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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

From Fantasy to Historical to Australian Crime


Catalyst Moon: Incursion by Lauren L. Garcia was a fun little adventure and the first in a new series.

In this world magic users are considered dangerous and kept secluded in heavily guarded bastions, only allowed out when they are subdued with hematite cuffs.

There are sentinels who are dedicated soldiers who guard the mages and on occasion take them out to use their abilities for the benefit of the dominant society.

We are not given much information about this dominant society other than it is very hierarchical.  The only information we are given has to do with the sentinels, the mages, and the role of religion.

We know there are 5 tiers to the society, but there is no real information about any of the tiers or about how the society functions outside of the little subset we have with sentinels and mages.

Kali, a crippled mage, is being transferred to Whitewater City by a sentinel escort when they are attacked by bandits who seem transformed into some kind of demonic state.  Kali and the sentinel who guards her manage to escape.  

There is plenty of action and some budding romance.  Another reviewer referred to this first book as a kind of prologue, and I have to agree.  It was fun, but there are more questions than answers.   Hopefully, the next book will provide a more satisfying explanation of why things are the way they are, give a more developed look at the society, and explain what is going on with that second moon.  And I liked it plenty well enough to want to find out more.

NetGalley/Inkitt

Fantasy.  July 14, 2016.  Print length:  292 pages.



The Sculthorpe Murder is the latest in the Stephen Lavender mysteries, and I've liked the two previous books in this series.

Set in 1810, these Regency mysteries feature Detective Stephen Lavender of Bow Street in London and Constable Ned Woods.

Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, became London's chief magistrate and helped found the Bow Street Runners (considered London's first professional police force) in 1749.  Stephen Lavender is a real historical character who was frequently mentioned in court cases in the early 1800's.  
The Sculthorpe Murder was inspired by two historical cases, and Charlton uses a combination of facts and fiction to allow Lavender and Woods to become charged with the investigation.

Charlton writes mysteries that concentrate on more than just dead bodies and has created two very likable characters in Lavender and Woods.  I look forward to more in this series.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Historical Mystery.  Aug. 30, 2016.  Print length:  318 pages.


Resurrection Bay, Emma Viskic's debut crime novel, is set in Australia.  

What I liked:  the setting -- in both Melbourne and the small coastal town of Resurrection Bay; a protagonist who is profoundly deaf and struggles to understand what others are saying; his ex-wife and her Koori family who give some insight into the struggle of native aboriginal peoples.

There are some humorous moments in this dark novel--but make no mistake, there is a lot of violence.  The story begins with the murder of Caleb Zelic's friend Gary, who was aiding Caleb in an investigation into warehouse robberies.  His partner Frankie is a 57-year-old former member of the police force and an alcoholic who has been clean for several years, but Caleb wonders how trustworthy she is after finding a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Caleb's information is often faulty because he must rely more on reading lips than on his hearing aids, and anyone who is not directly facing him causes gaps and misunderstandings in what is said. Caleb's problems are exacerbated by his unwillingness to admit to his disability; his attempts to appear "normal" cause additional problems when he refuses to ask people to repeat themselves or he appears to be ignoring people who talk to him.

An intriguing novel that sets a fast pace, Resurrection Bay has an original protagonist who is flawed more by his pride than by his deafness.  This is a case of who, as well as why.  The novel has plenty of tension with a mysterious villain, secrets and betrayals, and the uncertainty of who is to be trusted.

NetGalley/Echo Publishing

Crime.  Sept. 1, 2016.  Print length:  231 pages.




Friday, July 22, 2016

I Will Never Catch Up with Reviews...

The Homeplace by Kevin Wolf.  

Description:  Chase Ford was the first of four generations of Ford men to leave Comanche County, Colorado. For Chase, leaving saved the best and hid the worst. But now, he has come home. His friends are right there waiting for him. And so are his enemies.
Then the murder of a boy, a high school basketball star just like Chase, rocks the small town. When another death is discovered— one that also shares unsettling connections to him—law enforcement’s attention turns towards Chase, causing him to wonder just what he came home to.
A suspenseful, dramatic crime novel, The Homeplace captures the stark beauty of life on the Colorado plains.

 A couple of the minor characters and the setting were more interesting than either the main character or the plot.  

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Mystery.  Sept. 6, 2016.  Print length:  272 pages.


The King's Traitor by Jeff Wheeler is the final entry in the Kingfountain trilogy.

