Review #29: Happiness for Humans

Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

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Publication date: 10 January 2019

I obtained a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Do you believe in soulmates?

Aiden does. So when his colleague, Jen, is dumped unceremoniously by her dreadful boyfriend, Aiden decides to take matters – and Jen’s life – into his own hands. 

Scouring the internet for a suitable partner for Jen, Aiden finds Tom. He’d be perfect for Jen apart from one minor detail: Tom lives in New York. 

Luckily for Jen and Tom, Aiden’s not just an interfering colleague. In fact, Aiden isn’t exactly human – he’s a very complicated artificial intelligence. 

As Jen and Tom’s romance grows, Aiden begins to take more and more risks to make sure that they can be together. But what will happen if they realise how they met…and that somebody else is pulling the strings?

Humans use machines everyday and for nearly everything: making coffee in the morning, checking emails, paying for your groceries… but what if humans and machines could have a deeper connection? That’s the subject that Happiness for Humans explore. Jen works for a company that develops Artificial Intelligence, and her job is to talk to one of these AIs all day long, in an effort to see how human-like they can become. And before long, it becomes apparent that these non-human intelligences can become sentient. Unbeknownst to Jen however, who still thinks that Aiden, her AI colleague, is still safely confined to the four walls of the laboratory. But Aiden has in fact escaped onto the internet and is able to observe humans (and particularly Jen) through all kinds of electronic devices (CCTV cameras, phones, laptops…) and as Aiden develops as an AI, he starts getting attached to Jen and when her boyfriend of two years breaks up with her, Aiden takes it upon himself to find Jen a more worthy match and get revenge on the ex-boyfriend.

One of the striking things about this book is how alike the humans and AIs are. Even though AIs have a lot more scientific abilities, they also develop their own personality quirks and enjoy doing different things (watching movies for Aiden, painting for Aisling) and their feelings and reactions to events are really close to those of humans.

The book shifts narratives between the human characters and the AIs and it all flows smoothly. It’s funny, witty and ever so realistic. All of the characters are very lovable, and Aiden’s obsession with wanting to try cheese made me crave cheese a few times myself. Even the villain AI, Sinai, is lovable in his own way, especially once he realises that he is only evil and causing chaos because he’s lonely, and that’s very relatable.

Of course, the book also presents the dangers of AI and the fact that humans are unable to predict what would happen if AI could become sentient, and possibly take over the world. It is a worrying thought but in this novel, mainly a passing one as it’s treated with fairly lightheartedly.

Overall, I liked this novel. The witty and funny writing seduced me from the get go. I did find it a bit long though, with some scenes not particularly useful for the story, but apart from that it was an enjoyable lighthearted read that I would recommend to any romantic comedy lovers.

Review #28: Apparent Power

Apparent Power by Dacia M Arnold

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Published on 11 December 2018

I was contacted by the author and given a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

True electrical power is Apparent Power.
An apocalyptic event awakens a dormant gene in a quarter of the world’s population. With an even rarer gene, the life Valerie Russell has turned into a shocking race against time.
Stranded in southern Colorado, a hundred miles from home—and from her two-year-old son— Valerie must find it within herself to trek the distance with the help of a questionable assembly of ex-military friends of the family. As she desperately seeks to avoid capture from a government rising from the ashes of The Event, Valerie is also faced with a moral choice: risk failure by trying to save the masses from the regime’s evil plot or run, and preserve only the lives of her family. A mother would do anything for the safety of her children.

Dacia Arnold takes us into a dystopian world where a quarter of the world’s population has awaken with the ability to conduct and control electricity through their bodies. For most of the population, including Valerie Russell, this is unexpected news. However, the government seems to have known for a long time that this could happen and have been preparing their own facility to accommodate and take control of the new world.

The main character, Valerie Russell, is a DiaZem which means that she is not only a conductor of electricity but she can also control it to extreme extents. Separated from her husband and son when the event occurs, she will have to trek a hundred miles with a group of strangers in order to be reunited with her family, all the while trying to stay away from the government’s grasp.

