Book Review : The Unity Game – An inspiring vision – including author Q&A

The Unity Game  by Leonora Meriel

Why I read:   Intriguing sci-fi that sounded different to anything I’d read before.

Book blurb: “WHAT IF THE EARTH YOU KNEW WAS JUST THE BEGINNING?

A New York banker is descending into madness.

A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.
A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.

From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.  “

 My review

When I finished the book,  I put it down and thought – what did I just read and how do I begin to review it?  I can’t even explain why its called the Unity Game without giving away the surprise and wonder inside.

The Unity Game is a really thought provoking interstellar mystery.  Its both strange and beautiful. Three main stories, intertwine with each other:  David a New York Banker who is obsessed with making his fortune and thoughtless egoism, Alisdair a Scottish barrister who is exploring the afterlife and Noœ-bouk an energy-channelling alien who is looking down on earth from his alien perspective.  Each one explores the meanings and perception of life  as their story unfolds.  But each story is meaningfully connected to the other.  There are dark, gritty areas in the book but overall its a book of love and mind-bending ideas.

More speculative fiction than sci-fi,  its a unique and complicated book with many themes running through it.  It doesn’t follow a totally sequential plot, more an intertwine of stories that jump space, time, characters and states of conscious.  It contains a wonderful vision of the afterlife and the universe.  I love weird fiction and this book contains a magical obscure beauty. I took my time reading and pondering the ideas which will stay with me.  What if life is just one perception of a moment?  What is love?  What is the meaning of life?  I don’t have any answers but this book gave me new perspectives.

Overall I’d highly recommend reading The Unity Game.  Read and enjoy it with an open mind and be prepared to be surprised and delighted by the ideas that it contains within.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes:  speculative fiction, aliens, meaning of life, sci-fi, original ideas, interstellar mystery

****

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

Kindle Edition, 344 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Granite Cloud

About the Author

 Leonora Meriel kindly gave me permission to share some added details about the book and herself.
 
Q&A from Leonora Meriel which give more insight into the book:

What inspired you to write Unity Game?

“I wanted to write about New York City, where I had lived for several years and where I started my career. However, I needed to find a new perspective on the theme, and it felt right to draw parallels with an advanced planet far from Earth. This is how the novel became Science Fiction, and then I decided to go a step further and add an after-life dimension. The inspiration started with my work on Wall Street when I lived in NYC, and the desire to write about this in an original way.”

Are you an avid reader? What kind of books do you like to read if so?

“Yes – I am an utterly avid reader. While my favourite genre is literary fiction, I try to read as widely as possible. I read across countries and across genres, I read independently published books and traditionally published books, I read fiction and non-fiction. My favourite books to read are those which have pushed some boundary of literature, for example Virginia Woolf, in her use of language; Haruki Murakami, in his expression of the borders of reality; David Mitchell, in his extraordinary word-crafting. Anything that is doing something new inspires and delights me.”

The following Q&A is from her website:

Tell us about your new novel The Unity Game?

“The Unity Game is a literary fiction and science fiction novel, with a few other genre elements mixed in. It is set in three locations: New York City, a distant planet, and an after-life dimension. It follows three story lines which deal with similar themes, and the story connects in the grand unity game, which is revealed towards the end. It is quite experimental, and has a lot of ideas in it. In the end, I hope that it is uplifting and makes my readers think differently about the world, and about their lives.”

The Unity Game has elements of Science Fiction. Do you read much in this genre?

“I certainly do! I really love science fiction writing when it is also literary fiction. My favourite is Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris which is overwhelmingly brilliant. Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness is also timeless. For newer writers, I am a huge fan of Ken Liu, who I think is one of the best authors of this century, for any genre. Through him, I also came to Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem – another great work. Science Fiction is amazing because there are no limits to where you can let your imagination go. And when wild ideas are combined with disciplined, brilliant writing – you get a masterpiece like Solaris or The Paper Menagerie.”

Did your books need a lot of research?

“For The Unity Game, the New York part needed the most research. I had lived in Manhattan for several years, and had written the entire section from memory, but I had to go back there and check all my details. Google Street View is very useful nowadays, of course! One of my characters dies in the first scene and finds himself in an after-life dimension, so I did a lot of reading about after-life experiences and beliefs. That was very fun. And one of my characters is the philosopher Socrates, so I had to read some Plato and some biographies. I didn’t have to do too much research for the Science Fiction part – mainly I had to make sure I wasn’t repeating an idea that had already been written about.”