Owen Kisskadon finally decides that perhaps his oath to King Severn Argentine must be reconsidered.  His new mission to incite war in another province proves the final blow, and Owen looks into his already disturbed conscience.

I've enjoyed this trilogy with its alternate English history and mythology, but this final one seems a bit too conveniently rushed.  This is a series to read in order, but I liked the first two books better than this final installment. 

NetGalley/47 North

Fantasy.  Sept. 6, 2016.  Print length:  386 pages.



The Cross-legged Knight by Candace Robb in the 8th in the Owen Archer series.  This is one of my favorite medieval mystery series because Candace Robb not only evokes the 14th c city of York in such detail, but has managed to create such interesting characters (both fictional and historic) who develop from one book to another. 

The title comes from the legend that knights who have been on a Crusade were often depicted with crossed legs.  As in her previous books, Robb manages to introduce history without being pedantic, as well as plot an intriguing mystery.

I've reviewed several of Robb's novels, and even if this is not my favorite, I continue to love this series. 

Purchased.

Historic Mystery.  Print length:  316 pages.


The Guilt of Innocents, book 9 in the Owen Archer series. Well, sometimes I can't resist "just one more" book in a series.   This fictional mystery was inspired by a real incident, and Robb's imagination involves Owen Archer.

The characters continue to be enriched, especially Alisoun and Jasper, whose roles have enlarged.  Magda could anchor a series on her own.

Robb's ability to draw the reader into the lives of her characters, those who are real and those who are fictional, but who have enough emotional depth to seem real, is one of the strengths of this series.

Because the characters and the events in their lives are so important, it is best to begin this series at the beginning--even if each one can serve as a stand-alone.  

I have only two more books Owen Archer books left to read, so I'm going to resist reading another right now.  I don't want the series to end and want to savor it for longer.

Purchased.

Historic Mystery.  2015.  Print length:  304 pages.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Two Mysteries and Some Snail Mail

The Chosen by Kristina Ohlsson is set in Stockholm, Sweden.  This is the first book I've read in the Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht series, and while I realized that there was a backstory with which I was not familiar, it was not detrimental to the plot.  

A pre-school teacher at a Jewish school is killed by a sniper, and later on the same day, to young boys go missing.  The seeds were sown in Israel decades before, and Bergman and Recht need to discover why two Israeli families emigrated to Sweden.  

A lot of tangled threads in this one and some deliberate misleading, though not exactly red herrings.  I wouldn't mind starting at the beginning of this series.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Nordic Mystery.  First published in 2013; trans. in 2015, 2016.  Print length:  592 pages.


Death Deserved by L.J. Sellers .  I read Deadly Bonds in 2014 and liked the main character, Detective Wade Jackson.  

Jackson's sergeant is hospitalized and in intensive care after being poisoned; two people are shot at a licensed marijuana nursery; Jackson worries about his own health; and plenty of personal complications among the members of the Violent Crimes Unit keep the plot rolling.

I did not like this one as much as Deadly Bonds, but I this is another series that I wouldn't mind catching up on.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Mystery.  July 19, 2016.  Print length: 286 pages.

-------  Mail Art continues, and I keep playing with used tea bags



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Time of Torment by by John Connolly

A Time of Torment is the latest in Connolly's Charlie Parker series.  I don't know why the series is consistently designated private investigator or thriller/suspense and never horror?  The series does feature a private investigator, the books are suspenseful thrillers, but they are also horror and supernatural.  

I like this series in a weird way, kind of like I enjoy the Preston/Child Agent Pendergast books. Outlandish. Bizarre. This series is more brutal than the Preston/Child books, though.  

Maybe I'm a little tired of the strange, evil groups spider-webbed throughout Maine.  The Collector was mentioned and played a superfluous role in the beginning of A Time of Torment, then disappears from the main portion of the novel.   I'm always curious about The Collector, and as scary as he is, I'm not sure I like the direction his role is taking.   

 The story line has to do with Jerome Burnel and how his life has been destroyed when the bad guys exact vengeance for Burnel's act of heroism.  One good deed results in a very long "time of torment" and not just for Burnel.  

 Louis and Angel's roles were minimal, and they are my favorite characters.  I need that comic relief, and A Time of Torment has next to none. Truthfully, Charlie's character is becoming something symbolic, and as it does, I need Louis and Angel even more.

