Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Penguin Publishing Group: 11/22/17
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399173592

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher is a highly recommended personal insight into her life as Princess Leia and her affair with Harrison Ford during the filming.

In 1977 she was just a teenager, 19, when she accepted the role of Princess Leia. She never wanted to be an actor, but had a role in Shampoo in 1975 and auditioned for the role of Princess Leia. For several reasons Carrie Fisher had kept quiet for years about her affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of the original Star Wars. With the discovery of journals she had written during that time, she finally decided that it was time to tell the story.

First she discusses the effect being Princess Leia has had on her life. Obviously in such an iconic role being forever known as Princess Leia has had a profound effect on her life, whether she wanted it to or not.  When Fisher met Ford, she was inexperienced, while Ford was an older married man. It was an affair that lasted just while they were filming Star Wars. It likely had little effect on Ford, but Fisher was young and impressionable. Only about half of the book includes the dairy entries and poems she wrote, which all clearly show how she struggled with keeping emotions out of it when as a young woman she was full of emotions, insecurities, and was extremely vulnerable.

This is not a tell-all book full of details about the affair nor is it a detailed account of filming Star Wars. It is Carrie Fisher sharing part of herself, from a time long ago, and how the events influenced her life. Fisher is a good writer, and she captures her feeling about the events honestly. She also writes candidly about autograph and photo-op events.  Since this is the last of the autobiographical books Fisher will write, it deserves at least four stars.

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

The Whispering Room

The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz
Random House Publishing Group: 11/21/17
eBook review copy; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345546807
Jane Hawk #2

The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz is the action-packed very highly recommended thriller and sequel to The Silent Corner.

From the first book in the series, we know that Jane Hawk's husband Nick killed himself, but Jane knows that it wasn't him. There is a foul plot afoot with some powerful men behind it. They are trying to eliminate a specific group of people by making it appear that they are committing suicide, while they are also taking control of other people's free will. Jane has gone rogue from the FBI, and is on the run, but she is intelligent and resourceful enough to begin uncovering bits and pieces of the group's insidious plans

In the beginning of The Whispering Room we meet Cora Gundersun. Cora has been a teacher of the year and is beloved by all who know her. By all accounts she is a wonderful, caring, gentle person. When Cora completes a plan that results in her taking her own life as well as the lives of others, Sheriff Luther Tillman knows that something is amiss. The act does not reflect the person Cora was known to be. Tillman begins his own undercover operation that leads to the widespread conspiracy that Jane is bent on uncovering and revealing.

I really enjoyed The Whispering Room. Admittedly it is not quite as good as The Silent Corner, but it is still excellent. Most second books in a series suffer a bit in comparison to the first, but I'm not holding that against The Whispering Room. I stayed up way-too-late with this one saying "just one more chapter." Now, they are short, quick chapters, but there is enough action that finding a good stopping point was challenging and resulted in many repeats of the "just one more chapter" mantra. In this case I really think that you need to read The Silent Corner before The Whispering Room. Koontz does include information on what happened in the previous book, but it would be helpful and increase your appreciation of this second novel if you read them both in order.

Jane is a wonderfully realized character. She is well developed at this point and a woman to be reckoned with, as she has the knowledge, background, and skills to manage to stay hidden while conducting her own investigation. I really like her. And Koontz knows how to deliver a story and keep the plot moving. I can hardly wait for the next book in the series. Koontz manages to combine the action of a thriller with some of the aspects of science fiction, especially nanotechnology. It is reminiscent of Michael Crichton's Prey, but Koontz is making this his own.

While Koontz has written a wildly entertaining novel here, some of the questions it raises can be directly applied to the current atmosphere in the USA today. I'm not going to wax philosophical on this, but if you should choose to go down that path, you certainly could as Koontz has made some compelling arguments about mind control, control of the few over the many, and the existence of absolute evil.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the
Random House Publishing Group via Netgalley.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
Penguin Random House: 11/21/17
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400069903

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg is a feel-good novel with life-affirming messages. This is about three people who have lost someone, are lonely, but ultimately find companionship and a family with each other.

"Arthur thinks that, above all, aging means the abandonment of criticism and the taking on of compassionate acceptance."

Arthur Moses, eighty-five, lost his beloved wife, Nola, six months ago. His days consist of caring for his roses and Gordon the cat, and taking the bus to have lunch at the cemetery with Nola. Arthur is an optimist, but he desperately misses his wife.

Quite by chance, Arthur meets Maddy, a high school student who will be turning eighteen soon. She skips lunch and classes to avoid her classmates. Often she goes to the cemetery where she sits and take pictures. Maddy's mother died shortly after she was born and her father seems to blame her for the death. Maddy craves love and acceptance. To make matters worse, her classmates relentlessly bully her. Once she and Arthur meet and form a friendship, she gives him the nickname Truluv.

Across the street from Arthur lives his neighbor Lucille. She is a retired school teacher who often calls Arthur over to sit on her porch when she sees him. More importantly, she sends delicious baked goods home with him. Lucille lost her one true love in high school and is over joyed when he reconnects with her. When circumstances cause these three people to bond together, they not only support and help each other, they form an unlikely family of sorts. 

