Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

My name is Mike Finn and I'm an Audio Book Addict.

I'm here to share my experience of the books I listen to.

"The Last Condo Board Of The Apocalypse" By Nina Post - reluctantly abandoned at 30% point
The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse - Nina Post

"The Last Condo Board Of The Apocalypse" reminded me of a Groucho Marx quote:

"It's nice work if you can get it... but I don't get it."

 

This novel is stuffed with creative ideas, comic juxtapositions, Single Purpose Angels that seem like loner-Minions with a snack obsession, Angels of destruction wearing business suits and grimly determined smiles and through all of it runs our I'm-good-with-disguises-perhaps-because-I-have-no-idea-who-I-am heroine.

 

The plot seems to be onion-paper thin. It doesn't drive the action so much as give a group of potentially comic personalities a place to bump into one another and produce random flashes of humour.

 

This kind of thing either works for you and carries you away or leaves you feeling like the only sober, celibate, vegetarian at a drunken orgy in a steakhouse.

 

Add to this the irritation of low production standards: missing words, typos and weird fonts in the ebook and my but-it-get-better hopefulness was replaced by: "I used to be an optimist, but I knew it wouldn't last."I'm moving on. 

Review
3.5 Stars
"Snap" by Belinda Bauer - a first-rate thriller and a pleasant surprise on the 2018 Man Booker Longlist
Snap - Belinda Bauer

"Snap" was my second Man Booker Longlist read. As soon as I started it, I felt like I was in 'familiar territory - albeit well-written familiar territory. 

 

"Snap" is an evocatively written thriller that starts with one timeline in 1998 about a pregnant mother vanishing from the motorway after her car broke down and another timeline in 2001 with a pregnant woman at home alone when someone breaks in.

 

The chapters are short, immersive and paced to maximise the tension.  I knew the two timelines must intersect but part of the fun was not knowing how.

 

"Snap" is just the sort of thriller I'd choose to buy. but I was at a loss to understand why it was on the Man Booker Longlist. Were they doing fun, accessible, genre reads now? 

 

I rapidly reached the halfway point in the novel, ("Snap" was hard to put down) but I still didn't really know what was going on, even though the two storylines had finally collided in a completely surprising and deeply intriguing way.
 

Yet NOT knowing but REALLY WANTING to know and being confident that you will eventually find out and when you do it will be something surprising but that feels true and finally makes sense of all of the angst and pain, is the essence of what makes a thriller a thriller.

 

"Snap" has best-seller written all over it from page one. It took me to the second half of the book to understand Mann Booker's interest: it is deeply rooted in the characters of the people who are entangled in the events: their faults, their fears, their deepest desires. It is about the impact of abandonment, the need for hope and the power of a constantly refilled cistern of anger that HAS to escape somehow.

 

"Snap" isn't one of those one-shot, I-didn't-see-THAT-coming trickster thrillers that were once fun but that now feel so me-too that I eschew them. This is a thriller where the plot is pushed by emotion rather than the mechanics of a police procedural novel.

 

The main characters are children: resourceful but damaged, surviving but not thriving. constantly feeling the loss of the life that was stolen from them the day their mother disappeared  It seemed to me that the story took on the wish-fulfilment magic that children use to cope with the unbearable. The police are also a little child-like, bumbling along, powered by ego and opinion and replacing best practice with intuition and testosterone.

 

Throughout the story, the young boy dreams that he has found his mother. In his sleep, he returns to the day that, as he thinks of it, he failed to find her. The dreams are a painful mix of guilt, anger and grief.

 

It seems to me that these dreams, the boy's guilt, his bone-deep need to make things better, his conviction that he will fail, set the tone for the novel.

 

The ending may be a little too fairytale to satisfy fans of hard-bitten crime stories but it felt appropriate to me. While it's at the borders of the plausible, it's exactly where it needs to be to make those dreams no more than a memory.

 

I recommend "Snap" both as a thriller and a strong Mann Booker contestant.

