Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Massacre of Mankind

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
Crown/Archetype: 8/22/17
eBook review copy; 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9781524760120

The Massacre of Mankind: Sequel to The War of the Worlds by Stephen Baxter is a recommended estate-authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.

Set in the early 1920s, it has been thirteen years since the Martians invaded England. When it is announced that the Martians have launched another, much larger invasion, humans are sure we can defeat them again, with the exception of one man, Walter Jenkins (the unnamed narrator of Wells' book). Jenkins is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, and understood their defeat so they will be prepared this time. Referring to the first book, Walter is often called out as a liar and an unreliable witness by those characters who appeared in the first book. A journalist, Julie Elphinstone, the former sister-in-law of Jenkins, reports most of the action in the narrative to the reader as she tells the story of the second invasion. She witnesses the first wave of Martians landing outside of London. The world is watching for the subsequent invasive Martian forces to land around the world.

The good news is that Martians are still terrifying. The first Martian invasion changed history, thus in this alternate history universe, Britain is a fascist state, Germany rules much of Europe, and the Titanic never sank. You will recognize historical figures but now in different contexts. While this is an interesting take on a second invasion, it has a slow start and I'll admit that keeping my undivided attention during the whole novel was a challenge. It felt overly long, perhaps it was the writing style, but I also didn't connect to any of the characters. We know right from the start that this account is Elphinstone's memoir so we know the outcome of the war, which removes some of the sense of urgency and tension. She is also not an entirely sympathetic narrator. 

Finally, Baxter's choice to write in the style of H.G. Wells, no offense to Wells,  didn't quite work for me in this case. The descriptions are complex and noteworthy, but I guess I wanted a more action-packed terror-filled novel. Parts of it met this description, but the totality of The Massacre of Mankind missed the mark as a sequel to the classic science fiction novel. It is certainly good, but not great. Hard core fans of The War of the Worlds will likely want to read this, but it will not quite live up to the original.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crown/Archetype.

The Other Girl

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler
 St. Martin's Press: 8/22/17
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250083654

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler is a recommended police procedural.

Officer Miranda Rader of the Harmony, Louisiana PD is called in to investigate the brutal murder of popular English professor Richard Stark, son of the powerful university president in this small town. The murder has every indication that it was one of great anger and planning. While Miranda is now a successful, respected police officer, she has a past. When a newspaper clipping from her past is found at the scene along with her fingerprints, it seems that someone is trying to set Miranda up, but why?

The clipping is from 2002 when she was a teen. At that time she was known as Randi, and she was from the wrong side of the tracks. After an assault that was never confirmed and an arrest for possession, she spends some time in juvie. This was the impetus that propelled Miranda to turn the direction of her life around. Now someone is trying to set her up. But the case is more complicated than that because Miranda realizes that the victim was also a sexual predator and has likely been abusing woman for years.  To complicate matters even more, now is the time her partner, Jake, decides to confess his love for her. 

The Other Girl starts off strong with Randi's misguided actions in 2002 and the present day brutal murder of a man who has a hidden past. Chapters continue to jump between the past and present to explain the connection. The novel, however, soon veers off course and becomes a mash-up of subplots. If you want a little romance with your police procedural and don't care about surprising evidence being uncovered or a shocking conclusion, this is a well-written book. Yes, it relies heavily on several tried and true plot devices and stereotypes, but it flows smoothly and is a quick read. Spindler brings it all to a conclusion. 

There were problems that made me feel The Other Girl is just an average mystery. The fingerprints at the scene, the chief questioning her integrity, the chief's cowering before the university president, combined with her personal life, the sudden romance, the estranged family, etc. (there are more issues) all resulted in the feeling that generic subplots were all mashed together in this one novel. This culminated in more than a few eye-rolls. The whole romance portion could have (and should have) been left out. The idea that Miranda is a smart, intuitive investigator never makes sense because she's not approaching everything in an intelligent manner.

Spindler has written better novels, so, for me, this is a good airplane book. It'll help pass the time.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Everything We Lost

Everything We Lost by Valerie Geary
HarperCollins: 8/22/17
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062566423

Everything We Lost by Valerie Geary is a very highly recommended psychological thriller/coming-of-age family drama.

On December 5, 1999, sixteen-year-old Nolan Durant left his home in Bishop, California, with a backpack and several hundred dollars in cash. He never returned. Ten years later Lucy, his now twenty-four-year-old younger sister, has been kicked out of her father's house. This, along with an article her mother wrote, becomes the impetus she needs to set off back to Bishop where she will try to reconcile with her estranged mother, get answers, and confront her missing memories of Nolan and that night.

Although she and Nolan were close as children, as a fourteen-year-old Lucy became progressively distant and hostile toward Nolan. Nolan was increasingly becoming more and more fixated with UFOs.  He recorded his obsession in his casebook, a composition book where he noted his UFO sightings, strange happenings, and supporting information about the events. As Nolan's paranoid delusions increased, so did Lucy's distance from him.