About the Author

Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Queen’s University in Canada. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a multinational law firm.

In 2003 she moved from New York to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She studied at Kyiv Mohyla Business School and earned an MBA, which included a study trip around China and Taiwan, and climbing to the top of Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest peak and part of the Carpathian Mountains. She also served as President of the International Women’s Club of Kyiv, a major local charity.

During her years in Ukraine, she learned to speak Ukrainian and Russian, witnessed two revolutions and got to know an extraordinary country at a key period of its development.

In 2008, she decided to return to her dream of being a writer, and to dedicate her career to literature. In 2011, she completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine. While her first novel was with a London agent, Leonora completed her second novel The Unity Game, set in New York City and on a distant planet.

Leonora currently lives in Barcelona and London and has two children. She is working on her third novel.

You can read more about Leonora and read an extract from the book: http://leonorameriel.com/the-unity-game/

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Book Review : Watch me – dark stalker thriller

Watch me by Jody Gehrman

Why I read:  Dark psychological thriller which promised lots of twists.

Book blurb: “For fans of dark and twisty psychological thrillers, Watch Me is a riveting novel of suspense about how far obsession can go.

Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.

Except one.

Sam Grist is Kate’s most promising student. An unflinching writer with razor-sharp clarity who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, his raw talent is something Kate wants to nurture into literary success. But he’s not there solely to be the best writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years.

As Sam slowly makes his way into Kate’s life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire. But how far will his fixation go? And how far will she allow it?

A gripping novel exploring intense obsession and illicit attraction, Jody Gehrman introduces a world where what you desire most may be the most dangerous thing of all.”

 

My review

A wonderfully creepy psychological thriller.  It delivers plenty of twists to keep you entertained.  The book is told from 2 points of view: from the staked and the stalker.  The main character Kate is a Professor at college.  Recently divorced she is nearing 40 and doubting herself.  Enrolled on her class is Sam, a good looking,  promising writing student.  But underneath his surface there are delusions and an obsession with Kate that began years ago when he read her first book.   Fast paced, its a real page turner.   I read it whilst travelling to Lisbon and it made the journey go quickly.

The dynamics between the two characters is what made this book stand out for me.  The intensity and paranoia, that builds is deliciously creepy to read. I found Kate well written as she makes mistakes, has her own quirks and flaws and so feels very human. Kate is not a passive victim.  She rather enjoys the intense way Sam looks at her.  She battles her own desires between what is the right thing to do and her attraction towards him.   Sam watches and stalks Kate and as they interact more this feeds his infatuation.  His thoughts are often cold and creepy and as his obsession grows the book turns creepier and darker.   Its fascinating to see the world through his eyes and see glimpses of his disturbing past and thought processes.

Overall a brilliantly creepy stalker thriller that’s full of twists and dark obsession.

I’d recommend to fans of: psychological thrillers, books with twists, creepy flawed people, stalkers, obsession and escalation.

****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

Paperback, 320 pages

Published January 23rd 2018 by St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN  1250144027

Book Review: Scary Mary

Scary Mary

Why I read:  Book club book for November.  Ghosts.

Book blurb: “Mary just wants to be left alone, but the cheerleaders, jocks, guidance counselors, and ghosts won’t stop harassing her. When a new boy starts school, he surprises Mary by befriending her. That’s a rare thing for the school freak, but her unusual abilities put a rift in their budding friendship when Mary has to tell Cy that his home is haunted and not by Casper, the friendly ghost. Mary has to get rid of the ghost, thwart the school bully, do her homework, and not get detention. Mary’s sure she can do all of that except for the last part. 

 

My review

The kindle edition of this book is currently available for free on Amazon (Dec 17).  So if you love young adult stories with ghostly spookiness give this one a go.

I’m not a big reader of young adult novels so I found everything a bit too simplistic, the plot was predictable and was focused more on Mary’s thoughts than much happening.    Although I did enjoy the end sections where things kick of and get more ghostly.

Scary Mary is an independent teenage girl who thinks for herself and looks after herself. She’s a bit different from everyone else in that she can hear ghosts.   I really enjoyed this aspect of the story.  Even when I didn’t agree with or understand her actions or thoughts it was interesting to see how she interacted with other people and the supernatural.