 

I wonder, if it wins the Man Booker, will it sell fewer copies than if it had been given the usual "this is Gillian Flynn on steroids" hype?

Review
2.5 Stars
"Once Upon A Haunted Moor - Tyak & Frayne #1" by Harper Fox
Once Upon A Haunted Moor - Harper Fox

This novella has a little bit of everything: PC in a remote village on Bodmin Moor obsessed with finding a lost child, a psychic with cryptic clues, the possible presence of the Beast of Bodmin, family intrigue and a gay romance.

 

The romance is more central to the story than the possibly haunted moor. Our PC, son of a fierce Minister, lives in the house that used to be his father's, in the village he grew up in. He sees himself as the protector of the village and yet he is unable to admit his sexuality to the other villagers (all of whom have recognised his preferences for some time. The romance liberates the policeman from his doubts and his fears and enables him truly to be himself.

 

I thought the romance and the sex scenes were well done. I liked the intimacy between the two men: the way they talked to each other, the way they saw each other's strengths and their own weaknesses, the way they needed the comfort of the other's touch.

 

The crime plot was not complicated and was made even less so when it was solved by not-so-cryptic visions from the psychic. The atmosphere of distress and threat was well evoked. I didn't think the supernatural veneer added much.

 

If you have a choice between ebook an audio, I recommend you go with the ebook. The narrator of the audiobook does the dialogue very well but handles the rest of the text with random inflexions and a generic I-must-emote-more style that suggests a sight-read rather than a thoughtful delivery. The narrator seemed deaf to the distinctive cadence of Harper Fox's prose.

 

Although this was a pleasant read, it was a little too slight to make me keen to move on to the next book in the series.

Review
4 Stars
"Rogue Protocol - Murderbot Diaries #3" by Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol - Martha Wells

I had this on pre-order and then scarfed it down on the day it arrived.

 

As always, it was fun. I loved Murderbot's interaction with Miki, the "pet" robot that sees humans as its friends. Murderbot moves from disbelief, through disdain, on to mild jealousy followed finally by muted grief when they part.

 

Miki is everything that Murderbot is not: naive. optimistic, emotionally attached to humans and open to making new friends. In the same way that ART in book two showed us that Murderbot is too human to be a real AI, Miki shows us that Murderbot is too much an AI ever entirely to trust humans.

 

In this third part of what is now clearly one great novel being sold to us in (expensive) instalments, Murderbot continues to pursue proof of the wrong-doings of the GreyCris corporation but this is really the frame for his journeying and not the focus of the novel. The focus is on how each of Murderbot's journeys takes him on a path from I-hacked-my-governor-module-so-I-could-watch-more-space-operas to I-have-things-and-maybe-even-people-and-bots-who-matter-to-me.

 

In this instalment, Murderbot is aware of becoming more humanlike in his behaviour (although humans should never be allowed to do Security: they're unable to keep pace with fast-changing situations, their egos get in the way and they're allowed to give up). Murderbot is dismayed to discover there are now things s/he cares about:

"I hate caring about stuff. But apparently, once you start, you can't just stop."

The novella has a leisurely start but once the action begins the pace is fast and the tension is relentless.

 

I finished the novella with a sense of satisfaction that could only have been improved if I'd been able to continue on to part four instead of having to wait for the publishers to feed it to me later.

 

My only gripe about Murderbot is the pricing strategy: split a novel in four and charge the price of a full novel for each part. This is not the way to treat the fans. I moved from reading Murderbot as an ebook to listening to the audiobook, purely because the audiobook cost one credit (which translates to £3.66 or $4.71 as opposed to $9.10 for the Kindle version.

 

Actually, the audiobook was very well done. The voices for Murderbot and Mikki were perfect. I'm glad my miserliness financial prudence brought me to such a skilled narrator.

 

Review
1 Stars
"The Water Cure" by Sophie Mackintosh - abandoned after 25% - too worthy for me. I don't want my reading to be a chore.
The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

I picked "The Water Cure" as one of four books to read from the 2018 Man Booker Longlist.  I liked the speculative fiction premise of young women, raised in isolation in a post-apocalyptic world, encountering men for the first time and having to reconsider what they think they know. 