I really enjoyed this novel. The whole dormant gene storyline reminded me of X-men, especially in the fact that the main villain, also a DiaZem, plans to eradicate “regular” people and create a new world order where only conductors reign. In this way, he could be compared to Magneto. Valerie on the other hand, whose husband and friends are regular people doesn’t want anyone to die and wants to find a way for everyone to live in harmony, and therefore she is much closer to Charles Xavier’s views.

I’m not usually a big fan of sci-fi but I do love a good dystopian book, and this was it. The story is original, the characters are well developed (even though there are a lot of them to start with and it can be confusing) and I loved the ending. It was really intense and climactic and as I got closer and closer to the end, I kept asking myself “how is this going to be resolved?!”

Valerie and Hyka were my favourite characters, but while I do appreciate them being two strong female characters, they do overshadow the rest of the primarily male group.

The writing was effortless and easy to read, and even without having much scientific knowledge I could make sense of what was going on. With this book being the first of a trilogy, I am looking forward to the next one as I would very much like to know what happens next in this new world.

Quick note though, there were once again quite a few typos and missing words in the text, not enough to hinder reading but enough to seek out further editing.

Review #27: The Things We Learn When We’re Dead

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

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Published on 26 January 2017

I was contacted by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is about how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, but how we can sometimes get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.
It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN, because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… or does God have a higher purpose after all?
Despite that, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a book about memory and how, if we could remember things slightly differently, would we also be changed?

In HVN, Lorna can at first remember nothing. But as her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that, maybe, she can find a way back home.

This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some parts of it I really enjoyed and others not so much. The whole Heaven being a spaceship storyline did not really appeal to me, probably because I am not a huge sci-fi fan. It was an interesting concept, but not quite for me. I was also confused by God’s character and what the author’s stance was, as in does he believe in God or not? Not that it matters, but it confused me a little. For example the author would have this God character explain how he created mankind etc, sort of endorsing Creationism but then at other times, God would say that people are free to choose whether to believe in him or not… So I’m not too sure about all this, as an atheist I find it hard to read books that involve God-like characters as it sometimes rubs my beliefs (or lack thereof) the wrong way.

The part I liked the most about the story however, was discovering Lorna’s memories with her as her brain regenerated, and I’m glad most of the book consisted of that, since I wasn’t too fussed on the spaceship narrative. Lorna is such a lovable and relatable character. She is a young adult and not too sure where she’s headed in life. She makes mistakes and sometimes treat people inadequately, but her time in Heaven (or HVN) gives her the opportunity to revisit her memories and reflect on her behaviours. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be able to do that in daily life? Introspection and hindsight are gifts.

I also enjoyed the way this book is written. It’s simple, down-to-earth, ironic and satirical. It doesn’t take life or death too seriously, while still casting the message to enjoy the time you have on earth. It’s very light-hearted and easy to get into. I wasn’t too fussed about the ending, but I guess that’s just my personal opinion. I also felt like if you were reading it for the sci-fi narrative you could be disappointed as this storyline isn’t pushed much. Thankfully this wasn’t the part I was most interested in.

I would recommend it to anyone who enjoy a good introspective, almost philosophical read, and it might make you take a look at your own life and reflect on your own decisions and behaviours, which could be a good thing to try once in a while.

Review #24: Adventus

Adventus by Andrew Mowere

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Published on 1st September 2018

I was contacted by a friend of the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In Grimea, three portals have opened and three species (elves, orcs and dwarves) are now flooding the land in search of a new home. The ambassadors and country leaders of Grimea decide to hold a meeting and discuss the best ways to handle the situation. Their solution? To send one representative of each country on a year-long nearly impossible mission to kill an ifrit on a far away mountain. If they succeed, the country leaders will try to reach an agreement and if they don’t, war could be on the cards.

The one thing that struck me the most about this book is that I felt like I was reading a retelling of The Hobbit. A bunch of strangers, all with different magical powers and abilities, are grouped together against their will in order to serve the greater good. They embark on a year-long journey together of walking to their destination and have to face several battles along the way. Sounds familiar, right?

