Review: Hickies, a Novella, and Four Short Stories ~ Jerry DePyper

HickiesISBN ~ 978-1470006778
Publisher ~ Createspace
No. Of Pages ~ 172 pages
Links ~ eBay, Amazon, Bokus

Human clones will soon be living among us. Ever wonder what that might be like? Will they look and act like everyone else, or will there be something missing, some barely noticeable oddity?

At some point in the future, you might find yourself working or studying right next to a cloned human, and not even know it. Until something bizarre happens. For all you know, your best friend or the one you live with might be a clone. Who knows? You might be a clone yourself.

This may sound like science fiction, but the mood of Hickies is more philosophical than high-tech or scientific. The futuristic theme becomes a mere stage upon which to explore the depths of the human psyche and soul, and to inquire into what it means to be human.

In this volume, the fictional work Hickies is complemented by four other short stories, all by the same author, and all of which may be represented as one layman’s ruminations and as simple forays into the fields of psychology and moral theology.

4 Thumbs-UpThis novella disturbed me in some very uncomfortable ways, it made me examine whether there is a possibility that, regardless of race or species, history could very well have a habit of repeating itself.  If the thought of the ghettos and labour camps of World War II make you uncomfortable, this may not be the book for you; regardless of that there is one thing this book will make you do, and that is think deeply about the world we now live in and the relationship between religion and science.

At first I was a little bothered by the fact that the characters had no real depth and substance to them, but as I continued reading I realised that this omission may very well have been a deliberate act on the part of the Author.  So little is known about the personality, traits and general reality of human cloning that by omitting any of the things that go into making us what we are the Author adds to their topic very nicely, and this leads to more questions being asked of themselves by the reader; How would I react?  Would I support them in my Community?

The downside to this novella for me, and the reason it didn’t get the five thumbs it may have, were one, the typos I came across which should have been easily picked up by a competent proof-reader and two, the novella becoming very religion based and preachy towards the end.  Rather than continuing the possible reasons behind what it means to be human, I felt that the Author was telling me that if I did not have religion in my life it was pretty much not a life.  I am not sure if the Author let their personal feelings on this subject enter the book but, for me, it felt as if the novella suddenly turned into a recruiting tool for the Catholic Church.  However, this did not make me miss the connection between the plight of the clones and the aid from the Church and those same connections that were made between Church and the Jews in WWII; this was not the only comparison to be found, and to reveal others would spoil the book for future readers.  Apart from the two points mentioned I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and finished it in a single day due to its engrossing nature.

I would highly recommend this novella, and the accompanying short stories which I have not reviewed here, to anyone is interested in psychology, philosophy and science or anyone looking for a good read that is not going to take days to complete; it would also make a good addition to any book club reading list due to the discussions it could foster.  I will definitely be reading more from this Author as I am interested to see how their style and technique develop as they become more proficient.

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Review: The Nameless Day (The Crucible #1) ~ Sara Douglass

The Nameless DayISBN ~ 978-0765303622
Publisher ~Tor Books
No. Of Pages ~448 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble (unfortunately this Trilogy seems hard to come by in its entirety)

The Black Plague. The Pestilence. Disease and death haunt every town and village across 14th century Europe and none are immune from its evil. Some see the devastation of their world as a sign from God for Man’s wickedness.

But Brother Thomas Neville sees this swath of death as something much more. Neville is a man beset by demons. Or is it angels? He has had a visitation from none other than the Archangel Michael, who commands Thomas to a mission. This mission will take Neville across the length and breadth of the continent in a desperate bid to find the means to stop the minions of Satan who have found a doorway out of Hell and are preparing to venture forth, to try and seize this world in preparation for an assault on Heaven itself.

As Thomas Neville encounters angels and demons, saints and witches, he comes to realize that the armies of God and Satan are arraying themselves for the final battle…and that his soul is to be the battleground.

The question is has Neville picked the truly good side?