 
"The Water Cure" got off to a slow and difficult start but was intriguing enough to keep me interested. I liked the rapid succession of short chapters, written from the point of view of each of the three sisters. This worked well in the audiobook version I read, where each sister get's her own narrator.
 
The we-only-know-this-island innocence of the sisters means that they take their exotic situation for granted and do little to explain it to the reader. 
 
It soon became clear that this was not going to be your typical post-apocalyptic dystopian novel. I was reminded more of  "The Tempest" if Miranda had had two sisters.
 
After the ten per cent mark, I started to get bored and a little angry. I got bored because, although many short chapters shot by, NOTHING HAPPENED in any of them except the young women sharing the details of the strange rituals (called therapies) that dominate their lives. I became angered by the abuse these young women had suffered.
 

I get the need to pace the book so that I can  FEEL the stifling effects on the sisters of isolation and ignorance combined with forced ritual intimacy, but enough already.

I began to feel as if I were  trapped in the middle of a front row at "Waiting For Godot" and I'm so embarrassed by what other people will think of me that I stay in my seat long after my boredom threatens to be terminal and I suspect Beckett of being a sadist with a wicked sense of humour.

 

I made it as far as the twenty-five percent mark because the voices of the sisters were  strong and distinct and because I could no more look away from the spectacle of the Bennet sisters transported to an island where they are subjected to abuse that they've educated to understand as sympathetic magic, than I could look away from a building about to be demolished by well-placed charges.

 

I'd hoped that the arrival of the men would change the pace but it didn't and I finally admitted to myself that I was reading this book because it was "worthy" rather than because I was getting anything out of it. I'd promised myself I wouldn't do that anymore so I abandoned "The Water Cure" at twenty-five per cent mark.

 

It may win the Mann  Booker prize but it didn't make a place for itself in my imagination.

Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of the book.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/447441624" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

 

 

Review
4 Stars
"Trail Of Lightning - the Sixth World #1" by Rebecca Roanhorse - fresh, vibrant Navajo urban fantasy
Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) - Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse's Sixth World concept is a potent mix of post-apocalyptic devastation and Navajo-based Urban Fantasy with a monster-slaying female lead who sees herself not as a hero but as a monster in waiting, someone contaminated and abandoned who knows only how to kill and yet dreds becoming nothing more than a killer.

 

Patrica Briggs, Faith Hunter and C.E. Murphy have all given us Urban Fantasy that draws upon Native American myth (albeit Cherokee and Blackfoot rather than Navajo) but "Trail Of Lightning" is the first time I've seen Native American culture take centre stage rather than being an atavistic accident that makes the heroine a misfit in mainstream American society.

 

In the Sixth World, white America has been mostly destroyed by flooding, the Navajo Gods have returned and their lands have been protected from the chaos by four huge walls, raised by magic. For once, the Dineh are not the ones getting the crappy end of everything.

 

Yet life for our heroine, Maggie Hoskie, is far from easy: marked by childhood violence, apprenticed and abandoned by a god, "gifted" with skills that make her a Dinétah monster hunter, she is an outcast amongst her own people at the start of this tale.

 

Maggie is not the now-normal urban fantasy kick-ass heroine, with the smart mouth,  the  lethal-but-sexy weaponry and the dangerous-to-everyone-but-her love interest. She is slightly broken, very much alone and is only truly herself when she is hunting.

 

The plot in this first book is not particularly complex and there are times when it wanders a little randomly but the power of the novel comes from Rebecca Roanhorse's vision of the Sixth World. She sets gods and monsters loose in the spectacular landscape of the Dinétah in a way that is at once startling and credible. 

 

Maggie is intriguing, an essay in guilt, fear and anger. Partnering her with the smooth, wrap-around-shades wearing I'm-like-a-Medicine-Man-but-way-cooler Kai Arviso displays Maggie well and doesn't take us in any of the normal Urban Fantasy directions.

