Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

I read the first book from the Themis Files trilogy a while back, and I might’ve said (or I might not) that it’s one of the writing styles you either get on with … or you don’t.

The book picks up ten years after Sleeping Giants left off; the giant robot left by an alien race, and commandeered by a collective of Earth’s scientists and the military, has become something of a global celebrity (parades, tours, that kind of thing …), though very little is known about the race that created of this.

And this lack of knowledge becomes a bit of a stumbling block when another robot appears in the middle of London, and lays waste to half the city within the space of a minute. And from then on, it just gets worse: twelve more giant robots materialise in the most densely populated cities on the planet, while key members of the planetary defence force struggle to mount a response …

Like Book #1, Waking Gods is told through a series of reports, conversations, email messages between two (sometimes three – which can get confusing people), news broadcasts, even chatroom messages. This sometimes makes it hard work to keep track of what’s going on, but it does make it feel as though you’re right in the thick of it with the characters. There are no descriptions of surroundings, no omniscient viewpoint to tell you how the characters are feeling; but that doesn’t seem to make it any less of a great read. Some of the dialogue comes across as unrealistic because every so often, the reader needs something explaining that you character wouldn’t take time to do if the world was coming to an end.

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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Another recommendation out of the blue (probably because I’d just read Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd, and I can kind of see the similarities). The story isn’t anything too strenuous: two Ukrainian sisters go to war with the gold-digger who has married their elderly father. But the author, writing as the younger of the sisters, wraps the story of around the complex family saga that begins almost a hundred years ago, travels across Eastern Europe and finishes in Peterborough – though not necessarily in that order.

And then there’s the history of tanks and tractors …

It’s a lively read, though it does have its dips. I almost gave up on it near the middle, but something happened (can’t say what) that piqued my interest, and then it really started motoring. I’m glad I stuck with it, otherwise I would’ve missed a treat of a courtroom battle.

The characters are … adequate, I think; a little hard to separate in places, (especially the narrator’s husband who seemed a little flat to me), but do enough work to keep the reader interested in what happens to them.

It does have moments that’ll make you laugh, and others that’ll terrify you about getting old, but all in all, I think it lacked surprises, if that makes sense. Everyone behaved exactly as you expected them to; there was no great epiphany, and I wasn’t sure that anyone really learned anything or were changed by their experience. So, I’d say it was an enjoyable read, though somewhat unfulfilling.

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

This is another one of the those outstanding books that takes a global injustice and condenses it down to lives of a handful of people.

The American Civil War has ended, the Confederacy is in ruins, and the slaves are free. They have no homes, no livelihoods and no land. Worse, they’re now facing the wrath of Southerners who are looking to vent their shame and frustration on the people with less power than themselves … Negroes.

The story is about two brothers: Landry and Prentiss – born into slavery and now emancipated, they leave the plantation they’ve known their whole lives to search for a place of their own and their mother, sold and taken away from them when they were still children.

They don’t get very far; striking an agreement with an elderly landowner – who seems incredibly estranged from his wife, his son, and life in general – to help him to cultivate what little land he has left in return for a fair wage to help carry them further on their journey. As one would expect, the spectre of racism and injustice is never far behind …

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