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.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Great Quake

The Great Quake by Henry Fountain
Crown/Archetype: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101904060

The Great Quake by Henry Fountain is a highly recommended account of the Alaskan earthquake of 1964, especially for those who enjoy  historical background and personal information about those affected by the quake and tsunamis.

"At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake - the second most powerful in world history - struck the young state of Alaska. The violent shaking, followed by massive tsunamis, devastated the southern half of the state and killed more than 130 people.  A day later, George Plafker, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, arrived to investigate.  His fascinating scientific detective work in the months that followed helped confirm the then-controversial theory of plate tectonics."

Fountain approaches the story of the Alaskan earthquake from a human-interest angle, discussing the people, their way of life, and the history of Alaska more than the actual quake itself and the exciting scientific enlightenment that resulted from studying the quake. He offers details about some of the citizens of the small village of Chenega and the little town of Valdez, both of which were devastated, changed, and altered by the quake and resulting tsunamis. While there is scientific information about the quake and tsunamis, Plafker observations that resulted in changing the way we look at geology and the theory of plate tectonics is condensed into just a couple chapters. Those who appreciate the science might desire more, but most readers will concede that Fountain chose an interesting and basically successful way to approach the topic,

It is a well written account of a historic natural disaster that is both factual and accessible. Fountain succeeds in showing what happened, who it happened to, why we should care about what happened, and the results of the scientific fieldwork and analysis. The book opens with a map of the area and the final version will have notes and suggestions for further reading, additional sources, and an index. (I would hope that the final version includes photos, but I have no information about this. There are photos available online that are worth looking up after you have read this book.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Binary System

Binary System by Eric Brown
Solaris: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781781085516

Binary System by Eric Brown is a recommended science fiction novel with a YA vibe.

Delia Kemp manages to survive the explosion of the starship she was on by getting into an escape pod on the advice from her Imp, a computer implant in her brain. With only her Imp for advice and company she makes her way to the world of Valinda where the winters are nine years long following one year of a scorching hot summer. Fortunately for her, it is nearing the end of winter and soon the year of summer will begin. She finds herself crash landing when her pod is hit by some laser or weapon.  She is stranded on the ice-world and taken hostage by the Skelt, a cruel race of giant mantis/insect beings who move at incredible fast speeds. After her Imp deciphers the language of the Skelt, she discovers that they are relative newcomers to the planet too. Their race arrived thousands of years ago and they have enslaved and dominated the other two sentient races on the planet while the Skelt have digressed into a more primitive society.

The blue chimpanzee-like aliens are the Fahrans. Their people are captured and made to work for the Skelt. The giant crab/spider-like aliens are called the Vo. The Skelt use them as beasts of burden and often sacrifice them. Delia makes an ally of a Fahran, Mahn, who helps her escape from the Skelt. They later save and befriend a Vo. The three travel together trying to avoid the Skelt, heading for what looks like another downed escape pod that will hopefully contain other survivors from her starship. 

This is mainly a story of Delia's extraordinary escapes and recaptures, as aided by her Imp, which has some neato, quite coincidental features tailor made for her to communicate with, survive and outwit an alien race while befriending other races and trying to make her way to the valley of Mahkanda.

Now, I'm recommending Binary System because there are plenty of readers who will enjoy the escapism and won't care one iota about any of the things that annoyed me. The ending makes up for much of the slow start and a reader can chose to ignore many of my gripes. The writing is technically excellent, descriptive and fluid.  The characters jump from one adventure/escape to another while encountering all sorts of new, interesting settings and creatures. There are battles and celebrations. The good guys are all good and the Skelt are all bad. It is like a classic sci-fi/western plot.

However, there were many cons for me, including the plot, simplistic world building, aliens, characters, and the Imp. I almost stopped reading after several escapes, etc. when the alien Vo was giving Delia and Mahn a ride, and said in reply to her questioning their weight that they were as light as a fly on its back. Hello... this is an alien race and world and there are no flies here.  Why on earth would an alien say that? Well, actually the aliens, other than descriptions, aren't all that alien-sounding. I'm betting the Imp humanized them for us and gave them personalities we could relate to.

The Imp is the real hero here. The Imp is the one thing that keeps Delia alive. Delia is supposed to be a doctor, but in reality, mentally, she is just in the Imps way. I'm sure if the Imp could experience human emotions, it would be just as annoyed as I was over her swooning over Tim in the beginning. It must be hard to be an Imp in an adult who acts like a teen. Perhaps the whole character of Delia could have been destroyed with the starship but the imp survives. It could set a new directive, finding a way to be mobile, making its way to a planet, communicating with the inhabitants, and escaping the bad guys.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Solaris.