Chapters alternate between the voices of Lucy today and Nolan in 1999. In the present day, Lucy returns to Bishop, reflecting on the past while trying to recover her missing memories and figure out what really happened to Nolan. In 1999 Nolan is the narrator. His chapters open with a section from his casebook notes and then tell his story from his point-of-view. It becomes steadily obvious that Nolan is suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness.

The writing is excellent. I was totally immersed in the story and anxiously read to find out what would happen next in the present as well as 1999. Both Lucy and Nolan are well-developed, believable characters. Present day Lucy is stuck in a rut and needs to find some kind of closure in order to move on with her life. Geary has accurately captured the cruelties of peer pressure, being an outcast, and trying to fit into high school cliques with Lucy and being an outsider and increasingly different with Nolan. Their totally inadequate ineffectual parents are equally well-developed. The way the three handle the uncertainty of Nolan's fate is an insightful look into their personalities.

I was captivated by Everything We Lost and anxious to read what happened next in both timelines. (I am actually surprised that more ratings aren't glowing about this fine novel. I can concede that the ending might disappoint some readers but I thought it was well done. I'll be anxiously awaiting Geary's next novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Last Lost Girl

The Last Lost Girl by Maria Hoey
Poolbeg Crimson Press Ltd: 7/11/17
digital reading copy; 448 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781781998311

The Last Lost Girl by Maria Hoey is a highly recommended family drama and mystery set in Ireland during two time periods.

In the summer of 1976 Jacqueline Brennan's fifteen-year-old sister, Lilly, disappeared. Of the Brennan girls, Lilly is the beautiful older sister, Gayle is the middle sister, and eleven-year-old Jacqueline is the youngest. During 1976, Lilly is chaffing under her father's rules and is secretly seeing a boy who works at the carnival. Much like any younger child, Jacqueline secretly watches her older sister, trying to capture clues about what she is doing, thinking, and planning.

Jumping thirty seven year later, now Jacqueline is returning to her childhood home in Blackberry Lane to visit her father for several weeks. Gayle is usually the one who regularly visits him and takes care of him, especially during the anniversary of Lilly's disappearance, but she has other pressing needs with her own family so it falls to Jacqueline to stay with him. While in her old home events happen that lead her to search for the truth about what happened to Lilly. Jacqueline has always believed that Lilly ran away and may still be alive somewhere today. The police never found a body and there were no arrests. After finding an old postcard at her father's house, she sets off to see if it holds a clue to Lilly's whereabouts.

The Last Lost Girl is a well written family drama with a narrative that jumps back and forth between the two time periods and what was happening in the Brennan family, including the increasingly rebellious behavior of Lilly.  While the question of the mystery is captivating, it also drags out a bit when Jacqueline takes off for England in hopes of clues or information about what happened to Lilly. This section is more a time of self-discovery for Jacqueline more than any in-depth fact-gathering mission.

While the character of Jacqueline and the fifteen-year-old Lilly are well developed, neither are particularly sympathetic characters. Young Jacqueline is portrayed as a typical younger sister snooping on her older sister, who resents her and her snooping. Sibling rivalry, and secrets, abound, as does some favoritism by the parents. Jacqueline does grow as a person, which is a plus.

The ending provides closure for the mystery, but I found it to be too abrupt and a little unbelievable. The Last Lost Girl is really more about Jacqueline growing as a person than a thrilling mystery. What happened to Lilly is supposedly the big question, but Jacqueline's sudden search almost seems too contrived. As a single, independent woman she could have searched for her sister long before this and, after asking a few questions, would have visited the same place in England without the discovery of the postcard. Read this one for the great writing, and the self-discovery rather than the mystery.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author via Library Thing.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Boy

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Crown/Archetype: 5/16/17
advanced readers copy; 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553447637
Hogarth Shakespeare Series

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier is a highly recommended retelling of Othello for the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

Chevalier sets her tragic story based on Shakespeare's Othello in an elementary school located in the Washington D.C. suburbs during the 1970s. With only a month of school left, sixth grader Osei Kokote is yet again the new boy in school, a position he has found himself in repeatedly as the son of a Ghanaian diplomat. Osei is also used to being one of the few students of color in school, so he knows he must find an ally.  He is lucky that the teacher told popular student Dee to help him. He is even luckier that he and Dee hit it off immediately.

As adolescent mercurial romances and allegiances ebb and flow quickly, the connection between the new boy and Dee is noticed by everyone, including teachers. There is one student, Ian, who can't stand to see the black boy and the white girl together and he decides to destroy their friendship. Ian is already a known bully. How far will he go to destroy Osei and Dee?