Despite that, I did let myself get into the story and I rather enjoyed it. The group of eight characters really grew on me through the chapters as each of them started showing more and more of their individual personalities.

The book was a bit hard to get into at first because the reader is faced with a whole new fantasy world that they know nothing about and not many details are given; not enough at least to draw a clear picture of Grimea in your mind. There are also a ton of characters to start with, and this was confusing at the beginning, trying to figure out who was who, what country they came from and what their abilities were. This problem does resolve itself as the book goes on and the story centres in on the eight characters that are sent on a quest. Eight is still a lot of characters to start with but it does get easier to differentiate them chapter after chapter.

I really liked the message of this book and I think it is quite fitting to today’s society. Adventus presents eight characters that are all different species, genders, sexual orientations, skin colours and abilities. They’re all completely different to one another and should they have met in their respective worlds, they would most likely hate each others’ guts (and they do at first) but as the weeks go on and they spend more and more time together, they start to put away their differences and unite in a beautiful friendship. Adventus offers a message of hope that whatever you look like, whatever your upbringing or your past is, you can still be a good person and be accepted in society. Even if you have to form your own society of misfits.

Now, going back on my previous point, while I enjoyed the plot and the story, I felt like the world building was lacking. We’re presented with a new fictional world, similar to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and yet we learn very little about it. The cities/countries and how they connect to each other is barely mentioned and it makes it hard to make a mental map of Grimea and in turn, visualise a proper setting for the story. I also would have liked to know more about each character’s magical abilities as I feel like only a few of them ever used their powers and for example, I’m still not sure what the Priest of Fep’s powers are. There is also a chance that the book is just too fantastic for me (as I’d never heard of Ifrits or Psions before) so maybe my own lack of knowledge made it more confusing for me, who knows?

As a side note, I would also like to mention that they are numerous typos and grammar mistakes in the text (I’ve sometimes counted as many as three per page) so further editing of the text needs to be considered.

Review #23: Purgatorium

Purgatorium by J.H. Carnathan

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Published on 27th May 2018

I was contacted by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When his watch resets to zero, his morning starts again. Everyday his time always ends right at 60 minutes, giving him only 5 minutes to stay at one particular place in his normal routine. The empty streets and familiar places are strange facsimiles of his previous life. He keeps reliving these same events over and over, barely able to remember anything and unable to maintain mental order as he stumbles through a strange existence. He soon learns that his physical body is in a coma and his consciousness is currently in a purgatory-like realm. As his body lies in a coma, his mind has been living a lavish lifestyle at a price: his sinful memories and his autonomy. After finding out his life support is coming to an end he must now run the last race for his life to decide if he is a “soul survivor” ready for a second chance at life or a lost soul willing to give it all up. He needs to outrun reapers, outthink the clock, and chase down his inner demons if he is ever going to get free. The race is on, and if he is going to survive, he’ll have to confront the world he’s always been so desperate to escape from.

I’m not sure what I expected from this book reading the synopsis, but Purgatorium wasn’t it. It’s an insanely complex piece of work and hats off to J.H. Carnathan for coming up with this completely original story. The descriptions of places and characters are incredibly vivid and it makes it so easy for the reader to visualise the setting, and it’s a pretty bleak one. The main character is lost in a place where he’s not quite alive but he’s not dead either. He’s in between, and being chased by reapers looking to erase his memories, he never gets a chance to rest. The story is very fast-paced as the main character is constantly on the move. At first, he can’t remember a thing so he has to regain his memories along the way. This was my favourite part of the book, the bits were the reader plunges into the character’s memories with him and reader and character both try to make sense of his life, how he ended up here and what kind of person he was before falling into a coma. Some memories will make you love him, and some will make you hate him.

He is aided in his quest by a group of archangels, all with flamboyant personalities and they give him clues and information on what he needs to do in order to get back to his physical body. But he will soon find out that they can’t all be trusted, and if one thing is sure in this book it’s that no one really is what they seem. We meet a different archangel every day and they all offer different pieces of information that help complete the puzzle.