Does this mean I won't be eager for the next in the series?  Nope, even though I liked the last one better than this latest, I'm committed.

Read in April.  Blog review scheduled for 7/13/16.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Suspense/Horror.  Aug. 2, 2016.  Print length:  480 pages.




Sunday, July 10, 2016

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine takes place in two time periods.  Hetty Devereaux inherits her ancestral home Muirlan in Scotland and decides to visit, hoping to renovate and turn it into a hotel.  She has grown disillusioned with her life and with her boyfriend Giles, and the old family home gives her an excuse to get away.

The house, however, is in dreadful shape, and the man hired to evaluate the situation and give an estimate of cost advises her to tear it down.

In addition to the sad state of the mansion, shortly before Hettie's arrival, a human skeleton has been unearthed.  As Sarah tries to cope with the condition of the house and possible collapse of her plans, she also is curious about whose remains were buried and why.

The last occupant of the house was her distant uncle, Theo Blake, a painter who achieved early acclaim, but whose final paintings were distressing.  Since Blake's death in the 1940's, the grand old home has been unoccupied.    

The story shifts back and forth between 2010 and Hettie's visit and 1910 when Theo Blake brings Beatrice, his young wife, to his childhood home.  Beatrice falls in love with the surrounding area and wildlife, but she is confused as her husband seems to cut himself off emotionally.  

There are quite a few convenient/contrived coincidences, but the book has finely toned atmospheric and Gothic elements.  "What's past is prologue...."

The House Between Tides is Maine's debut novel, but it was first published in 2014 with the title Bhalla Strand.

Read in April; blog post scheduled for July 22, 2016.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Mystery/Romance.  2014; Aug. 2, 2016.  Print length:  400 pages.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Two Mysteries

I still need to catch up on some reviews from June reading.

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn.  I was not terribly impressed by the first in this series, but I liked this one better.  

Evidently, the publication has now been moved back to 2017, so I will save a review for later.  

Excerpt from the blurb: 

 "London, 1887.  Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week's time if Veronica cannot find the real killer. "

I'm not sure why the publication date was changed, but perhaps some of my quibbles with content will be ironed out with further editing.  Some of what I found off-putting in the first Veronica Speedwell book has been improved upon in this second book.  Neat cover, huh?

NetGalley/Berkeley Publ. Group

Historic Mystery.  Jan. 10, 2017.  Print version:  352 pages.


Shadow Over the Fens is set in the Lincolnshire Fens, an area the author obviously cares for deeply.  

I haven't read the first book in the series, but evidently DI Nikki Galena's last case was a tough one--requiring her to live in another town in the fens.  Coming home, Nikki feels able to shed some of the hard-nosed image that she acquired in that case.  She is still a tough and competent officer, but she is back in a familiar community.

Even as she settles in, however, a neighbor she cares for commits suicide.  Nikki finds everything about the situation "wrong," but there is no doubt that her friend jumped to his death.

At the same time, her DS Joseph Easterly believes he sees a man from his past and isn't sure if he is imagining it.  

I liked the complexity of the characters and the setting very much.  Joy Ellis has created a situation where the people and the place feel real to me.   Nikki Galena and Joseph Easterly seem to be revealing themselves a bit at a time; at least, from what I read about the previous novel, it appears that Ellis is allowing her characters to grow and develop.

This is a series that I intend to keep an eye on.  :)


NetGalley/Joffe Books

Mystery/Police Procedural.  June 30, 2016.  Print version:  255 pages.  


Thursday, July 07, 2016

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker.   A lot of people are going to love this one, but I didn't. 

Fifteen-year-old Jenny Kramer is brutally raped at a party, then given a controversial drug that will make her forget.  Chapter One is pretty rough.  Really rough.

(This drug is undergoing clinical trials, and once more, presents a lot of questions about science and ethics.  It may offer hope to people with traumatic events in their pasts, and it is touted as a hopeful treatment for soldiers with PTSD, but many are still skeptical about long-term benefits.
It also opens up plenty of avenues for abuse.)

In the novel, Jenny is given the drug at the hospital where she is going to require extensive surgery.  Later when interviewed, she cannot remember anything about the rape, and the police have little to go on.  Initially, things appear to be going well, Jenny remembers nothing about the horrific experience, but months later, she attempts suicide.  Even though Jenny cannot remember the rape, something remains in her mind and body.