4 Thumbs-UpThe Nameless Day is the first volume in Sara Douglass’s trilogy, The Crucible, and what a trilogy it is.   Although it may not appeal to all readers, The Crucible is probably the best historical fantasy series I have read in a long time, and unlike other series in this genre you don’t have to plough through double-digit numbers of novels to get to the end.  However, if you or a member of your family is fainthearted or devoutly Catholic this may not be the book for you considering the shenanigans the religious characters get up to.
The main protagonist is a self-righteous, small-minded, hypocritical man, and although this may make him seem the type of character some readers are unable to relate to it also makes him a more realistic character given the period of time in which the novel is set.  Finding someone with his modern liberal views would have been fairly uncommon for this era, but in writing this character the Author manages to make them believable but also one that readers would be drawn to.  In their writing of this character the Author has managed to ensure that there is room for development and one that readers will want to see change as they progress through, not only this book but the remaining two in the trilogy.  Taking place in an alternate version of fourteenth century Europe, readers will recognise many actual historical figures and, although it could so easily have turned into a book with too many characters to keep track of, the Author weaves historical fact and fiction about them together in a seamless manner giving each their own distinct personality and not leaving the reader the task of having to back track to see where they fit into the plot overall.

Taking the ultimate time long battle of Angels and Demons the Author places this a period of history that was fraught with upheaval.  The author incorporates well researched historical elements in their novel and adds enough fantasy to keep the reader from feeling this is just another dry historical work of fiction.  Some dates that certain historical figures appear have been slightly adjusted for the sake of the storyline, but this does not take away from the purpose of the book in any way, and that purpose is to give a great experience to its readers.  This book also manages incorporate a little bit of everything that would draw readers to it that may not otherwise pick up a novel in this genre.  As I have mentioned there is the history portion, but there are also elements of romance and fantasy, and I was glad to see that the romance was not the kind that would have me laying this book aside in disgust.  Added to this there are sections which are definitely dark and sinister which hint back to earlier work in the gothic genre, and the moments of gore and brutality are worthy of even the most celebrated of horror novelists.

The reason for my 4 thumbs review, as opposed to a 5 thumbs that it sounds as if I should have awarded to it is this; by the end of the book there are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of things remain unsolved.  This makes it the kind of book that would not function well as a stand-alone, so if you are going to read it, be prepared to have the remainder of the trilogy on standby.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good all round read, and a series that they can get their teeth into without having to expend vast amounts of time and money to complete it.  I will definitely be revisiting the trilogy again and probably on numerous occasions.

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Rory Gilmore ~ The First Thirty

rory gilmoreWhile browsing the internet with my coffee this morning I happened to come across a website bookreviews.me.uk, and was intrigued by a reading challenge the writer of the site was undertaking, The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, which encompasses some 339 books.  After doing some more searching, I also found out that this is rather a popular challenge so I thought I would put it out there and see how many books on the following list people have read.

I have to admit that I have never seen an episode of The Gilmore Girls; I have no clue who Rory Gilmore is, but I can say it’s a pleasure to hear of such a bookish person being featured in, what I can only assume, is a popular programme.  Going through the list I have marked those books I have read, whether or not they are reviewed on this site, and am going to try and get through some more of them as there appears to be some very interesting books on the list.  Because there are so many books, I’m only going feature the first thirty in this post, and will add the remainder over the coming weeks.  The list is composed of some of the best traditional and modern classics out there in my opinion, so hopefully everyone can find a few they would enjoy reading to fill the upcoming winter months.

Books-to-the-Ceiling-illustration-Arnold-Lobel-Whiskers-Rhymes

1984 ~ George Orwell (read)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ~ Mark Twain (read)
Alice in Wonderland ~ Lewis Carroll (read)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay ~ Michael Chabon
An American Tragedy ~ Theodore Dreiser
Angela’s Ashes ~ Frank McCourt (read)
Anna Karenina ~ Leo Tolstoy
The Diary of a Young Girl ~ Anne Frank (read)
The Archidamian War ~ Donald Kagan
The Art of Fiction ~ Henry James
The Art of War ~ Sun Tzu (read)
As I Lay Dying ~ William Faulkner
Atonement ~ Ian McEwan (read)
Autobiography of a Face ~ Lucy Grealy
The Awakening ~ Kate Chopin
Babe ~ Dick King-Smith
Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women ~ Susan Faludi
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress ~ Dai Sijie
Bel Canto ~ Ann Patchett
The Bell Jar ~ Sylvia Plath (read)
Beloved ~ Toni Morrison
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation ~ Seamus Heaney (read)
The Bhagava Gita
The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews ~ Peter Duffy
Bitch in Praise of Difficult Women ~ Elizabeth Wurtzel
A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays ~ Mary McCarthy
Brave New World ~ Aldous Huxley (read)
Brick Lane ~ Monica Ali
Bridgadoon ~ Alan Jay Lerner
Candide ~ Voltaire

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Review: The Sunne in Splendour ~ Sharon Kay Penman

SunneA glorious novel of the controversial Richard III—a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III—vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower—from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

5 Thumbs-UpI’ve either mentioned this book or the Author several times during the life of my reviews so I have decided it was about time I actually wrote a review on the book itself.  This was the debut novel for this Author.