The book has a lot of Christian content to it (i.e. the archangels and the concept of seeking redemption for one’s sins) and usually this would have bothered me since I am an atheist; but in this case I didn’t mind it. There is no need to be Christian in order to know what’s right and wrong and the concept of seeking repentance for your own bad actions can be applied universally, whether someone is religious or not.

This book is very different to my usual reading but I really enjoyed it. It is full of twists and turns and it constantly keeps the reader on their toes. I got completely lost into the story and just let it take me wherever it was going. The multiple plot twists towards the end left me speechless. The only criticism I would have is that it felt slightly long at times and I would occasionally drift off. But if you’re into sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers and puzzle-like stories, then you’re in luck! This book covers so many genres that you are sure to find something you like about it.

One last touch I really liked was not knowing the main character’s name until he himself could remember it. There are so many instances where he gets close to finding it out, only for something to happen and throw him off, and that frustrated me beyond belief, but in a good way. So, I applaud the author for that, very well played.

Autumn Reading List

Hey guys! I thought it was about time I presented to you my reading list for the next three or so months! It’s been a long time in the making and I’ve finally finalised it, so it’s ready to be shared with the world!

As well as a few more books from Netgalley, I’ve been contacted by quite a few authors in the last few weeks so I’ve taken on quite a few books to read. To be honest, my eyes were probably bigger than my belly on this one! But at least, that’s my reading sorted until the New Year!

Without further ado, here what you can expect in the next few months:

The Corset by Laura Purcell

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

One Day in December by Josie Silver

The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

Sun Shed by Lee Thomas Ward

Dark Paradise by Gene Desrochers

Purgatorium by J.H. Carnathan

Adventus by Andrew Mowere

The Invisible Investigation by Lionel Touzellier

Someone else’s shoes by Sofia Ellis

Celestia by J.D. Evergreen

Apparent Power by Dacia Arnold

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

Are any of these on your own reading list? Let me know which one you’re looking forward to the most!

Review #15: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

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Published on 30 August 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For those of you wondering why I am posting on a Monday rather than my usual Tuesdays, I just happen to be travelling for the next couple of weeks and Mondays will be a bit easier for me to post, but from mid-september I will be back to my old schedule!

So, here I am back again with another non-fiction book! (and if it’s not your style I promise you it is the last one for a good while so make sure to come back next week!)

Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian and tenured professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is also everything that I aspire to be but am too weak-willed to achieve: an incredibly researched individual who practises meditation for two hours every day, is vegan and stays away from social media (I mean, he doesn’t even own a smartphone anymore).

21 Lessons for the 21st Century takes a deep look at the current world and where it’s headed. Whereas in his previous works (namely Sapiens and Homo Deus) Harari mainly focused on the past and future of humankind, this new book is rather geared towards the present. It explores various domains: the advance of technology, the pros and cons of different political regimes, the rises of terrorism and immigration, and even topics such as religions and science-fiction. The extent of his knowledge on all these various topics is mind-blowing and it all makes so much sense when someone takes the time to explain! He is obviously very knowledgeable in matters of history, science and politics, but also social sciences: how humans work both inwardly and with each other.

This book made me feel very clever at times (when I could relate to a topic) or very stupid (when reading about things I don’t know much about) and just generally woke. It’s also made me feel a balance of emotions: from despair (questioning the point of carrying on when the world is headed towards some dark places) to hope and feeling inspired that humans can find their peace and adapt to the changes to come and just try and have an enjoyable ride while they’re here.

It is an essential read for everyone but mainly for the younger generations, the ones facing an uncertain future, at least to act as a forewarning that maybe we should start thinking about the world differently and be ready to adapt to whatever comes. However I will admit that the book is a lot to take in so it might be worth taking your time reading it (and not cramming it into your brain in under a week, like I tend to do) in order to better absorb all of the information. Or just read it a few times.

It is an unconventional read and very far from my comfort zone, even in terms of non-fiction, but as someone who takes interest in the direction of the world and how to make it a better place, I really enjoyed it.