This is a wonderfully written, charming story of how people can help each other and form their own family through their friendship, compassion, and emotional support. Set in Mason, Missouri, a small town of five thousand people, The Story of Arthur Truluv has a small-town-Fannie-Flagg feeling to it. It is a simple story, but charming. There are not any shocking surprises - it is not that kind of story. And while there are some harsh and challenging things that happen, our characters are going to get through it. We know they will because it is that kind of story. You know it will provide positive messages and have a feel-good ending. And, you know, sometimes that is what you need.

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

Future Home of the Living God

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins: 11/14/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062694058

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich is a very highly recommended novel of speculative fiction.

Cedar Hawk Songmaker is twenty-six, pregnant, and writing this book for her unborn child. Cedar is the adopted daughter of Sera and Glen Songmaker, open-minded Minneapolis liberals who have raised her to embrace her Ojibwe roots. She is also in contact for the first time with her birth mother, Mary Potts, who lives up north, on the Ojibwe reservation. She contacted Mary Potts because she wanted to understand her origins for herself and her baby. While she hasn't been paying a lot of attention to the news, apparently evolution is moving backwards. While it is moving backwards quickly for many creatures and plants, what is alarming is that women are now giving birth to infants who are from a more primitive species.

A new government is in control. Now it seems that pregnant women are being rounded up and sent to special hospitals, or prisons, so they can be watch and monitored during their pregnancy. Apparently Cedar may be one of the few women who is giving birth to what seems to be a normal baby. Cedar manages to hide for a while, but with eyes everywhere watching, it is questionable how long she can stay hidden. Cedar writes down everything that is happening to her and around her.  She records her unborn child developmental milestones, and notes about how life used to be for her baby.

This is how to set a pregnant woman in a bleak dystopian world and have her talk to her unborn child. Erdrich captures what was missing in a previously reviewed novel (The End We Start From). In that novel the protagonist also basically ignored the news and didn't have a whole lot of information about the disaster, but here Cedar shares what she knows, which helps the reader enormously.  Cedar's parents tried to get her to see the news - she was just preoccupied with her own news. I know it might seem shocking for some people, but there are many who don't watch or read the news with any regularity. I get that. I believe that if the world was ending in some way that information, real information would be lacking and not freely forthcoming from officials. But I also believe that people would get a hold of the dribs and drabs of what was happening and react accordingly.

Cedar is a well-developed character and definitely comes across as a realistic individual with her own thoughts and feelings. She is an intelligent woman, who, once she understands what is happening, she decides on a plan of action. She is portrayed as human and thus is conflicted enough to have issues with the baby's father and her adoptive mom. She struggles while trying to bond with her birth family. I appreciated that Erdrich had Cedar embrace a religion, Catholicism. She's not perfect, but she manages to adapt to every impossible situation she is faced with.

I found Future Home of the Living God to be an excellent novel. The writing is extraordinary - intelligent and captivating. The narrative is compelling, with a plot that is chilling and believable. Erdrich has several current political points that translate well into this plot, such as the misuse/abuse of political power,  governmental spying, reproductive freedom, self-determination, environmental changes, and questioning the wisdom of altering biology. I raced through this novel and stayed up too late finishing it because I simple couldn't set it down. While  Future Home of the Living God is reminiscent of and shares some basic elements with The Children of Men and The Handmaid's Tale, it is definitely its own story.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Artemis

Artemis by Andy Weir
Crown/Archetype: 11/14/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553448122

Artemis by Andy Weir is a very highly recommended noir crime novel set on the moon.

Jazz Bashara has lived in Artemis, the colony/city located on the moon for twenty-years, since she was six-years-old. Currently she is working as a low-paid porter, but where she really makes her money or "slugs" is as a smuggler. It's expensive to live on the moon, so what's a girl to do? Her job as a porter barely pays for the rent on her coffin-sized sleeping space in Conrad Down 15, which she says if it were a wine "connoisseurs would describe it as 'shitty with overtones of failure and poor life decisions.'"

When wealthy businessman Trond Landvik, who Jazz knows because she smuggles in cigars for him, offers her an impossible to refuse opportunity to earn a million slugs, how could she say no? All she needs to do is figure out how to do the job without getting caught. Jazz comes up with a clever plan which almost goes right - until it doesn't. It's only after the fact that Jazz learns that there is more going on than she realized. Now she has even more complications to handle and she'll need some friends to help her.

I loved the noir feel to the novel. Setting the novel on the moon allows Weir to add some details and dangers you wouldn't find in just any noir novel. Weir adds all sorts of little details that make the story come to life, like eating Gunk, the dangers of lunar dust, and why physics dictate that coffee tastes bad on the moon.

Jazz is an irreverent, sometimes foul-mouthed, immature, resourceful, intelligent, humorous, and independent protagonist. Certainly the entire novel is set up to expect another adventure on Artemis and hopefully with Jazz. Interspersed between chapters is some of the correspondence that Jazz has had with Kelvin Otieno. They became penpals when she was nine, and are now friends. I'm hoping she and Kelvin get to meet in person too.