 

I think this is a great start to what promises to be a fresh and exciting Urban Fantasy series. As soon as Rebecca Roanhorse publishes the next volume, I'll be buying it.

A conversation with my inner pedant about "Murder At Half Moon Gate"

a conversation with my inner pedant

 

I'm an introvert. My head is a noisy place. There are lots of voices in here and they often disagree. Usually, reading quiets them all as we slip into the story before us but not always.  Sometimes, Ant, the name I give to my inner pedant, becomes distractingly vocal while I read.

 

half-moon-gateThis happened today when I started "Murder At Half Moon Gate" by Andrea Penrose. This is the second book in a series of Regency detective stories starring the Lord Wrexford, a disreputable and allegedly cold-hearted man of science and Charlotte Sloane, a widow living off her wits pseudonymously as the infamous Quill, a satirical cartoonist feared by high-society. 

 

"Murder at Half Moon Gate" follows on from "Murder on Black Swan Lane", a book I enjoyed for its brio and audacity but where the word choices irritated me like sand in a sock.

 

Overall, the first book had been fun, so I settled down to read the next. Sadly, Ant, my inner pedant, sat down with me and kept pestering me as I read.

 

The book opened with a spooky olde-London-in-the-fog-at-night scene. It starts like this:

" A thick mist had crept in from the river. It skirled around the man's legs..."

"Nonsense," Ant spat. "A skirl is a noise made by playing the bagpipes. What kind of mist does that?"

 

"I know," I replied. "She used it last time. We looked it up, remember? She means swirled, I think."

 

"You looked it up," Ant said. "I already knew. If she means swirled, she should say swirled. Writers should say what they mean and mean what they say."

 

"Don't be so smug," I chided. "Now hush and let me get into this spooky prologue."

 

The second paragraph was a single sentence:

"A shiver of gooseflesh snaked down his spine."

Ant snorted.

 

"Shiver is a verb, not a noun," he said. "It involves shaking, not snaking.  Gooseflesh happens when the hairs on your skin stand. Does this man have a particularly hairy spine?"

 

Ant can be a real pain sometimes. This was supposed to be the scary bit so I didn't encourage him by replying.

 

Then we reached the bit where the man, lost in the twisting back streets of London starts to see how dark it's become  and we read:

"A glance up showed only a weak dribbling of moonlight playing hide and seek within the overhanging roofs."

Even I paused at that. I looked at Ant, raised an eyebrow and waited. He bounced with gleeful annoyance.

 

"How does moonlight dribble?" he said. "What makes dribbling weak? If it IS weak, how does it play hide and seek? And another thing, how can he see the moonlight playing hide and seek if it's playing WITHIN the overhanging roofs?

 

I calmed Ant down long enough to get through the murder and to the first sight of each of the main characters. The meeting with Wrexford was a little dull but Ant is quite dull himself, so he didn't notice. The update from Charlotte Sloane didn't go so well. Ant pounced when Charlotte reflected that:

"Her art was now bringing in a handsome salary from Fores's print shop. 

"No, it's not," Ant said, contemptuously. "It's bringing in a handsome salary from Fores' print shop." Ant spelt Fores' so I wouldn't miss his point and then pounded it home by saying "You'd think an educated woman. who reads Latin and Greek would know that the last S was unnecessary."

 

 Neither Ant nor I read Latin or Greek and I wondered briefly whether he or perhaps we were jealous of Charlotte.

 

Sadly the next line was:

"And along with the unexpected windfall she'd...

"Now she's starting sentences with AND," Ant said, scornfully. "Who does that?"

 

"You do," I said. "Only a few minutes ago, you started a sentence with 'And another thing.'"

 

Ant paused, wrinkled his brow and then, with a straight-face that gave no hint at self-mockery, said. "was talking. She was writing. Writing is held to a higher standard."

 

Finally, Charlotte repeated a phrase that had earned Ant's ire in the first book:

"Beggars can't be choosy."