“It was funny how saving a boy from danger didn’t guarantee him liking the girl.  It always worked for the guy in fairy tales.  The damsel always married the hero and they lived happily ever after.  Why weren’t there any stories about the damsel saving the hero?” Scary Mary

I only gave the book 2 stars as it was too simplistic and high school cliche for my tastes. But overall its a very quick fun read with a bit of spookiness thrown in.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: ghosts,  young-adult, school drama

**

 Kindle Edition, 144 pages

Published August 18th 2010 (first published August 16th 2006)

Book Review: Cthulu and Other Monsters – gory horror shorts

Cthulu and Other Monsters  by Sam Stone

Why I read:  I love Cthulu tales and have enjoyed other books by the author.

Book blurb: “Sixteen tales of terror from the blood-soaked pen of Sam Stone. Enter if you dare and discover nine stories inspired by the nightmare visions of H P Lovecraft: Elder Gods returning to the Earth to wreak havoc, tales of death and destruction and betrayal and the last flickering embers of humanity … Alongside these are seven further stories featuring the monstrous creations of Stone’s own imagination: a hungry and jealous sea; wolf-creatures prowling the fashion industry; a terrifying creature held captive in a cellar … Open the cover and let Sam Stone’s nightmares guide your way into horror … ‘Entertaining and original’ Brian M Sammons ‘Mistress of the grisly and the glutinous’ Graham Masterton.”

 

Select quote ” Lucy could make out a bulbous shape, and long thick appendages that moved in a a sinuous flow as the creature shifted,  like a giant octopus or some creature from the deep.  This could not be a land dweller….”

My review

This collection of short stories featuring Cthulu’s Old Gods and a variety of other monsters is a fun read.   Its a very adult themed book with lots of gore, gruesome horror scenes and some sex sprinkled throughout the pages.  There’s a diverse mixture of themes contained as the author brings in elements of sci-fi, romance, steam-punk and tales set in the past, present and future.  There is a brilliant range of new takes on Lovecraftian ideas and wonderful twists in the stories that you don’t see coming.  My highlight was Of Gods and Blood – with plenty of references to Lovecraft and the Old Gods its an exciting read with so much packed into this short tale.

I really enjoyed the writers fun style and the originality  but overall found it a mixed bag.  Some stories I really enjoyed and got into, others I just skimmed through.   A wonderfully entertaining book perfect for fans of horror shorts.

You  can read a short extract of the book over on Amazon.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes:  horror, gore, cthulu,and  monster stories.

***

Book Review : Blind Side: gripping thriller crossed with love story

Blind Side by Jennie Ensor

Why I read:  intriguing thriller set in London.

Book blurb: “Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable?

London, five months before 7/7. Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time.

But Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her.

Then London is attacked…

Blind Side explores love and friendship, guilt and betrayal, secrets and obsession. An explosive, debate-provoking thriller that confronts urgent issues of our times and contemplates some of our deepest fears.

 

My review

An exciting read Blind Side combines a thriller and a love story.  One night Georgie makes a mistake and sleeps with her friend Julian who reveals he is in love with her.  Shortly after in a London bar she meets Nikolai, a Russian ex-soldier, and as she starts dating him she begins to suspect he has dark secrets.  What follows is a unique, gripping psychological thriller of  friendship, guilt, betrayal, obsession and love.

I really enjoyed following Georgie as she discovers more about Nikolai, unravels new truths and secrets and their relationship develops. It had me hooked from the start.  Most of the story is told through Georgie’s eyes but we are also given insights into the mind of Georgie’s stalker as his obsession escalates.  All 3 of the main characters Georgie, Nikolai and Julian  were really well written and realistic.  Their actions and motives were believable.  The story is full of twists and turmoil making it a great psychological thriller.    What impressed me most was the way numerous issues surrounding their relationship and the 7/7 attacks in London were explored and added a real depth to the story.  Issues such as racism, terrorism, fear, different classes and immigration are woven throughout the story making it a thought-provoking read.

Overall I’d give it a solid 4 stars for an exciting psychological thriller with real depth.  A brilliant debut I look forward to seeing what the author writes next.

I’d recommend to fans of: psychological thrillers, complicated love stories, suspense, mystery.

****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by Unbound
ISBN 1911586009

Book Review : White Bodies – psychological thriller about twin sisters

White Bodies by Jane Robins

3 star read

Why I read:   Dark, psychological thriller with unreliable  narrator

Book blurb: “Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless façade, not everything is as it seems.