I didn't approach Weir's new novel looking for another The Martian. And I'm glad I read it without any unwieldy expectations. For everyone wondering, no, it's not The Martian II, but I found it a highly entertaining and fun adventure all on its own. There is some science and creative problem solving, but living in an established colony on the moon isn't quite like being stranded alone on Mars. However, the best recommendation is that I lost track of time and stayed up way-too-late to finish reading Artemis, and I can't say that about many books. Weir knows how to write an engaging, entertaining story. I enjoyed every second of it and that is worthy of five stars every time.

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

Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories

Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers
Baen: 11/7/17
eBook review copy; 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9781481482790

Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories by Tim Powers is a highly recommended collection of twenty-one short stories, all with a supernatural element to the plot. Each of the stories is introduced by Powers with additional information about or inspiration for the story. (My review copy has 21 stories, although the description says twenty.)

Contents:
SALVAGE AND DEMOLITION:  A book collector discovers a manuscript that results in a time traveling adventure to save the world.
THE BIBLE REPAIRMAN: A psychic handyman, who is currently  semi-retired and paid to eliminate troublesome passages of the Bible, is asked to return to the work he used to do and save the kidnapped ghost of another man's daughter.
APPOINTMENT ON SUNSET:  A group of men are trying to save another man's life by making him repeat the sequence of events that led to his death in 1964, but trying to change the end results. Saving him is a side effect of what they really want to do.
THE BETTER BOY with James P. Blaylock: "A scaled-down horticultural version of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, with a tomato instead of a marlin."
PAT MOORE: A chain-mail letter promising good luck after you send it on to ten friends is more sinister than it seems.
THE WAY DOWN THE HILL: A we’d-all-be-better-off-dead story about a family of immortals who jump from one host to another.
ITINERARY: a time traveling ghost story.
A JOURNEY OF ONLY TWO PACES: A man settles an old friend's estate which requires a trip to a strange apartment building.
THE HOUR OF BABEL:  A group of men need help time-traveling to June 21,1975, the night when "God vomited on Firehouse Pizza."
WHERE THEY ARE HID:  Inspired by the Fritz Leiber novella, "You’re All Alone." A chrono-jumper has undisclosed plans.
WE TRAVERSE AFAR with James P. Blaylock: A grieving man has an encounter during the Christmas season.
THROUGH AND THROUGH: A ghost comes to a confessional and wants absolution from the priest.
NIGHT MOVES: An imaginary playmate tracks down a boy, no matter where he moves.
DISPENSATION: two men encounter kittens and a ghost.
A SOUL IN A BOTTLE: A man meets a ghost - and falls in love with her.
PARALLEL LINES: The surviving elderly sister grieves the loss of her twin, who is trying to communicate with her.
FIFTY CENTS with James P. Blaylock: A man is searching used book stores for a particular book when he encounters some supernatural trouble.
NOBODY’S HOME: A prequel for the character of Jacky Snapp from the novel The Anubis Gates.
A TIME TO CAST AWAY STONES: A story about Edward Trelawny, a real historical figure; "a liar who eventually came to believe his own melodramatic fabulations."
DOWN AND OUT IN PURGATORY: A man vows to kill the man who murdered the woman he worshiped from afar.
SUFFICIENT UNTO THE DAY: A family's Thanksgiving feast takes a dark turn as the invited ghosts of relatives past accidentally draw soul-stealing demons into the family television set.

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

The End We Start From

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
Grove Atlantic: 11/7/17
eBook review copy; 160 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802126894

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter is a recommended debut dystopian novel.

An unnamed narrator is pregnant and gives birth to her first child, a son called Z. Simultaneously an apocalyptic flood hits London and the women is forced to leave her apartment with her husband, R, a few days after giving birth. They make it to the home of R's parents in the country, but have limited supplies there. Eventually they are forced to leave for a camp for displaced persons, hoping to find safe shelter and food. R ends up taking off for a "few weeks" but is essentially gone. Our narrator makes friends with other mothers of young children, O, and evens travels with her to find another place of safety.

This is a difficult novel to review. It is a dystopian, but we never exactly know the what and why's (global warming? a natural disaster?). What we have is a new mother, marveling at her son's development and surviving the disaster. What we don't have is information about, well, much of anything of significance beyond what the narrator mentions. While the novel is almost poetic in its descriptions and phrasing, Hunter left out an important part, a definitive plot and narrative for us to follow while appreciating the well written turns of a phrase. We have a light plot - a woman has given birth to a son and a disaster of great magnitude has happened - but no great substance and details in the body of the novel.

Now, I say novel, but, at 160 pages this is close to a novella. It is a very fast read. With the lyricism in what Hunter does write, I do wonder if it was a choice to pare the novel down to the bare bones, just as the character's names are reduced to an initial. Are we supposed to extrapolate the missing details and infer what happened? However, there are cases when her descriptive prose is overwrought and not conveying just the essential information. It's a quandary.  This is Hunter's debut novel, however, so she is a writer to watch for future novels.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of
Grove Atlantic via Netgalley.