Unfortunately, she then added:

"She silenced her misgivings with an old English adage."

"Hah!" Ant said. "This time there's no room for doubt. The old English adage is 'beggars can't be choosers'. Choosy is an American word and only came into being in the 1860s."

 

"How do you know that?" I asked. 

 

"I looked it up in the Online Etymological Dictionary."

 

"Of course you did," I said, setting the book aside with a sigh.

 

"What are you doing?" Ant asked.

 

"I'm adding the book to my DNF pile."

 

"You can't do that," Ant said. "I want to know how Wrexford and Sloane are going to solve the murder in the skirling fog."

 

"Ok," I said, picking up the book, "but only if you sit quietly while I read".

 

I doubt Ant will manage that but there's more to reading that pedantry. Even Ant knows that.

Reading progress update: I've read 10%.
Once Upon A Haunted Moor - Harper Fox

This.novella is only two hours long yet, after less than fifteen minutes, I’m wondering if I can survive the narrator’s. I-have-a-posh-voice-so -I'll-just-busk-it approach.

Reading progress update: I've read 22%.
The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse - Nina Post

This is a sleight, whimsical piece that I keep bei g distracted from by the typos, missing words and duplicate words. I hate ebooks that shown no sign of having been through a proofread.

Reading progress update: I've read 77%.
Bearskin - James  McLaughlin

This is a rare find: a thriller that is as lyrical as it is muscular. It reminds me of the best parts of the TV series Banshee only without the gratuitous graphic sex.

Shameless self-promotion: I'm in Deborah Kehoe's "Blogger to Blogger" spot this week.
 

Deborah Kehoe runs a regular "Blogger to Blogger" session where book bloggers give their answers to ten standard questions. This post give my answers combined with commentary from Deborah.

 

If you like this, take a look at the answers other bloggers gave and take a look at the rest of her site.

 

If you want to make any comments, please leave them on Deborah's site.

 

Thanks.

 
 
 
"The Princess Diarist" by Carrie Fisher - abandoned at 60% - turns out I'm not enough of a hardcore fan for this
The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher

When I started this book, I found it to be totally compulsive listening. Carrie Fisher looking back on her involvement with Star Wars forty years later and including journal entries made at the time of the first movie - how could I resist that? WHY would I resist that?

 

I listened happily enough to the first half of the book, dipping in for about thirty minutes at a time, long enough for Carrie Fisher to share an anecdote or two. Her self-deprecating humour, her disarming honesty, her look-we-both-know-I-don't-really-mean-ALL-of-this storytelling style created an atmosphere of casual intimacy and delivered a few laughs and a few so-that's-how-it-was moments. 

 

The more I listened, the more I understood how hard it is, forty years later, to recall your nineteen-year-old self with any accuracy. Add in being high on strong pot, apparently supplied by Harrison Ford, for most of the interesting bits and what you get is: I was nineteen. I wanted people to like me. I wanted HIM to like me. I did stupid stuff. I was nineteen. I wanted people to... and so on, delivered with gusto and amusement but with more style than content.

 

The second half of the book is where I faltered. These are Carrie Fisher's journal entries, written when she was filming the first Star Wars movie.

 

Carrie Fisher has already explained that her journal was a form of therapy that provided her with a space to talk about all the things she couldn't share with other people. 

 

It's a collection of thoughts, rants, poems and self-flagellating rebukes of her own behaviour. In other words, it's all you might expect of a literate, imaginative, angst-ridden nineteen-year-old trying to find her identity.

 

As a historical source document, many will find it invaluable. As a book to listen to, I found it too over-written and too truthful to be a comfortable read. I started to feel like a voyeur. 

 

Carrie Fisher as a grown woman, measuring her prose for publication, inviting me to like her and sharing stories she's happy to repeat was something I enjoyed.

 

Carrie Fisher at nineteen, sharing her emotional highs and lows with her journal was too raw for me, so I put the book aside.

 

Reading progress update: I've read 15%.: I'm growing impatient now
The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

"The Water Cure" is becoming a bit of a tease.

