Artemis by Andy Weir

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I loved The Martian, Andy Weir’s debut novel, and I totally fell in love with it’s plucky protagonist, Mark Watney. When I got the opportunity to review his sophomore effort Artemis, I was beyond excited. Did it live up to me admittedly high expectations? yes and no.

Jazz Bashara is a young woman who has lived in Artemis, a city on the moon, for 20 years. Despite having a huge intellect, she lacks conventional ambition and instead works as a porter while running a small smuggling concern, supplying contraband for the Artemesian rich. Never one to refuse a good deal, Jazz accepts a very illegal contract from a Scandinavian multimillionaire to destroy a smelting company in return for a cool one million slugs (local currency). She soon gets involved with the lunar authorities and organised crime and before long the lives of everyone in Artemis are in jeopardy.

This is a light thriller which just happens to be set in space. For me, the best science fiction is character driven and the story could be transplanted from space to earth with few differences. Weir achieves this perfectly. Yes, there is a lot of science and technology in the story. Some of it I understood, most of it I just accepted. The science is never dry and the author does his best to make it accessible without patronising the reader.

One of the standout features of The Martian was the perky, indefatigable character of the protagonist and Weir pulls this off again. Jazz is likeable, a rascal rather than a rogue. However, I can’t help but feel that her voice is too similar to Mark Watney’s and that perhaps too much of the author’s own voice is leeching into his prose.

Artemis has a cracking plot and well drawn characters with a very likeable narrator, so you’d think this would be a five star read. Alas, no. There is one major problem with this book that spoiled my enjoyment. In The Martian, a first person narration, Watney speaks to the reader via his audio journal. The fourth wall stays intact. In Artemis, however, we have another first person narrator who repeatedly crashes through that fourth wall by chatting to us as if she is telling us the story over a beer. While this was at first just mildly annoying, in the setting of a thriller it rather removes the belief that Jazz is ever in real danger as she would have to survive in order for her to tell us the story in the way she does. There is an argument that the tone of the book is light enough that we could infer that main characters are ultimately safe, but people do die and, for me, there is an imbalance in tone.

Ultimately, this is a cracking read. Will I read Weir’s next book? Yes, I think I will. But I’ll be hoping that it will be written in the third person or narrated by a character who is oblivious to the reader.

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Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

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57DDC4F9-FFCD-4C67-8D6D-D4937A1C1A57-17995-000009FCFA80B378Matthew Weiner is the creator of Mad Men. A man, i thought, with a great feeling for story and character. His first novel will be a corker, I thought. I was wrong.

This is a very short book, coming in at under 150 pages. More novella than novel. But good things can come in small packages and it is very disappointing that this isn’t one of them.

There is a story here, and quite a good one at that, but its execution leaves much to be desired. Weiner gives us 144 pages of exposition. No dialogue, no showing, just page after page of tell. The characters are fairly two-dimensional and not at all likeable. I think the author intended a wry, waspy look at rich Manhattenites, a cross between The Bonfire of The Vanities and American Psycho. For me, this book fell short of the mark.

Sorry to not recommend this one.

I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Shadow Man by Margaret Kirk

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The winner of Good Housekeeping Magazine’s First Novel competition in 2016, Shadow Man is the debut book by Ms. Kirk. Set in Inverness, it follows DI Mahler and DS Ferguson’s investigation of Scottish Daytime TV celebrity Morven Murphy’s murder, days before her marriage to an ex-football star.

Morven is not a sympathetic character and at first, there seems to be many people who might have wanted her dead. Continue reading

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

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Young people’s voices are notoriously difficult to do well in literature. Emma Donahue ‘s Room and Claire King’s The Night Rainbow did it really well. Ali Land’s Annie/Millie in Good Me Bad Me…for me, the author didn’t manage to pull it off.

Annie’s mother is on remand in prison, accused of killing 9 children. Annie turned her in, eventually, and is now living as the foster daughter of her therapist. While not as dysfunctional as her own family, Annie’s new family is not without its problems and her new life is less than perfect. Her new sister resents her and she has no friends. Soon, Annie will have to give evidence in court at her mother’s trial. How will she handle seeing the monster who abused her? And what will happen to Annie after the trial?