At this point, she and her parents begin seeing Dr. Forrest, a psychiatrist who takes particular interest in Jenny's case.  Unreliable narrator!  Twist, then twist back.

When I finished, I still could not make sense of several things.  Spoilers:  Why send two of his patients like guided missiles to someone he set up?  What creepy part of himself needed Jenny to be his companion in his own traumatic rape?  If he knew Glen was responsible from the beginning, why was he worried about his son? He even cures Glen--sorta.   So many things simply did not parse.  

This was an ARC that arrived in the mail, and the film rights have been sold to Warner Bros. 

Once again, I think the Kirkus Review  has the right of this one:  "A repugnant narrator, even an unreliable one, makes it difficult to focus on the true victim, one who is crushed under the weight of this ridiculous plot."

ARC  read in June.  Blog review scheduled for July 7.

Psychological Thriller.  July 12, 2016.  319 pages.  




Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Evan Currie's Odyssey One Series

My husband was out of town last week, and for several days, I was mostly out in space with Evan Currie and the Odyssey One.  

I really like good science fiction--of course, like all reading--"good" is relative to the reader. 

I enjoy space opera, a sub-genre that emphasizes a risk-taking central character, space warfare, an epic list of characters, and lots of action and adventure.  (Think Star Trek and Star Wars in film orr the Foundation series by Asimov, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, the Skolian Empire by Catherine Asaro, or the Honorverse by David Weber.)

And I like military science fiction that focuses on strategy, tactics, advanced technology, and weaponry.  The two often overlap, and Evan Currie's Odyssey One series certainly does. 

Last year, I read Evan Currie's King of Thieves and liked it.  King of Thieves is an off-shoot of the Odyssey One series which I had not read.   When NetGalley recently offered Warrior King:  Odyssey One,  I was eager to give it a try.

What I didn't realize, however, is that Warrior King: Odyssey One was book 5 in the Odyssey One series!  I took One to mean first, but Odyssey One is the name of the ship.

I started it, but realized in order to get the necessary background, I would need to go back to the beginning.  Luckily, the previous books were all on offer with Kindle Unlimited.


Into the Black (#1) begins with the maiden voyage of the new Odyssey One prototype space vessel.  Captained by Eric Weston, the ship's mission is interstellar exploration.  Odyssey One has FTL capability and is the first Terran ship to attempt exploration of deep space. 

When the ship comes upon a field of space debris, they are surprised to hear a distress signal.  Upon rescuing the space pod, they discover a woman who appears to be human, but who is from an unknown civilization.

Language problems are solved by the brilliant (and eccentric and difficult to manage) linguist Dr. Palin.  I was happy to see Dr. Palin again, as he played an important role in King of Thieves.  His role here is small, but solving the language problem is crucial to the story.

Milla Chans, the only surviving member of a Priminae fleet, describes how her fleet was obliterated by the Drasin, an alien race bent on the destruction of her civilization.  

In an attempt to provide Chans safe passage to the nearest of her civilization's colonies, Captain and crew discover the entire planet destroyed and populated by the alien Drasin, a kind of armored bug.  Replicating at an astonishing rate, the Drasin are bent on genocide--but are they pursuing this goal on their own, or are they being used as a weapon by another race?

When an attempt is made to leave their passenger on Ranquil, the home planet of the Priminae, the Drasin appear and target this planet as well.  Eventually, Captain Weston feels ethically bound to engage in battle with the Drasin before they destroy another world and millions of lives.  The Priminae greet them as saviors, but Weston knows he will be in trouble back home.

When back on earth, Weston and the crew are lionized on one hand and vilified on the other.  No one on earth wants to become a target of the Drasin.  Despite the anger and reluctance of many, Weston retains his command and is to return to Ranquil.

The series is more action than character-driven, but Currie manages to make the characters viable.  Currie also does an excellent job of conveying all of the futuristic science and technology in a way that is believable, even if this reader has no hope in hell of understanding.  I'm not sure how to explain it, but I was quite comfortable with the world(s) he created and the way things worked, in the same way I am comfortable with television and computers.  I don't have to understand how they work to accept that they do.  

The action is fast-paced and intense.  As soon as I finished, I was on to the next one.

Kindle Unlimited

Science Fiction.  2011; remastered version 2012.  Print length: 448 pages.


The Heart of the Matter (#2) takes the Odyssey's crew back to Ranquil, the homeworld of the Priminae to build a defense against the Drasin.

