medieval fantasy, don’t hesitate before giving this series a read. You don’t even have to read the first book. That’s how good it was. I’d definitely like to read more of Richard Cowper’s work.

See Author’s Works on Goodreads

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff – 5/5 Stars

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff - Front Cover
What’s it about?

The Eagle of the Ninth (TEOTN) is an historical adventure story set in Roman times. I had seen the film and so I had heard of the title and I knew the main goal of the main character, to retrieve the Roman eagle used by legionnaires. I did not know much about the symbolism when I watched the film, which was described in the book, and I had forgotten it was the main character’s father’s eagle, giving him motivation to retrieve it from the north, for family honour as well as personal triumph.

Was it as I expected?

I remember the film having a lot of tense action. The way the northern tribes were shown was exciting, and the palpable fear of being caught was done well. With the book there was less of both of these, which I found disappointing, and the only battle was at the start of the book. But TEOTN did focus more on the Roman side of the story, how Britain was changing but had not quite changed as much as main character Marcus had expected; and there were interesting characters on the way north who we didn’t know whether we could trust, with the most memorable being Guern the Hunter.

Character and plot

Marcus is crippled from a battle and his dreams of rising through the Roman military ranks and securing land back home are lost, but there is his family’s honour to recover. With a gladiator, Esca, he teams up with, they begin on the lunacy of heading north without any support to discover the whereabouts of the eagle, and to take it if necessary. They go there in disguise.

Praise

Marcus’ and Esca’s adventures were made really interesting through the prose. There was the danger they were in up north and the process of ritualistic discovery of where the eagle was, which showed a world of tribal worship of older gods, natural yet brutal compared to the ‘civilised’ Roman Britain. The discovery came as a surprise. There was something about the point of view of Marcus that worked so well in describing the character Esca and really bringing about dialogue and circumstances that I already want to read the second book!

Criticism

I felt the latter stages of the story were concluded too quickly, without one or two more transitions, although every chapter still retained interest. The reader was almost teleported to new circumstances and there did feel there were gaps. For an adventure story I expected more trials for the characters to go through on their way north. Some readers may disagree.

Conclusion

What’s the second book like? I’m interested in reading it.

Author Website