Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Me and my amazing wife watched the film adaptation of The Martian, staring Matt Damon, and loved it. Despite it being full on sci-fi there was plenty of humour. Last year I read Artemis also by Andy Weir (read the review here), so when the Free Little Library on the next street had a copy of The Martian I was quick to snaffle it.

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Andy is unashamedly geeky, and isn’t afraid to write some quite technical science passages. Don’t let this put you off, because as well as being ‘nail-biting’, it’s also very funny.

The premise is quite simple. Mark Watney, the main character, is stranded on Mars. The rest of the crew make a quick and sudden escape from the planet, and believing that he is dead, they go without him. The book is therefore about his survival, and will he be able to survive until the next scheduled Mars mission in four years time. He has food rations for six people, which at a push will last for six months, not four years and with no way to contact Earth. Will he survive?

This was easily one of the best books that I’ve read this year, and in the next few minutes I will return it to the Free Little Library on the next street.

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Book Review: John Dies @ the End by David Wong

This was another book recommended by the increasingly wrongly named Manchester Post Apocalypse Book Club. Possible the book could be described as Pre-Apocalypse. In the end it doesn’t really where or who recommended the book.

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The book itself is a strange one, as it doesn’t really fall into any specific genre, although horror is probably the most apt. The start is amazing and had me hooked, although I absolutely didn’t have a clue what was going on. Towards the middle of the book it loses itself, with new characters that don’t stay around for long, and trying to be too weird. It feels like the book was written over a number of years while the author worked for living, which is exactly how it was written. The ending does mostly redeem the book.

The premise of the book is similar to Stephen King’s The Dome. Imagine a virus on a petri dish, the virus cannot see beyond the dish. In both cases, we are the virus on a petri dish, not able to see beyond our own dimension.

One measure of how much I enjoyed a book, is would I buy the sequel. A second volume has recently been published, This book is full of spiders – seriously dude don’t touch it, which is a great title for a book. However, unless I find a copy in the local Free Little Library, I probably won’t buy it. Additionally, even though I book this book new, I will be leaving it at the Free Little Library.

 

Book Review: Kiss and Die by Lee Weeks

This was another book that I picked up from the Little Free Library on the next street (read about it here). I picked it up as I thought that it might interest my wife, but I started to read it and quickly realised that it would be too gruesome for Helen.

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The back cover advertises the book as being about a female serial killer who only goes after cheating men. This is actually a small part of the book, and the more interesting character is the Hong Kong detective Johnny Mann and his backstory. He has recently found out that his father was a high ranking Triad worth millions, and detective Mann’s superior wants him to use this to try to infiltrate the Triads in Hong Kong.

After finishing the book I found out that it is actually the fourth Johnny Mann book by Lee Weeks. However, it is a very good stand alone thriller and you definitely don’t need to have read the others. A good gauge on how good a book is, is would you want to read more about the characters. In this instance I will be looking out for the other books in the series.

Overall an above average crime thriller that might be a little gory for some.

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

My wife read this and really enjoyed it, so when she’d finished I picked it up. She mentioned that it wasn’t my usual sort of read, but I would like to think that I don’t have a ‘usual’ read, and that I’ll read anything if it’s good.

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Set in the outback of Australia, a family has been murdered. Who did it?

Helping the local police is someone who used to live in the town when he was young, but was run out after being suspected of a different murder. He’s now a policeman in a big city and returned for the funerals, but ends up ruffling more than a few feathers.

The plot slowly evolves as facts are teased out. The characters are well written and come to life in the pages. I was gripped throughout and although I guessed who committed the murders, it didn’t really matter, especially as I only guessed it a couple of pages before it was revealed.

This is the debut book from Jane Harper, and I would like to think that she has a long and exciting career ahead. Hopefully she won’t be a flash in the pan and her next book (which I will keep and eye out for) is just as good.