While still an action-driven scenario, the characters continue to be fleshed out enough for the reader to want to continue learning their fates.

While the Terrans and the Priminae have become allies and are sharing technology, each side continues to hold back a little.  Politics and cultural differences on each side dictate policy.

While part of the crew are on the planet of Ranquil helping build defense forces--not an easy task when the society is essentially pacifist-- Odyssey One tries to follow a Drasin ship back to its source.  Both storylines are interesting.  

Again, while character development isn't the main purpose of these books, each character is distinct and the sense of camaraderie is significant.  The books are reminiscent of ensemble-cast war movies with a lot of characters.  Each one feels real, even if all you get to know is how the character reacts in specific circumstances.  They all play their parts in the storyline.

The Odyssey One series is about plot and action, and although it has memorable characters, the goal is not to examine the deeper background or motivation of each player in the drama. The goal is to have them fit seamlessly into the plot.

I am also pleased that each episode has a sense of conclusion while still leaving you in a hurry to get to the next book and continue the adventure.

Kindle Unlimited.

Science Fiction.  2012.  Print length:  632 pages. 

In Homeworld (#3) the Drasin follow an Eastern Block ship back to the Sol System.  

What the Terrans feared when Weston discovered the Drasin has come to pass.  The Drasin intend to destroy the planet, but despite their superior numbers and weaponry, they discover that the people of Earth are nothing like the pacifist worlds they've dealt with before.  Weston and the Odyssey have a few tricks left.

A twist at the end had me upset; nevertheless, I knew there were two more books to go.  It was not the end.  

Kindle Unlimited.

Science Fiction.  2013.  Print length:  509 pages.



Out of the Black (#4) finds the Earth fighting the Drasin hordes on the ground and in the air. The unexpected twist in bk #3 is explained.  Like many readers, I was disconcerted by the twist and by ....well, by something else that has become a part of the story.         

On the other hand,  I was also relieved enough about the outcome of the twist to happily put the Gaia element aside.  Just a note, Central didn't bother me, but Gaia does.

The Earth battles are world-wide and frantic.  The situation is grim.  Throughout the world, entire cities are lost.  Fortunately, the former enemies of WWIII are doing their best to work together to save the planet from the Drasin, but the situation is dire and the losses incalculable.

The Priminae must decide whether or not to remain isolationist and non-confrontational or come to the aid of Earth. They are willing to defend themselves, yet culturally less eager to take the battle to the Drasin.  Sometimes survival requires an offense, and the Priminae civilization must face that fact.

Better late than never.  

Book 4 completes the initial cycle of the Drasin War begun in the first book, and Currie may have intended to leave the series at that.  At some point, however, he decided to return to the Odyssey One and move into another story arc because the next book will leave both Earth and Ranquil eager to discover who guided the Drasin.

Kindle Unlimited.

Science Fiction.  2014.  Print length:  447 pages.

Warrior King (#5) begins after the battle for the earth has been won.  The Terrans and the Priminae continue their alliance and a search for the source of the Drasin is in play.  Weston also wants proof of the race that used the Drasin as weapons.

Weston and his new Heroic class ship the Odysseus are on the hunt, and unsurprisingly, they make contact with the enemy.   The two enemy vessels evaluate each other's tech and weaponry, as Weston attempts to rescue Steph and Milla.  It becomes obvious that the Priminae mythology about the Others/the Oath-Breakers is not such a distant part of the past after all.  And they are ruthless.

Having sped through these books, I am now going to have to wait for either book 6 of the Odyssey One series and the next installment about Captain Morgan Passer and the crew of the Autolycus.

It has taken me longer to review these five books than it did to read them.  I finished all of them in the last week of June.  There are flaws which I didn't note because I was having so much fun, but if you enjoy military science fiction and lots of action and adventure, you should give this series a try!

NetGalley/47North

Science Fiction.  July 19, 2016.  Print length:  334 pages.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Historical Novels by Anne Perry and Jim Eldridge

Some NetGalley books scheduled to be released in 2016 


Revenge in a Cold River by Anne Perry.  I started reading Perry's historical mysteries some twenty years ago.  I enjoyed the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels first, but after reading The Face of a Stranger, the first William Monk novel, I was completely hooked.  

A little background (although I think each novel works well as a stand alone):  In 1856 William Monk was seriously injured in a carriage accident and has no memory of his life before the accident.  He has managed, with the help of the estimable Hester Latterly, to resume his career and to keep his lack of memory a secret from almost everyone.