This book has been marketed as this year’s Gone Girl. I abhor lazy marketing like this and I feel that it didn’t do GMBM any favours. If you were to approach the story as a debut psychological thriller I think you’d not be disappointed. But it’s nowhere near as good as Ms Flynne’s book.

Annie is a typical unreliable narrator and very unlikable. I honestly didn’t care what happened to her. And back to the character’s voice – the author’s staccato style with single word sentences and sentence fragments makes for awkward reading.

The plot is decent enough but the twist ending wasn’t hard to see coming.

I’d give this book 3*. It’s not a bad book, but it’s nowhere near as good as the hype.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dare to Sketch: A Guide to Drawing on the Go by Felix Scheinberger

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51ja9aFHm1L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_I have come to art late in life and am filled with self doubt. Can I paint? Can I draw? This wonderfully illustrated book has helped me immensely to have the confidence to just have a go.

The author gives great advice from what equipment you need to how to go about being sneaky so people don’t know they’re being sketched. He offers advice on composition, being unafraid of mistakes, using colour, collage and putting yourself into what you draw.

This isn’t a book to take you step-by-step through each mark you make on the paper. Rather, I found it a permission slip to draw what I see, what I feel about what I see, and to experience the joy of creativity and maintaining a visual diary of my life.

I loved this book and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Modern Watercolor by Kristen Van Leuven

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As I’ve mentioned before, I came late to art and I am trying my best to improve my skills in various media, especially watercolours. I was pleased to learn about Ms. Van Leuven’s modern take on watercolour painting and was keen to give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed.

His book isn’t for you if you have watercolour painting experience, but for a complete novice like me, it was just the ticket. The author takes us from the very basics of what materials to use, colour mixing and papers, right through to how to paint florals, landscapes and some animals, all with a modern, fresh look.

If you are a watercolour newbie, I can heartily recommend this bright, cheerful and instructive book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

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cover117360-mediumMy Facebook feed frequently features posts urging us to Save The Bees; I now know what to do if I find a bee on the ground (feed it sugar water in a teaspoon and move it to safety); my friends and I are wont to shake our fists and rant at Monsanto and GM crops. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is known outside of apiarist circles and Continue reading

Anytime, Anywhere Art: Watercolour by Barbara Roth

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I’m fairly new to art and am always in the lookout for new books to help me hone my skills. Roth’ book was very inviting and I was pleased to work my way through.

First, the good points.

There is loads of advice on the materials and equipment one needs to get out and work outside.

Ms. Roth explains clearly how she approaches her art. She takes us through several paintings from initial sketch to how she mixed her colours and where to apply them. But oh my, those colours…

The garish choice of unnatural looking colours made me wince. This is probably down to personal taste, but the Eiffel Tower isn’t pink, and I found Ms Ruth’s style more illustrative rather than painterly.

However, this is a fun book with much good advice in it and well worth a look.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

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61A8R1YKA+L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is an aristocrat in Russia in the 1920s. Declared by the new Bolshevik government as a Non Person, he is sentenced to lifelong house arrest in he Metropol Hotel where he has kept rooms for the previous four years. Thinking that being imprisoned in luxury wouldn’t be too bad, he was shocked to discover that he was to be banished to a small attic bedroom with only the antique heirloom furniture he could fit inside. This is where The Count spends the next 40 or so years of his life.

You would think that a book where the protagonist can’t go out into the world would be boring and claustrophobic, but while Alexander can’t leave the confines of the Metropol, Towles brings the world through the doors of the hotel where all the drama and life you could wish for finds its way to the Count.

I adored this book. The writing is exquisite, yet not at the expense of character development and story. And my, what a lot of story there is. The author expertly allows the political changes in Russia to seep into daily hotel life: the head chef has to creatively find alternatives to the previous luxury ingredients of his dishes, an order comes down that the labels have to be removed from wine bottles as ‘all wines are equal’ and only offered in red, white, or sparkling. I could go on.

Staff members become Alexander’s friends, guests add the seasoning to a vanilla life, and old friends come to call. Through it all Alexander maintains his upbringing and maintains civility and good manners.

As another reviewer said, I fell in love with the main character. Witty, urbane, elegant, educated…what’s not to love?

Alexander Rostov and his story will stay with me for a very long time indeed and I can’t recommend it highly enough.