Author: James Smythe

August 2015 Mini-Reviews

Posted August 21, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction / 4 Comments

August 2015 Mini-ReviewsTitle: Black Girl / White Girl (Goodreads)
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Published: Fourth Estate, 2006
Pages: 272
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Black Girl / White Girl tells the story of Genna Hewett-Mead who is reflecting on a traumatic event in her past. Fifteen years ago, in 1975 while attending an exclusive women’s liberal arts college near Philadelphia, her roommate Minette Swift died a mysterious and violent death. Minette was a scholarship student and one of the few African American women to be let into the college. Genna, a quiet woman of privilege got to witness the effects of racism first hand as the racist harassment escalated from vicious slurs to something far worse. However whoever was responsible for this murder still remains a mystery to this day. I had never read Joyce Carol Oates before and I thought this may be my chance to experience her writing. The premise of this novel intrigued me and I was looking forward to uncovering the mystery at play. However, this turned out to be a novel about reflecting on the changing times; I was interested in learning about racism within America during the time of civil rights movements but this focused too much on Genna.

I understand that Joyce Carol Oates may not want to write a novel from the perspective of a person of colour, since she is Caucasian and probably could not do the situation any justice. Rather she took on the perspective of a woman of privilege experiencing the issue first hand. This may have made the book a little more autobiographical and allowed Oates to still explore the issue of racism. While I enjoyed this book, I did not find anything special about it. Maybe this was not the best example of Joyce Carol Oates’ writing but I will try more of her novels in the future.

August 2015 Mini-ReviewsTitle: The Testimony (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Published: Harper Collins, 2012
Pages: 368
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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First there was static and the whole world freaked out. Then came a voice that said “My Children, Do not be afraid”. People said it was God, others said it was the government and still others believed it was aliens. The whole world was brought to a halt but no one had the answers. The Testimony details the apocalypse from the perspective of twenty six people around the world. James Smythe is a master at writing science fiction that will really make you ponder life and The Testimony is no different.

I was curious to check out James Smythe’s debut novel ever since I discovered his novels. The Machine was my first Smythe and still remains my favourite although many do prefer The Explorer. For me, while The Testimony was a thrilling read, it just was not on the same level as the other books I have read. Dealing with so many different perspectives was a great way to capture the different opinions and question the events. However this novel was not overly impressive, still a great book but if I compare if to James Smythe’s other novels, it falls short. This is proof on just how far Smythe has improved and makes me excited to read something new by this great author.

August 2015 Mini-ReviewsTitle: The Firebird (Goodreads)
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Published: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2013
Pages: 539
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
My Copy: Audiobook

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Nicola has a rare gift, she can touch an item and glimpse the lives of its previous owners. When she holds a small wood carving called The Firebird she sees a glimpse of Catherine I, wife and later successor to the Tsar Peter the Great. The Firebird is a fresh take on the time traveling romance genre, blending it with the ever popular paranormal romance genre. This is the second book in the Slains series by Canadian author Suzanna Kearsley.

My wife is a big fan of Kearsley and since this novel is partly set in Russian she thought I should check it out. There is some interesting aspects of the life and times of Peter the Great and allowed me to learn a little more about Russian history and culture. However there is something about this novel that I did not like. The Firebird is a story with no conflict and no antagonist and for me this meant it was a really boring novel. I understand people would read this book for the romance but I was uninterested in that story line, I was reading this for the Russian setting. Obviously I am the wrong person to judge The Firebird, it really was not my type of book.

The Echo by James Smythe

Posted January 10, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

The Echo by James SmytheTitle: The Echo (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Series: The Anomaly Quartet #2
Published: Harper Voyager, 28-01-2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Edelweiss

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Twenty years after the Ishiguro vanished, two brilliant scientists have been asked to help answer the many questions surrounding this disappearance. Identical twins Tomas and Mirakel Hyvönen have been interested in space travel since children. Not space, just the equipment. Can that find the Ishiguro, will they solve the mystery or will this just lead to more questions.

This is the sequel to The Explorer, so it is going to be hard reviewing this book without giving anything away. Already I might have said too much about the first book but I highly recommend reading The Explorer anyway. This series is off to a fantastic start and I’m already eager for the next book, which unfortunately may not be till next year.

If you have never read James Smythe before, I recommend him highly. His books The Explorer and The Machine book made my top books of 2013; that is a rare and incredible feat since I had so many books to pick from. Smythe writes literary science fiction that not only keeps you on the edge of your seat; they will also get you contemplating humanity.

The Echo has that philosophical and bleak style you come to expect from James Smythe. While this book sounded like there weren’t any thrilling moments, I was wrong; I was addicted to this book as much as The Explorer and it kept me up late at night. I love the way this author looks at life and sanity; there is so much he wants to say and I’m beginning to wonder if the planned four books series is enough.

I really want to say more about this novel but I’m afraid anything I do say will be a spoiler. I hate leaving a review so short but I highly recommend this series and that is all I can really tell you. James Smythe has another book coming out this year, so I have something to look forward to. I’m sure The Testimony will also be read during the course of 2014 as well.