I was first introduced to both the book and the Author by my History Professor whilst taking my Masters in History many years ago.  She recommended it to me on the basis of it being the most accurate account of the times she had read in fiction form.  Being a Yorkshire woman by birth and therefore, a staunch Yorkist, I was slightly apprehensive when I picked this up as most accounts of Richard III and the House of York are based on Tudor propaganda from the times, and are slewed very much in their favour.  I found none of this when I read this long 936 page book.

The book itself could be broken down into thirds; the first brings into the light that confusing history of the Wars of the Roses, and for readers who are not up to speed with the ins and outs of this time it is a great way not only to get to know the key players, but where they fit together in the whole sorry mess.  Yes it does sound a little like a history lesson, but it is given in such a manner that it skilfully and neatly pulls the reader so far into the novel that they have no choice but to read to the end. Just by reading the first part of the novel it can be clearly seen that this Author has done extensive research into the period, and this comes through in way in which locations are described and characters react to their environment.  The remaining two-thirds catalogue the reign of Edward IV and also the life of Richard.

Character development is stunningly done within the pages of this book.  The reader is not thrown huge chunks of back-story and motivational traits, but slowly includes them as the plot progresses.  Their fears are revealed, sometimes surprising the reader, and the political machinations that ruled their everyday lives are uncovered slowly, rather like peeling the layers from an onion.  Obviously the main focus of the book is Richard, and it follows him from a very young age when he is very much in the shadow of his brothers through to his death on the battlefield.  The Author does not portray him the same light as Shakespeare, but rather gives him a more human face than the one constantly given to him of that of monster.  A compelling and believable case is presented regarding his nephews in the Tower of London, which rather makes the reader consider that this could be a case of the wrong people mishearing words said at the wrong time and in frustration, as in the case of Thomas Becket when King Henry II uttered ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest’; we will never know.

I could write for hours on this book, but to do so would have me revealing spoilers and getting into the whole White Rose versus red rose debate (yes the capitalization error was deliberate *smile), so I’m going to leave this review short, and I hope tantalising enough to make someone want to actually pick this up and read it.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good read.  I have read it several times and yes, my History Professor was right it is the most accurate account of the times in fiction form.

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Review: Daughters of the Witching Hill ~ Mary Sharratt

witching hillIn “Daughters of the Witching Hill,” Mary Sharratt brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching novel of strong women, family, and betrayal inspired by the 1612 Pendle witch trials.

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow lives with her children in a crumbling old tower in Pendle Forest. Drawing on Catholic ritual, medicinal herbs, and guidance from her spirit-friend Tibb, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future in exchange for food and drink. As she ages, she instructs her best friend, Anne, and her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft. Though Anne ultimately turns to dark magic, Alizon intends to use her craft for good. But when a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate tricks her into accusing her family and neighbors of witchcraft. Suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights as friends and loved ones turn on one another and the novel draws to an inevitable conclusion.

4 Thumbs-UpMany people know of the hysteria and events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials, but for those readers in England this novel predates those trials by 80 years and takes place in Pendle Lancashire.  Until reading this, although I was aware of witch trials taking place in my homeland, I was not aware of how differently they were conducted to those in the Colonies.

This novel is told in the voices of the two main protagonists, both actual historical figures which adds weight and substance to them as the reader follows their story to its conclusion.  As always when actual people are placed in fictional works some liberties are taken with them, but this in no way takes away from the book, in my opinion it just adds an extra dimension to what is in the pages.  Through the eyes of the two women we can enter the world of the poor in the early 1600’s.  As the reader journeys through their world with them, they are able to experience all the happiness and heart-break that came into their lives.  Regardless of the poverty and hardship of the period, these are two strong women characters that, despite their lack of formal education, resonate with intelligence and compassion.

More than anything this excellently written book could be seen as a lesson in dominion.  Catholicism has been forcibly replaced by the Protestant faith, but rather than have the enlightening effect intended it makes society become more superstitious and paranoid as their lives are now filled with contestant threats of damnation without the solace offered by the Catholic faith of that time.  The extensive research the Author has so obviously done, not only on the witch trials but also on the ‘pulse’ of society at that time makes this an engaging retelling of the poor of the Pendle region, if not of the whole country.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in the subject matter, or who loves to read historical fiction.  I would definitely read more by this Author.