In Revenge in a Cold River, Monk begins to realize that his nemesis--customs officer McNabb--has finally realized that Monk has no memory of events before 1856 and intends to destroy him.  Finally, the fans of this series discover why McNabb hates Monk and are given a glimpse of Monk's background as a young man.

As usual, Perry's period depictions are detailed, the suspense is palpable, and her characters flawed and imperfect, but often courageous.  Familiar characters populate the novel, and we learn more about Beata York, the woman Oliver Rathbone loves.  I've been curious about her and was happy to see Beata has more to offer. Hester takes a smaller role in Revenge, but her dedicated and independent nature is, as always, of primary support to Monk.  

I'm really not certain which books I like better--those that feature Monk or those that feature Hester.  Perry's switching the lead protagonist keeps the series interesting and allows her to focus on different elements of the Victorian period.

(Amazon is offering a bundle of the first three books in the series, and if you relish good Victorian novels--this is a bargain.)

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Historic Mystery.  Sept. 6, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages.


Assassins by Jim Eldridge.  "The first of a new mystery series featuring Winston Churchill and King George V: an intriguing departure for bestselling children's author Jim Eldridge. "   

I enjoyed this first installment of a new series featuring DCI Paul Stark and set in the early 1920's.  Churchill, always controversial, is presented with both his flaws and his strengths, and I liked the way Stark's initial dislike of Churchill alters as the book progresses even as he continues to view him honestly.

Eldridge includes some of the most difficult issues faced by the British Government during the time:  debt, unemployment and the demobilization of soldiers following WWI, the problem of Irish Home Rule, women's suffrage (only women over 30 who owned property were given the vote in 1918, so the issue was still active), socialism, etc.   

The most interesting part for me, however, is the role played by secondary characters like Michael Collins.  I knew Collins was associated with Sinn Fein and the struggle for Irish Independence, but that was the extent of my knowledge.  Even though his role in the novel isn't large, his personality and appeal are obvious.  I wanted to know more and did some online research--Collins and Eamon de Valera are part of a fascinating era of history. (Now, I want to see the 1996 film Michael Collins with Liam Neeson and  Alan Rickman.) 

A good mystery and a series I will follow.

NetGalley/Severn House

Historic Mystery.  Oct. 1, 2016.  Print length:  256 pages.

I will mention both of these books again closer to publication.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva is a cross between a reality survivor show and a genuine catastrophe, a pandemic of which the contestants and even the crew in their isolation are unaware.  The illness is widespread and rapid, and people die so quickly that there is little apprehension or appreciation of the danger until the population is decimated.

Twelve contestants, who have been given short epithets connected to their careers (Doctor, Tracker, Waitress, Engineer, Zoo), have been chosen to participate in a reality show that will challenge them mentally and physically.  They are all secluded in a wilderness area and unaware of what is going on in the outside world.

The story alternates between the chapters about the challenges the contestants face and the POV of Zoo, a young woman who wants a last big challenge before she and her husband settle down to start a family.

There is unnecessary confusion about who the contestants are.  Zoo will refer to them sometimes by the reality show moniker and sometimes by their real names.  Eventually, some of the characters become clearer, but this uncertainty prevents a real connection to most of the contestants.

 Everything from the reasons the contestants have been chosen, the names assigned to them, the way the film is edited to present a particular point of view and "good television"(regardless of the context).  Incidents are scripted, staged, and amended.  In the meantime, Oliva does the same to her readers, keeping them off-balance.

Eventually, Zoo continues alone in what she believes is a solo challenge.  The stress of the various challenges, an illness she believes the result of polluted water, lack of food, and lack of rest have diminished her ability to reason well, but she refuses to say the words the producers gave the contestants that would signal her desire to quit.  She is determined to finish, and she keeps walking, using every skill at her disposal.  Any question she may have about the changes she sees, she attributes to the show's script, to props, to the theatrical exploitation of both contestants and audience.

An absorbing glimpse at the way we are manipulated by media (more obviously by reality shows--but only slightly more subtly by press, propaganda, and politics).  

A couple of things did bother me, but they would be spoilers, so I'll ignore them for this review.  

Review scheduled for June 27, 2016.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Suspense/Post-Apocalyptic.  July 12, 2016.  Print length:  304 pages.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson     

I finished this last week and have been mulling it over ever since.  