Callie, Tilda’s unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix’s domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix’s uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms.

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies—or was he murdered?”

 

 

My review

A dark, twisted psychological thriller about two twin sisters obsession with each other. When Tilda meets Felix, charming but with controlling tendencies, Callie becomes fearful for her safety.    Callie narrates so we see the story unfold through her eyes and observations,  occasionally delving into the past to shed more light on their entwined lives. I found the relationship between the twins fascinating  and it kept me hooked throughout the book. With its themes of love, manipulation and violence.  Jane Robins writes the sisters characters brilliantly, neither are particularly likeable, they are flawed, weird and interesting to read about.  Tilda’s narcissism and Callie’s compulsion to consume things that belonged to Tilda demonstrate how their mental states distort their reality.  Which creates a dark book full of clues, red herrings, twists and suspense that keep you reading and guessing.

Overall White Bodies is an enjoyably unsettling page turner.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: psychological thrillers, unreliable narration, twisting storylines and sibling relationship drama.

***

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

297 pages
Published September 19th 2017 by Touchstone
ISBN  1501165089

 

Book Review : The Windup Girl – bleak dystopia sci-fi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

3 1/2 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction dystopia that I kept on hearing about – just had to read it.

Book blurb: “Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.”

 

 

My review

A vast bio-punk dystopia set in a future Thailand.  The calorie companies whose mistakes brought new diseases including Blister rust and Cibiscosis are the ones who dole out calories and so control lives. Emiko is the windup girl, one of the New People, genetically engineered to serve.   She survives in a world brought to the edge of extinction by genetic manipulation.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

The world building is brilliantly descriptive, you are drawn into this brutal, dark, bleak future.  Set in a future Thailand within a world whose natural resources are dwindling, food is scarce, disease and disasters are everywhere.  Seed banks are owned by Calorie companies, limits on calories put a premium on muscle power.   Political manoeuvrings create twists and turns along the plot. There’s an abundance of new words which leave you searching for a meaning within the surrounding text.  Its a scary, distorted and exaggerated reflection of life with bio-technology, a disturbing vision of what our future could hold.

There are several interlocking character stories that run throughout the book.  I found I was more interested in some characters than others and ended up skimming some parts.  My emotional investments in most characters was low as viewpoints kept switching between the wide range of characters.   The title of the book,  Emiko, the Windup Girl, is a genetically engineered, Japanese-designed “New Person”, built to serve “real” humans.  Created with many modifications such as small pores to make her more sexually desirable, a “sex bot”yet she feels human emotions and pain.  Abandoned by her former owner she is now a slave in a sex club.  Through her character we explore the origin and meaning of the soul and survival in a hostile changing environment.  But there were numerous points I had to stop reading as you graphically witness the sexual degradation of Emiko, created to obey, to respond willingly to any  advances, seen by those who use her as an object created for pleasure, little more than a toy.   The numerous descriptions of her sexual objectification and abuse were sickening and often felt over described.  But still they drew out a critique and exploration of the issues.   It was deeply unsettling as the book questions does she have a soul does it matter?

“And we all know windups have no souls.” Gibbons grins. “No rebirth for them. They will have to find their own gods to protect them. Their own gods to pray for their dead.” Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

There are many references to “gene ripping” and DNA experimentation with examples of how this can go so terribly wrong.   Many of the usual sci-fi questions are presented in the book.  How far should we  play god? When is scientific/technological advancement good for humanity and when should we stop?  Should engineered humans be given the full rights and status of naturally biological humans?  This abundance of ideas was fascinating and impressive,  but at times the story itself is tedious and drags along.

A Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner its an epic book packed full of ideas.   But it took me a long time to finish, needing to escape from the terrible depressive bleakness Bacigalupi presents.        Its a nightmare vision of the future which kept drawing me back to read a bit more.  Nothing is black and white, characters are flawed, make mistakes, and the world is hollow and harrowing.  Very few happy moments are scattered within the pages, instead we see a future filled with despair and paranoia.  Overall a dark and brutal book, filled with questions and ethics,  but not an easy or particularly enjoyable read.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: science fiction, dystopia, science ethics.

“Even the richest and the most powerful are only meat for cheshires in the end. We are all nothing but walking corpses and to forget it is folly. Meditate on the nature of corpses and you will see this. ” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

***

Hardcover, 359 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Night Shade Books (first published 2009)
ISBN 1597801577