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Review: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History ~ Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter (Contributor)

The Monuments MenAt the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.
In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.  Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

3 Thumbs-UpUnusually for me and this genre of book, we had a love hate relationship.  I have previously read other works on this topic and found them to be engrossing and insisting I keep reading them until the end to discover the next piece in the puzzle; this particular one did not have that hook that pulled me all the way in, and is one of the reasons for the three thumbs review.

The story told within the pages of this book is that of a little known group who can be credited with our being able to view works by some of the greatest Artists in the world that, without their existence may have been lost for all time.  Their story is an interesting and important one as it follows them from the inception of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives to the end of the war.  It documents in great detail the hardships they encountered, and the stonewalling or disinterest shown in their mission by others they met whilst often working on the edge of the battle lines; they actually lost two of their unit through combat related deaths.  Despite this, they regrouped and continued on with the mission at hand, hunting out information and pouring over myriads of records, which in the case of the Paris cultural treasures had been scrupulously kept by a Frenchwoman Rose Valland.  But again, despite this being a fascinating story it was also a frustrating story.

Despite being forewarned in the Author’s Note that some liberties were taken in the creation of the dialogue to help with the continuity of the book, it came across at times that he had taken too many liberties which tended to give this historical account the feel that it was being pulled, kicking and screaming, into the realms of historical fiction; not a place I wanted to be taken when reading this, as there a several great fiction works on this topic out there I have already read.  This created dialogue also took up far too much of the book, and I feel a greater impact would have been achieved if they had been pared down somewhat by a skilled editor, putting the focus firmly back on the purpose and discoveries of the MFAA.  The saving grace in this book, for me, were all the hidden nuggets of information that were buried deeply underneath the unnecessary ‘chatter’.  When taken from a purely historical point of view, this book is well researched and very educational and, combined with pictures taken from the actual time and events mentioned, it could have been something truly exceptional.

Anyone interested in this era in history may enjoy this book; if they can get past the obvious attempts in include a fictional aspect to events.

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Review: The Unquiet Bones (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon #1) ~ Mel Starr

The Unquiet BonesHugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, he feels no real calling—despite his lively faith—and he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris, and then hanging his sign in Oxford.

Soon after, a local lord asks Hugh de Singleton to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cesspool. Through his medical knowledge, Singleton identifies her as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith.

The young man she loved—whom she had provoked very publicly—is quickly arrested and sentenced at Oxford. But this is just the beginning of the tale.

The story of Singleton’s adventure unfolds with realistic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, romantic distractions, and a consistent underlying sense of Christian compassion.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book is the first in a series, The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon, and if this one is anything to judge the rest by it promises to be an intriguing and interesting set of books.

Unlike most cozy mysteries that are set in Bake Shops, Quilting Clubs or just centred around folks that enjoy unravelling a good mystery, this one is set in medieval England.  The main protagonist is a four son, and as befitting the times is having to make his own way in the world, with death of his three older brothers being the only way he will inherit. The way he finds is the path of the surgeon, although given the condition of 14th century medicine I feel that the title ‘surgeon’ should be loosely interpreted.  With a skillful hand the Author paints perfectly the lot of a younger son, and the reader is transported into the time period to suffer the cold and hunger that the main character experiences.  Despite all his hardships, this character is very likeable, and is very well aware of the holes in his knowledge and goes to great lengths to make sure that those around him understand his skills only go so far.  As the novel progresses so we see our main character grow and begin to find out who he really is; this is done with humility on the part of our ‘hero’ which only serves to endear him to the reader even more.

This is not a fast paced murder mystery but rather it ambles along at pace that reflects the era it was set in.  It is a simpler time, but this simpler time is laced with a darkness and cruelty that was redolent in the 14th century.  Although the story itself is simple, that is a good thing, the Authors descriptions are not weighed down with too much description, but not too little that the reader loses interest in what is happening.  The book does have a lot of references to Christianity and the Church, but this is not because it is a Christian fiction novelist, again this is just a reflection of a time when the Church played a very large role in the everyday lives of the people it touched.  Again this added to the overall feel of the novel, and did not detract from it in any way.  Through tight writing and keeping on track with the plot, this novel is more than just another medieval tale.

I would highly recommend reading this series, and those readers who enjoy a cozy mystery but are looking for something away from the normal setting might especially enjoy this along with lovers of historical fiction.  I will definitely be reading the remainder of the series as, and when they are published.

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