The Explorer by James Smythe

Posted December 18, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Science Fiction / 3 Comments

The Explorer by James SmytheTitle: The Explorer (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Series: The Anomaly Quartet #1
Published: Harper Voyager, 2013
Pages: 260
Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Cormac Easton has been selected to be the first journalist in space, sent to document the flight of Ishiguro into deep space. When the crew wakes up from hypersleep they discover their captain died in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. One by one the rest of the crew died and Cormac was left alone; or so he thinks.

This is going to be difficult to review this book without giving spoilers; there are some big reveals within this novel that need to be left unmentioned. For those people that don’t read much science fiction don’t let the fact this is set in space put you off. This is literary sci-fi, the novel explores humanity. Also for those that think this sounds similar to my recent review of The Martian, they are completely different, while they both have a protagonist isolated in space that is pretty much the only thing they have in common.

I can’t really talk much about the plot, you just have to go out and read it; I want to talk a little about Cormac Easton. Whether you like him or not (I didn’t) there is something I found really interesting about this protagonist. James Smythe shows the reader just how to write an unreliable narrator. You spend most of this book trying to work out if Cormac is leaving things out because he is human and forgot or if it is on purpose, you also question everything he says, what is true and what is a lie. This works really well and I found it added to the tension and thrill of the novel.

Similar to The Martian I can’t help but comparing this to the movie Moon but when you get further into the book you can see some similarities to science fiction movies from the 80’s and 90’s (the one I’m thinking of might be too much of a spoiler). In the world of books, I’m reminded of classic science fiction; those books that have so much to say about humanity. I would probably compare Smythe to an author like Robert A. Heinlein; In fact I think I made a similar comparison to classic sci-fi in my review of The Machine.

James Smythe has been a great discovery for me, I love how he explores humanity in his novels. It might be weird but I think both The Machine and The Explorer may end up in my Best of 2013 list. I want to read more books by this author and have in fact started the sequel to this one (The Echo) already. I’m also looking forward to trying his first novel The Testimony and eagerly anticipating his currently untitled book that comes out mid-2014. Smythe seems to be a machine, two books released in 2013 and two being released in 2014, at this rate I’m never going to run out of his books to read.

I hope I didn’t reveal anything important in this novel; it is hard to write a review and say nothing. I also hope I’ve said enough to make people want to read The Explorer (and all of James Smythe’s novels). It is always great when you discover an author that writes the perfect books for your taste and I think I’ve found that here, I will try a few more novels but I feel confident. The Echo is the next book in this series, I believe there will be another two more as well but I felt like this worked well as a standalone novel. Highly recommend both The Explorer and The Machine and hope more people check out this great author.

The Machine by James Smythe

Posted September 11, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction / 0 Comments

The Machine by James SmytheTitle: The Machine (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Published: Blue Door, 2013
Pages: 328
Genres: Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

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Beth lives in a remote village by the sea, a desolate place where she can rebuild her life following the return of her husband after the war. Vic is haunted by his memories and turns to a machine to take his nightmares away, but it takes everything away; now Beth is determined to rebuild him.

Dubbed as Frankenstein for the 21st century, The Machine is a wonderfully dark and complex novel that really deserves more attention. I normally get annoyed when novels are compared to Frankenstein; how can any novel truly compare? The Machine was a different story; I wasn’t expecting it to compare to Frankenstein, I was more interested with the dark and complex nature of this book. The novel reminds me more of the British TV show Black Mirror; there are two episodes in particular, the episode where all memories are recorded for instant playback (1×3) and the one where a woman loses her husband and turns to a service that continues his online life (2×1). The show is considered “a hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected which taps into our contemporary unease about our modern world” and is designed to be thought provoking. In fact The Machine feels right at home with the style of that show.

Imagine if you can record all your memories and then wipe the ones that cause pain?  Would removing some memories change a person completely? What if that machine wipes every memory and leaves the person catatonic? What are the moral implications of playing with someone’s memories? How should the government regulate scientific advances like this? If you could, would you try to rebuild a loved one? There are just so many questions to answer and The Machine does a great job of creating more. Don’t expect answers, this book is all about giving you questions.

I love a novel that gets you questioning life and philosophy. James Smythe masterfully does what so many try to do, it’s so refreshing to read something like this but it makes me sad that this book isn’t getting more attention. I feel the need to read every James Smythe book I can get my hands on in the desire to experience this feeling again. Science Fiction is a genre that really can explore humanity and morality and Smythe reminds the readers that it’s possible. In the 60s and 70s it felt like all Sci-Fi novels had a message and we have exchanged that for entertainment. Not that there is anything wrong with entertaining the reader but you can do that while exploring philosophical ideas.

There is so much I want to say about this book and the majority of it is positive but I won’t, I think everyone should read this book and experience it for themselves. The plot is compelling and James Smythe writes like a master of his craft. The Machine has already secured a place in my “best books of 2013” list and I want to read more of his books, just to have this experience again. Go out now and get your copy of The Machine.