Friday, 8 January 2016

Books of 2015

2015 was a year that saw nearly 40 books read, and looking back I was surprised how many had been 4 and 5 star. There is an outstanding quality of work out that and I have to say from what I have seen the independant authors have the edge on the major publishers at the moment.

My Books of 2015

I would say this is in no particular order, but it is in order of the Author's first name, which is as arbitrary as anything else. Of all the books I read these 10 are the ones I thought were particularly good or stayed with me after I had turned the last page.

Alastair Reynolds - Slow Bullets

 Most famous for his Revelation Space novels, Reynolds released this short story (more of a novella) in the summer. The plot is unrelated to any of his previous work, as far as can be determined anyway. As with a lot of his work the characters are neither good nor bad but simply human, capable of both enormous compassion and horrific cruelty.

Scur is captured by the enemy at the end of a war that has gone on for years and spanned many worlds. After being rescued she finds herself in a transport ship with hundreds of other soldiers from both sides, some of which are wanted for war crimes. But something has gone wrong and the ship has not arrived at its intended destination. With factions of the passengers pushing for all out war with each other, Scur tries to mediate the conflict and resolve their apparently hopeless situation. But which side is she on and who is prepared to stand with her - or against her?

The failing environment of the ship is well drawn by Reynolds, as are the various members of the factions on board. As would be expected there are some quite unpleasant occurrences, either deliberate acts or accidents. A well written and timely reminder that epic science fiction can be personal.

My Goodreads review:

Boyd Morrison - The Ark

This time last year I hadn't heard of Boyd Morrison. Now he is firmly established as one of my favourite commercially published authors and definitely the number one thriller writer for me. The Ark is the first in a series of books he has written featuring engineer Tyler Locke as the main character.

There are two main reasons his work reads so well in my opinion; firstly he will take a fairly fantastic myth (in this case the story of Noah's Ark) and provides a logical thesis to show that the story we have now may have a basis in real events. In this case, Noah's Ark wasn't a ship but a refuge in a cave, and the flood was a deadly virus. When an end of the world cult discover a sample of this virus and engineer it to wipe out humanity, it is up to Locke to stop them.

The second factor is the hero, Tyler Locke himself. An engineer with a scientific outlook he doesn't take the incredible concepts he is presented with at face value. Instead he works through them methodically to work out what is really going on and this works well. He takes nothing on faith and questions everything and for me that resonates. He exchanges banter with his friend in the impressive shape of Grant Westwood, former wrestler, Army Ranger and electronics and explosives specialist. Unlike other pairings in adventure/thriller novels both are capable and Grant never feels like a side kick, there for muscle or comic relief.

The plots in the books twist as unbelievable myth is turned into possible science, and with Morrison's interest in fast vehicles and bleeding edge technology there are numerous chase scenes and gadgets galore. At the end of the books Morrison always has a little explanatory chapter where some of the more exotic technology is revealed to be real - or at least on the cusp of being real.

If you want a thrill ride, forget the rest, read Morrison. He is the latest collaborator with Clive Cussler in the book Piranha and that may prove to be something special and lift it above the rest of the recent Cussler output.

My Goodreads review:

Charles Kaluza - Tails and Fixers

Tails and Fixers manages to combine exploration of another planet, battle for survival, social commentary and romance all in one story, with enough left over for some philosophical musings on the origin of life in the universe.

It's a lot to pack in but Charles Kaluza writes fluently managing to move seamlessly between phases of the plot. The hero is Floyd, sent on a one-way mission to another world which has broadcast a radio message. This turns out to have been a distress call and Floyd arrives to an almost destroyed world and initially must use all his ingenuity to survive.

When he eventually contacts survivors he finds two symbiotic races living in a enclosed environment and very wary of him and what he represents. He finds their social order to be somewhat at odds with his ideals and is determined to leave and make some sort of life for himself on the surface, but with allies and enemies in the alien hierarchy, will he be allowed to do this?

There is so much to like about this book, plenty of good ideas and interesting characters. There are plenty of twists and reveals as the plot winds towards it's conclusion.

My Goodreads review:

Deborah Coonts - Wanna Get Lucky?

The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas hides an ugly underbelly of seediness, sex and the ruthless pursuit of money. Lucky O'Toole knows all about every angle. As the customer services manager for a top casino resort hotel it his her job to ensure that any little problems are ironed out. Naked drunken man in the stairwell? Call Lucky. Escaped snake in a hotel room? Call Lucky. Cocktail waitress falls out of the casino's helicopter to her death? Call Lucky.

The last proves to be something that even Lucky can't simply smooth over. The more she tries to find out the more she is sure that the death is no accident.and that lot of people are hiding a lot of information from her. But with the annual adult movie awards about to hit town in the same week as a swingers convention, Lucky might not have much time to find answers.

This novel is fun and sassy, perfectly balancing the darker aspects - the murder and the dark side of Vegas - with a freewheeling narration by the hugely likeable main character. She is someone who is always sorting problems out for others but can't seem to grasp the problems in her own life.

The main plot is obviouly the how and why of the fateful helicopter plunge but there are plenty of side plots along with real genuine laughs. In short this is a total delight of a book and I'll definitely be reading more of the series.

My Goodreads review:

Diana J Febry - Each To Their Own 

Although not technically one of the best books of the year (I only rated it 4 stars) this was definitely a highlight of the reading year.

The plot of this book starts out simply enough with Dan convinced that foul play was involved in the death of his daughter, who apparently committed suicide. With the police - and nearly everyone else - thinking his is being delusional he decides to find out the truth himself.

The journey spans the country and each twist moved Dan deeper into a dark world and to making desperate decisions, sometimes with catastrophic results.