 

 

I get the need to pace the book so that I can  FEEL the stifling effects of isolation and ignorance combined with forced ritual intimacy, but enough already.

 

I'm beginning to feel like I'm trapped in the middle of a front row at "Waiting For Godot" and I'm so embarrassed by what other people will think of me that I stay in my seat long after my boredom threatens to be terminal and I suspect Beckett of being a sadist with a wicked sense of humour.

 

I'm hanging on because the voices of the characters are strong and because I can no more look away from the spectacle of the Bennet sisters transported to an island where they are subjected to abuse that they've educated to understand as sympathetic magic, than I can look away from a building about to be demolished by well-placed charges. 

 

But I NEED SOMETHING TO HAPPEN.

 

One more hour. Then either the story moves on or I do.

Reading progress update: I've read 44%. - who knew a Man Booker Longlist book would be so hard to put down?
Snap - Belinda Bauer

"Snap" is turning out to be a first-rate thriller.

 

I still don't really know what's going on, even though, almost at the half-way point, the two storylines have finally collided in a completely surprising and deeply intriguing way.

 

Yet NOT knowing but REALLY WANTING to know and being confident that you will eventually find out and when you do it will be something surprising but that feels true and finally makes sense of all of the angst and pain, is the essence of what makes a thriller a thriller.

 

This isn't one of those one-shot, I-didn't-see-THAT-coming trickster thrillers that were once fun and now feel so me-too that I eschew them. This is a thriller that is deeply rooted in the characters of the people entangled in the events: their faults, their fears, their deepest desires. This is about the impact of abandonment, the need for hope and the power of a constantly refilled cistern of anger that HAS to escape somehow.

 

It has best-seller written all over it.

 

I wonder, if it wins that Man Booker, will it sell fewer copies than if it had been given the usual "this is Gillian Flynn on steroids" hype?

Reading progress update: I've read 10%. -err, isn't this too accessible to be on the Man Booker Longlist?
Snap - Belinda Bauer

"Snap" is my second Man Booker Longlist read. I've only just started but I feel like I'm on familiar territory - albeit well-written familiar territory.

 

This is an evocatively written thriller that starts with one timeline in 1998 about a pregnant mother vanishing from the motorway after her car broke down and another timeline in 2001 with a pregnant woman at home alone when someone breaks in. 

 

The chapters are short, immersive and paced to maximise the tension. You know the two timelines must intersect but part of the fun is not knowing how.

 

This is just the sort of thriller I'd choose to buy but I'm at a loss to understand why it's on the Man Booker Longlist. Do they do fun, accessible, genre reads now?

Review
4 Stars
"Plum Rains" by Andromeda Romano-Lax - an emotionally rich journey for two women and an AI in a near-future Japan
Plum Rains: A Novel - Andromeda Romano-Lax

I picked up "Plum Rains" because the premise interested me: a near-future Japan where longevity is rising, fertility is falling and the Japanese, dependent on immigrants for many personal services, start to introduce AI-driven robots that grow and learn as they interact with their owners.

 

I'd imagined a clever SF exploration of the ethics of AI and the relationship between server and served.

 

I got all of that but I'm also got a very human tale about the youth of a woman reaching one hundred who is now a respected Tokyo matron but started as a mixed-race aboriginal on Taiwan and about a Filipino nurse, alone in Japan, trying to work off her debt. 

I supposed I shouldn't be surprised. Some of the best writing about AI taps into deep emotions: "Speak" by Louisa Hall and "The Unseen World" by Liz Moore are great examples.

 

What distinguishes "Plum Rains" is how strongly the imagined Japan of 2029 is fed by its deep roots in Japanese history over the past century and that the story is told from different Asian cultural viewpoints.

 

The language is beautiful in its accurate simplicity. The empathy and compassion with which the two woman are treated and the nuanced way in which their changing understand or their past, present, future and each other is handled make this a very human book.