 

Book Review: Me, my bike and a street dog called Lucy by Ishbel Holmes

A few weeks ago I was with my beautiful wife in our local Waterstones, looking for books, even though I have a pile next to my bed which if it fell over would cause considerable damage. I saw this book there, but opted not to buy it. Amazingly, a few days later out running with our silly dog Nelly, and as usual I came back home via Little Free Library (read about it here on the next street. Inside the library was this book.

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All I can say is what an amazing story. Ishbel was a former track sprinter with the Iranian national team, although her family moved to the UK when she was young. After giving up the track she set out to cycle round the world, but got waylaid in Turkey when she met this stray dog, which she named Lucy. Together they formed an amazing bond, and helped to repair each other.

The book isn’t always easy to read, as Ishbel doesn’t shy away from the trauma and abuse she suffered as a teenager. If you’re an animal lover then their treatment in Turkey is also hard to read, along with the almost non stop unwanted and unwarranted attention that Ishbel puts up with.

Putting all that aside, the book is heart warming and there are many people that Ishbel meets who do everything they can to help.

Any book about cycling and dogs is sure to grab my attention, but this book is worth checking out. If you’re in Lancaster then in the next few days I will place it back in the Little Free Library on Rydal Road.

Book Review: Meat by Joseph D’Lacey

This was another book recommended by the Manchester Post Apocalyptic Book Club. The last recommendation was Mortal Engines (read about it here, and its sequels here and here), which was a fantastic series of books.

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Meat was altogether darker, a full on horror novel, with a horrendous twist very early on, where the cattle are not what they seem. We never find out what happened in the future to make this small town what it has become, or if there are any other towns left in the world. What this book does include is the idea of mad cow disease taken to its nth degree.

The hero in the book works in the slaughter house and starts communicating with the cattle, and decides that maybe he would be better off not eating the meat. Arguments and rivalries abound between the meat barons and the religious powers. In the middle is Richard Shanti and a few enlightened others.

Unfortunately one part of the book ruined the whole thing for me. Pseudo science at its worst. Our hero obtains nourishment from the sun. It isn’t explained how this works. It’s just left there. There could be numerous reasons why this occurs. The sun in the future has different properties to our sun because of the apocalypse. I don’t need the science to be absolutely accurate, as in a Artemis by Andy Weir (read about it here), but something, anything, would be better than what was dumped on the pages. It is a shame, because apart from the pseudo section I really enjoyed this book as it was different, inventive and fairly horrific.

Anyway, my signed copy which I bought from Amazon will go to the local My Little Library (read about it here) round the corner in the morning.

Book Review: Map Addict by Mike Parker

I’m old enough to love a good fold out map. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to look at maps on my phone, especially when out running, but I always turn to the paper version when I’m looking for inspiration of where next to run or cycle.

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Map Addict was therefore always going to be a book I would enjoy, written by a self confessed map addict. Mike begins with his own obsession with maps, stealing them from his local book shop as a teenager, behaviour that can’t be condoned. He explains the differences between the different OS maps, and why they are some of the best maps in the world. He looks at other iconic maps, for example the London A-Z. I also enjoyed the section where he lists the five best and five worst Landranger maps, which is a bit harsh on Thurso and Dunbeath.

One area of the book I loved was when Mike explained how map makers make sure that if someone steals one of their maps, and then re-brands it as theirs, maybe with differently coloured roads, they would know about it. To do this, OS, for example, place deliberate mistakes on the map. Small enough that you wouldn’t notice, but wrong enough to prove that the map is theirs. OS recently took another company to court, who settled before the trial, which is partly a shame as many people would love to know where some of these ‘mistakes’ are.

Back at home, and me and my beautiful wife have recently organised our map shelf. Helen’s father passed away almost five years ago, and my father earlier this year. We now have both of their map collections, which combined with mine and Helen’s maps means we have almost the whole set of Landranger maps, with only the north east of England and parts of Scotland missing.

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Some of the maps go back over 40 years, so it’s always fun to look at an area before motorways.

Anyway, back to the book review, and while I really enjoyed reading Map Addict, it is a bit of a niche book. If you don’t get excited by maps then you probably won’t really enjoy this book. (Who are these strange people who don’t love maps?)