Fantasy is often set in an imaginary world, but fantasy consistently deals with themes that have troubled mankind from the dawn of civilization. Fantasy subgenres are plentiful, and I have enjoyed many of them, but the themes are pretty consistent and magic is usually an important element.

The author may not agree, but I think The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an allegory.  Not a religious allegory; Seth Dickinson will never be confused with C.S. Lewis. 

The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an allegorical look at civilization, nationalism, politics, and conquest.  Although set in a world that contains both medieval and modern elements, it mirrors so many aspects of history involving great and powerful nations--and not usually those elements that a nation can be proud of.

Conquest isn't always about marching in with enough military might to overwhelm a country.  It can begin as a soft conquest through trade.  Add changing the monetary basis. Then gradually add the dismantlement of a country's culture, tradition, religion, social and sexual mores, and commandeering the education of a nation's children.  A reinvention.  A political coup.  A grand eugenic experiment.

The Empire of Masks begins its conquest of Baru Cormorant's home of Taranoke in a manner in which they are entirely proficient.  The Mask begins softly with trade and a change of currency, the offer of better roads, sanitation, and medical practices, and then proceeds to demand that the population accedes to the Mask's economic, political, social, sexual, and moral attitudes. Through boarding schools, the Mask educates a new generation in their own image.

The force is not evident initially; it evolves gradually, but the velvet glove comes off when necessary in particularly brutal ways.   

The Traitor is about the economics of power and the power of economics.  It is about control, war strategy, and the price of rebellion.  

It is also about a woman who decides the only way to fight back, to escape the control--is to gain power by insinuating herself in the highest position possible and to destroy the system from within.  Just as the Mask has done to its conquered territories.

As a fantasy, The Traitor Baru Cormorant is excellent--great world-building, intriguing characters, and plenty of suspense, corruption, action, and betrayal.

But it is something more.  It calls upon us to examine ourselves, our personal views of the world, and the politics of our own nations, both past and present.  It takes so many of the issues faced today and turns them into fiction, but makes us contemplate contemporary problems at the same time.

The books is beautifully written and powerful.  My thanks to Althea Ann, who first engaged my interest in this book.

Purchased.

Fantasy?  2015.  Print version:  400 pages.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Louise Penny and David Lagercrantz Reviews

Last week my library visit yielded two books that I'd been waiting for.  :)

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny was, of course, excellent!  I love the Three Pines series and can't get enough of the characters.  

The death of a nine-year-old boy who had a penchant for telling fantastic lies sets the plot in motion.  When the death is about to be written off as an accident, Armand Gamache insists on a closer look.

As usual, Penny writes beautifully and weaves her plot with consummate skill.

Her description of grief just floored me:  

"Clara knew that grief took its toll. It was paid at every birthday, every holiday, each Christmas.  It was paid when glimpsing the familiar handwriting, or a hat, or a balled-up sock.  Or hearing a creak that could have been, should have been, a footstep.  Grief took its toll each morning, each evening, every noon hour as those who were left behind struggled forward."

I was surprised when I finished to discover that there was one of the most fantastic elements of the plot was based on reality.  Gerald Bull was a Canadian scientist and arms designer, and it was believed that he was building his missile launcher for Saddam Hussein.  Really--the truth is often stranger than fiction, and Gerald Bull is proof.

Library copy.

Mystery.  2015.  376 pages.

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz.  Like everyone else who read the first three books in Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, I was apprehensive.

I read all three in 2009 and 2010 and was fascinated by them, but I read a lot and so that was a plenitude of books ago.  This distance allowed me to be a little more open to any changes in style and focus.  

So... while many fans of the series have not been pleased with this new entry, I thought it was very good.  If I'd read it soon after my initial experiences with the series, I may have made too many comparisons and been disappointed.

However, with hundreds of books between my reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the last of Larsson's original series, and beginning this new one, I found adapting to Lagercrantz' Spider Web much easier.  And I liked it!

"It was true that nobody in Hacker Republic could claim the moral high ground here.....But they were not without ethics and above all they knew, also from their own experience, how power corrupts, especially power without control.  None of them liked the thought that the worst, most unscrupulous hacking was no longer carried out by solitary rebels or outlaws, but by state behemoths who wanted to control their population" (59).  The emphasis is mine, but that sentence highlights something we are all concerned about.

Library copy.

Suspense/Thriller.  2015.  400 pages.