 

There are hard issues in this book: the brutal way women are treated, our inability or at least unwillingness to confront hard truths, the crippling impact of shame, the compelling drive of motherhood, the emotional stunting that results from isolation, chosen or forced, and the freedom that comes from recognising that we are not irreplaceable. They form the emotional and ethical meat of the novel. The role of the AI in the book is mainly to provide an empathetic ear to the two women and to help them focus on the decision that will help them become the people they want to be. 

 

I was impressed by the understanding shown in the book of what an AI might become in ten years time and the ethical and practical challenges that their existence would present. I liked the fact that while the AI is presented positively as a sentient entity growing towards maturity, it is never seen as simply a digital human. Its intelligence, its motivations and its agenda are influenced by the people who made it but not defined by them. There are points when the AI seems more humane than the humans around him but that simply highlights how deluded we are willing to be about what it means to be human. There are also points where the AI is shown as a clear threat to the employment of some of the most vulnerable people in society. I liked that this threat was confirmed rather than dispelled but that it arises because those who make the employment decisions see workers as commodities and see robots as better and cheaper commodities.

 

Unlike the author, I know almost nothing of Asian culture, so I can't speak to the authenticity of what's presented here but I can see how different the expectations and outcomes are than they would be of a similar book set in the West. Both of the women in the book accept that the world is a harsh place where they often cannot control damaging things that are done to them or that they have to do. They have no expectation of a happy-ever-after. They understand duty and family but they recognise that they may not be able to live up the demands of either. Yet they are strong. They persevere. They take the moments of life-affirming sweetness where they find them, without any expectation that they will last.

 

I think this last expectation is what the title "Plum Rains" refers to. At one point the Filipina nurse recalls the story her mother had told of what giving birth to her had meant:

"She had grown in her belly during the plum rains, that long period of rainy, moldy misery that ends, finally, in something good: summer, when the skies briefly clear again, before the typhoons come. You were the good thing, small and sweet, that comes after a long period of difficulty."

That concept of transitory happiness, made more valuable by being ephemeral, seems realistic to me. It's something that I've seen built-in to French culture, yet it is deeply at odds with the Anglo obsession with the pursuit of happiness.

 

This was a wonderful book. It made me think and it made me cry. My only criticism is that the pace of the first third of the book was slower than my Western reading habits have led me to expect. I stuck with it and I'm very glad that I did. "Plum Rains" now joins my (very short list) of the best AI speculative fiction.

 

About Andromeda Romano-Lax

 

ebe175_2ca9c44c5f13458eb6dee16801e6ae1a.jpgAndromeda's website says:

 

"Originally from Chicago and now a resident of Vancouver Island, Canada, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction.

 

Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her second novel, The Detour, was internationally published in 2012 and her third novel, Behave, was published in 2016.

Her fourth novel, Plum Rains, drew inspiration from her family's experience living in rural Taiwan in 2014."

 

 

Publisher's summary

"In a tour-de-force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction, Andromeda Romano-Lax presents a story set in Japan and Taiwan that spans a century of empire, conquest, progress and destruction.

 

2029: In Japan, a historically mono-cultural nation, childbirth rates are at an all-time low and the elderly are living increasingly longer lives. This population crisis has precipitated the mass immigration of foreign medical workers from all over Asia, as well as the development of finely tuned artificial intelligence to step in where humans fall short.

 

In Tokyo, Angelica Navarro, a Filipina nurse works as caretaker for Sayoko Itou, a moody, secretive woman about to turn 100 years old. When Sayoko receives a cutting-edge robot “friend” that will teach itself to anticipate Sayoko’s every need, Angelica fears for her livelihood. But more than a mere job is at stake, especially given the robot's  preternatural ability to uncover the most deeply buried secrets of the humans around it.

 

PLUM RAINS is a hundred-year saga of forbidden love, hidden identities, the legacy of colonialism and the future of our relationships in a distracted and uncertain world. "

 

currently reading

Progress: 7%
Progress: 26%
Progress: 15%
Progress: 2%
Progress: 6%
Progress: 18%
Progress: 15%
Progress: 31%