If the plot sounds like something that can be found serialised on the television that is exactly how it feels to read but with the benefit of not having to wait for a week to read the next chapter. The characters are drawn very well and it's really unclear how everything fits together until very near the end. Exceptionally well plotted and well written.

My Goodreads review:

John D Winston - IA: Initiate

Science fiction covers a wide range of story types, from the big bangs per buck of space opera to the very small scale and subtle tales that seem like normal life - just a little skewed in some way.

IA: Initiate is definitely at the small scale end. It is the equivalent of the close-up magician making coins disappear right in front of you rather than making whole buildings vanish. Both are just as impressive and IA: Initiate never fails to impress.

The story follows Naz, a teenage boy who lives with his younger sister in a ghetto called the Exclave. Their parents split up years before and now both are dead - the father in a car accident that Naz was involved in and the mother killed by her abusive new partner. Naz himself has no memory of anything before the car crash which killed his father.

Naz just wants a quiet life and to look after his sister. He tries just hard enough at school to get by without attracting attention. He does odd jobs for local shopkeepers. He doesn't want to change the world. But he is not quite a normal child. He has powerful and realistic dreams and hears voices when he becomes stressed.

The reader follows Naz as he tries to live his life and deny that he is special, but fate has other ideas.

Although aimed at a 'young adult' audience I would recomment this to anyone.

My Goodreads review:

John Dolan - Jim Fosse's Expense Claim

Easily the shortest book I read this year it's hard to even claim this even long enough to qualify as a short story. In a large part that brevity its it's charm, giving it a lot of punch per page.

Set out as a series of emails (and other documents) it describes what can best be described as a 'difference of opinion' between Jim Fosse and one of the finance team at his company. Fosse is trying to claim a very large sum for expenses for a recent business trip and gets upset when it is questioned.

Although the actual tone of the correspondence is serious the way it is laid out is hilarious; Fosse becomes abusive very quickly while the finance employee tries to remain professional. Anyone who has worked in an office will have heard of sales reps presenting slightly questionable expense claims but Fosse takes it to a new level. On being challenged for the lack of recipts, for example, he responds that 'hooker's don't tend to give receipts'

Very irreverent, highly split-your-sides amusing even as the tone turns darker and the humour blacker it still remains fascinating.

Perhaps the sense of humour or the subject matter won't appear to everyone, and adult themes mean it's not for the faint hearted but I just thought it was terrific.

My Goodreads review:

Katrina Cope - Fledgling

Katrina Cope was one of my favourite authors last year with her Sanctum series and Jayden and the Mysterious Mountain made my books of 2014 list. This year Cope started a new series, firmly positioned for young adults.

The book follows an initially unnamed woman who has been murdered three times in previous lives and as such has been allowed to become an angel to stop innocents being harmed by evil.

Unlike most stories (at least those I have read) involving angels this isn't overtly religious and indeed the angels are pretty much kick-ass martial arts experts who take the phrase 'battling evil' quite literally. I described them as being like super heroes in my review and that is what it is like - it is a bit like an angelic version of X-Men.

The heroine is likeable and always wants to do what she feels is right even when it could get her into trouble. There is a streak of trouble romance for her running through the book so this is probably more suited to female rather than male readers, but the actual demon fighting is great fun for anyone.

A terrific start to a new series which is already showing a lot of promise to deliver.

My Goodreads review:

Kurt Chambers - Truth Teller

 Charlotte is an ordinary teenage girl on holiday with her family when she finds her way to a strange shop in an alley and is given a strange glowing globe which leads her to another world - one inhabited by elves and other strange creatures.

She discovers that the world is under threat from the evil Siren and that there is a prophesy of a person from another world who will save them - someone only known as the Truth Teller.

Despite her initial bewilderment Charlotte must travel to find the way back home, facing many dangers. Is she perhaps the Truth Teller?

The aim of this book is to get teenage girls to read epic fantasy and it does an excellent job, not putting a foot wrong. To those of us who were brought up on Lewis, Tolkien and epic fantasy in general the plot might seem a bit formulaic and cliched but Chambers attacks the story with relish giving a slightly different take on the familiar plot lines. After all, this is aimed at those who have never read fantasy before so does not need to provide some new twist, and to an extent it's a relief to read something that is comfortable just being a straightforward and fun read.

Despite being aimed at the female young adult audience this is still a good read for anyone who wants a light bite of epic fantasy without having to wade through appendices of family trees or volumes as thick as a brick. A delight to read.

My Goodreads review:

Stephen Hunt - The Court of the Air

I read the third novel of Stephen Hunt's highly imaginative Jackelian novels, The Rise of the Iron Moon, last year and was amazed by the density and complexity of the world it presented so made sure that I started the series from the beginning with The Court of the Air.

The first thing to say is that Hunt makes you work reading this book, but it pays off. He has essentially reinvented a Victorian style society and placed it into a very strange world with its own cultures, peoples and mythology. There are very few points of reference for the reader and nothing is explained so it's almost a note-taking exercise working out what is going on.

Not one for the casual reader then. But definitely one for anyone who wants to close the back cover having felt that they have accomplished something. The plot concerns machinations by foreign powers to take the land of Jackals by force and the rather disparate band who discover the plot and must thwart it. Hunt is not shy of the deus ex machina ending which means that things can build right towards the final pages.

The depth and scale of the concepts won't appeal to all but there is something in it that just snags my imagination. Possibly an acquired taste but one I'm very happy to have.

My Goodreads review:


  1. Thank you Phil! Made my day. Just got to work out how to follow you now.

  2. Thank you. I am honoured to be in such distinguished company!