This is a very well written and great addition to the Hogarth Shakespeare series. The action all takes place here in the course of one day, which is rather quick. Additionally, of course, if you know Othello, you know basically what is going to happen. This does take some of the surprise out of the retelling, which has been the case in some of the other books in the Hogarth series. Chevalier sets her book in five parts which portray the five acts in the play, and she does incorporate Shakespeare's plot into her novel.

Actually this is more successful when taken on its own as a novel and not as a retelling of Othello. Since Chevalier uses adolescents as her characters, their emotions, allegiances, and angst are front and center. This works well when New Boy is considered as a novel about racism in suburban schools in the 1970's, but, in my opinion, it doesn't work quite as well for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. So, I liked it very much as a novel, but a little less as a Shakespearean tragedy for the Hogarth series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crown/Archetype.

I Know a Secret

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen
Random House: 8/15/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345543882
Rizzoli and Isles Series #12

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen is the very highly recommended twelfth installment of the Rizzoli and Isles crime series.

Boston PD detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are investigating homicides that are linked by more than just the investigative team. Indie horror filmmaker Cassandra Coyle is found murdered with her eyeballs cut out and put in her hands. When Timothy McDougal is found dead with three arrows in his chest, Isles and her priest friend realize that the two murders have been done to resemble pictures of the death of saints. Specifically these two murders have been staged to depict Lucy, patron saint of the blind, and Sebastian, patron saint of archers. They soon discover that what ties the two victims together is that twenty years ago they were children at a local day care center during an infamous child abuse case. Now the two must find out who the killer is, as well as who might be the next victim.

While investigating these cases and others that may be tied together, the two women are also facing some struggles in their personal lives. Even while Maura's biological mother, the infamous serial killer Amalthea Lank, is dying from cancer, she still finds a way to get into Maura's psyche with a comment that may apply to her current cases. Rizzoli is watching her own mother's unhappiness grow while her spirit is being crushed from staying in a loveless marriage.

This is an intense, extremely well written mystery that will hold your rapt attention from beginning to end. Those unfamiliar with Rizzoli and Isles will easily be able to enjoy this suspenseful novel even if it is their first book in the series. Although the two character are well established at this point, Gerritsen provides enough character background along that way for anyone to easily slide right into this novel and enjoy Rizzoli and Isles for the first time. Expect some twists and surprises. This is one you won't want to put down once you start it.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

The Luster of Lost Things

The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735210783

The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller is a very highly recommended whimsical story teeming with feel-good emotions, lyrical writing, and a dash of magical realism.

Walter Lavender Jr. is a twelve-year-old boy who lives with his mother, Lucy, above their bakery, The Lavenders. Walter's ability to find things has been developed because he has been silenced by his motor speech disorder. Because he found it impossible to talk, he observed the world around him. "My whole life, my mouth had been shut and my eyes wide open, and the deeper and darker my silence became, the more I began to sense outside of it - traces of light, shifts in matter, changing undercurrents. As I grew older and it became clear to me that Lucy didn’t perceive what I perceived, it was already just another part of me, and there was nothing so incredible about that. The things I noticed were small and fleeting, easy to miss - scratches or flourishes in reality, clues that pointed the way to the larger truths buried beneath the surface, like the molten ripple along the base of a vase of lilies in danger of tipping over or, when it came to people, the disappointed hiss of something doused before it could be said."

Walter lost his father, an airline pilot, whose plane went missing three days before he was born. While Walter observations of the world have helped him become a master of finding lost things, he is ultimately hoping to find his lost father. Lucy has told him stories about his father and the connection between them and the book that is proudly displayed in the shop. The book brings magic to their bakery, a bakery where the deserts come alive. You can see vol-au-vent mice jump double dutch with licorice ropes and marzipan dragons breathe fire. Walter's life is happy and safe in his limited world - until someone steals the book, causing the bakery to lose its magic. Walter, along with Milton, his golden retriever, must find the missing book and bring the magic back to the bakery.

Walter's search is an archetypal story of a hero on a quest. While seeking the missing book, Walter must leave the safety of his home, go on a long adventure, face adversity, overcome challenges, and return home changed from his journey. As Walter seeks what he has lost, he learns lessons from those he meets. Along with his quest, it also becomes a coming-of-age story for Walter, who makes friends outside of his sheltered home life. This allegorical narrative not only deals with things lost and found, but also deals with our capacity for kindness and how our acts of kindness can ultimately change the lives around us, as well as our own life.

The writing is poetic and expressive, capturing descriptions, emotions, and even humor with grace and beauty. The characters in The Luster of Lost Things are all well-developed. Their descriptions make them all come alive on the page. While I can concede that having twelve-year-old Walter seek out and meet so many strangers on his quest was a bit far-fetched, I must also equally acknowledge that passing many trials is often the case with a hero on a quest. In any event, I liked this story and Walter. I liked Walter's written comments in his notebook along with his observations of the world. The world can always use a good hero story with a touch of magic realism and Sophie Chen Keller has given us just that.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.