Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Speaking from Among the Bones

Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
Random House, 1/29/2013
Hardcover, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385344036
Flavia de Luce Series #5

Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sisters’ diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s never such thing as an open-and-shut case.

My Thoughts:
Flavia de Luce is back in Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley. It is set in the early 1950s in Bishop's Lacey, England, where Flavia resides with her father and two older sisters. In this outing it is the 500th anniversary of the death of St. Tancred whose remains are buried in the church's cemetery. When the tomb is to be opened, Flavia makes sure she is on the scene to be one of the first to see the body. To everyone's horror, the body in the tomb, observed first by Flavia, is that of the presumed missing but actually murdered church organist, Mr. Collicutt. In this cozy British mystery eleven-year-old Flavia, precocious Chemist and investigator, follows all leads, while riding her bicycle, Gladys.
After reading the first Flavia de Luce book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I'll have to admit that by the end of the book, I found Flavia annoying. That was not the case in this 5th book. I'm glad I gave Flavia another chance because I actually enjoyed her much more this time around. I do think that Bradley is giving us a more mature Flavia. While she has always been competent, she's now relating better to those around her and her reactions seem to also be more sophisticated.  It was refreshing to see this maturity and growth emerge in her character. 
Speaking from Among the Bones is fast-paced and is extremely well written mystery. I found this fifth novel in the series very enjoyable and would very highly recommend it.
Since I have read the first book and now the fifth in the series, I can say with some degree of certainty that you do not have to read all the books in order, however, as with any series, reading the books in order may provide additional background that can be missed when jumping into the middle of the series.

The five books in Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce Series are: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, and Speaking from Among the Bones. There are five more novels to be published and apparently several made-for-television movies are in the works.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition of the advanced reading copy was courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.

Excerpt: first chapter

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Cartel

The Cartel by A. K. Alexander
CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2012
Hardcover, 494 pages
ISBN-13: 9781466219403 
What began as an innocent love affair for one young woman, Marta Peña, in Costa Careyes, Mexico in 1969, sets in motion a series of events that spans the next thirty years. This is the story of South American drug lords Antonio Espinoza and Javier Rodriguez, and their violent quest for power. In a sweeping family saga, we meet the women who love them and the children they vow to protect at any cost. With a complex web of interconnected families, this gritty novel delves into the lives of a power hungry clan, following the rise of their business, the destructive path of their torrid and erotic love affairs, and the struggle to balance intense greed with devout family loyalty. Strong women face tragedies that test their will and their commitment to the men they passionately desire. As young girls grow into women, their traumatic pasts will drive their actions and force them to make gut-wrenching decisions. With murder, drug trafficking, dirty politics, illegal gambling, prostitution, obsessive love affairs, and family strife, The Cartel is a whirlwind in the vein of Mario Puzo's The Godfather.
My Thoughts:
The Cartel by A. K. Alexander follows the lives of Antonio Espinoza and Javier Rodriguez, South American drug lords, and their families. The novel covers their lust for power and women, and the brutal lengths they will go to in order to succeed in business and life. This is a melodrama in narrative form - and like any soap opera has multiple characters with connections to even more characters and all of them are entangled in various dramas.
I thought I would enjoy The Cartel, especially since it was compared to The Godfather and described as a "sweeping family saga." It is a sweeping family saga, but the key to a successful novel in this genre is having the readers yearn to discover what happens to the characters they love or hate as they become more and more invested in the story. For me, at least, The Cartel fell short in that area. I just didn't care what happened to any of the characters, which made following their power struggles and family dramas even less appealing. And, quite frankly, I wanted to tell some of the "strong" women to snap out of it. Perhaps this wasn't a good combination of action and romance for me; I like action novels, but avoid romance.
On the plus side, there was a lot of action and some twists that were unexpected.
A. K. Alexander also writes mysteries under the name Michele Scott.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Book of Why

The Book of Why by Nicholas Montemarano
Little, Brown & Company, 1/8/2013
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316188470
A novel that asks if love ever really has to die
The power to solve your problems is within you-with the right sense of belief, the mind's ability to create success, happiness, and health is limitless.
At least that's the philosophy of self-help author Eric Newborn, whose books and lectures have spawned a legion of devoted followers who swear that his ideas have pulled their lives from the brink. But after the traumatic loss of his wife, Eric is left to face the darker side of his own teachings, living as a recluse in the home they shared on Martha's Vineyard, struggling to reconcile his worldview with the pain he has suffered. It's a fundamental question that haunts him: why?
When a fan with questions forces Eric to face the world once again, he's put on a path that might lead him towards the closure he seeks, but in astounding ways he could never begin to dream.
At once a stirring portrait of a soul laid bare by grief and a celebration of coincidence and the magic of real connection, The Book of Why explores the deep powers of the heart and mind to shape the world around us, blurring the lines between loss and love, fate and free will, and despair and joy.

My Thoughts:

In The Book of Why by Nicholas Montemarano protagonist Eric Newborn is a best selling author of self-help books. The only problem is that he no longer believes in the answers he presupposed to others - that positive thinking will prevent bad things from occurring in your life. He knows that despite his previous claims, he doesn't have an answer to why bad things happen to good people. Eric has escaped his life and fame by hiding out on Martha's Vineyard with his dog, Ralph, when Sam, a woman who is searching for him, ends up at his door, injured. Eric tries to keep his identity a secret as long as possible, but she eventually discovers his identity.
Interspersed at the beginning of sections in The Book of Why are excerpts of Eric's lectures and/or his books, so you can get a feeling for his philosophy of "positive thinking can cure everything" He believes that if people just believe they can create their own reality. The narrative actually follows several different timelines, jumping from present day to Eric's childhood to the time he spent with his wife. His childhood sections help to reveal the birth of his philosophy. The sections with his wife show his beliefs tested and challenged. The sections in the present reveal his current disillusionment. 
I was conflicted on this novel. If I didn't commit to reviewing it, I might have stopped at 50 pages, however, at about half way through the novel it began to mesh together for me and at that point I was engrossed in Eric's story. I found myself less annoyed with Eric's naive beliefs and his casting aspersion on other beliefs or blaming people for their suffering. Then, at the end of the novel, I was back to not enjoying the novel as much, but in this case it was due to a choice Montemarano made in his writing, rather than the plot, that was off-putting for me.
Montemarano is a very good writer. The Book of Why is beautifully written, with almost poetic-dream like passages, but it is also a very dark, depressing novel.There are many questions raised but few answers given. Certainly if you have ever wondered if there really are coincidences, if everything happens for a reason, and if can miracles happen, you will want to discover what Eric concludes... and you might be disappointed in the ending. 
Eric tells us: "I didn’t know, then, that it would be my final book. Before this one, I mean. Though I don’t consider this a book as much as a letter: to the woman in the yellow dress, to Cary, to Gloria Foster. I didn’t know, then, that I would ever need to write another book; that I would write The Book of Why, after all, though not as an answer but rather as an unanswerable question. I didn’t know, when I thought I knew it all, that I would join the chorus of askers. (Location 1727-1730)"
Highly Recommended - but read it with a positive frame of mind
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Little, Brown & Company and Netgalley for review purposes.


This is a self-help book. Didn’t think it was, but it is. It’s also a revision, a question, a confession, an apology, a love letter. This book is for you, of course, and now for Gloria Foster, who might read this when she’s older, might chance upon this book online or in a used book store in Philadelphia or New York or San Francisco, open to a random page, and see her own name. She might be struck by that and sit where she had been standing in an aisle and begin reading. Location 11-15

She’ll be twenty-seven by then, a woman.Location 26-27 

Celebrate Life Conference, Phoenix Convention Center, 1996
HELLO AND WELCOME. Thank you all for coming. You are here for a reason. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself why. What would you like to accomplish today? What would you like to change about your life? Maybe you’re drowning in debt. Maybe you’re stuck in a stressful, unrewarding job. Maybe you’ve chosen a career you know isn’t your true calling. Maybe your marriage is falling apart. Maybe you’re estranged from your children or your parents. Maybe you’re battling an addiction or a serious illness. Maybe you’re happy but want to be happier. If any of these are true, you’ve come to the right place. No need to move for the next two hours; the only shift will take place inside you. Location 28-35

Write this down and underline it: Happiness is an inside job. Let me say that again: Happiness is an inside job. Happiness doesn’t depend on what anyone else is doing. It doesn’t depend on circumstances. If only this would happen, I’d be happy. If only that would happen, I’d be happy. No more excuses. Happiness is an inside job. Your mind is the ultimate gift-giver. You need to understand: we live in an abundant universe. The universe is listening to your every thought. You are always broadcasting a signal to the universe, and this signal—this wave of energy—will always return to you. Every request is granted. There are no accidents in this universe, only laws, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.  Location 38-44

She sips her tea. “I was just thinking,” she says. “The man I’m looking for—maybe you know him.”
“I doubt it.”
“He disappeared five years ago.”
“So he’s missing.”
“No,” she says. She leaves the washcloth on the table, walks across the room. She squats in front of my bookcase. “Hey, look at this!” She holds up the book so I can see. “This is him. I’m telling you—this is a sign.”
“What does he look like?”
“Not sure,” she says. “None of his books has an author photo.”
“I haven’t opened that book in years,” I say. Location 161-166

“When I was a kid, I used to cry at happily-ever-after. Because, you know, they lived happily ever after, they weren’t living happily ever after.”
“You were greatly upset by grammatical contradictions.”
“They lived happily—fine. I can accept that. But as soon as you use the past tense lived, you can’t say ever after.” Location 234-237

I don’t remember which magazine I put them in, so I take the entire rack. I spread the magazines on my bed and flip through them until I find the checks—five or six royalty checks with my name and address on them. I haven’t needed to cash or deposit them. Location 285-287

Years later a fellow self-help author got at that. He told me, “On every page of your books there are two things battling for space—faith and doubt. Your faith, as it comes through in your words, must be stronger than your reader’s doubt. Your faith must be stronger than your own doubt. Just as long as you never forget that doubt is faith’s friend, the very thing that makes faith stronger.” Location 426-428

Another rule was, Don’t be afraid. Another was, Whatever you’re afraid of will find you. Location 790-791

Please, listen to me: Don’t allow the weight of the past to pull you down. Don’t allow your past to define your future. It’s time to retell your story beginning with your next thought. Location 985-986

Monday, January 21, 2013

Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past by Lauren Carr
Acorn Book Services, 1/10/2013
Paperback, 260 pages
ISBN-13: 9780985726775
4th in Mac Faraday series
In this fourth mystery on Deep Creek Lake; Mac Faraday finds himself up to his eyeballs with mobsters and federal agents.
After an attempted hit ends badly with two of his men dead, mobster Tommy Cruze arrives in Spencer, Maryland, to personally supervise the execution of the witness responsible for putting him behind bars—Archie Monday!
Mac Faraday believes he has his work cut out for him in protecting his lady love from one of the most dangerous leaders in organized crime; but when bodies start dropping in his lakeshore resort town, things may be hotter than even he can handle.
My Thoughts:
In Blast from the Past by Lauren Carr, character Archie Monday's past connection to the mob is catching up to her in Spencer, Maryland, which is located on Deep Creek Lake. Her testimony helped convict Tommy Cruze, head of a major East Coast crime syndicate. She is a participant in the FBI’s Witness Protection Program. Now Tommy is out and he's after Archie - thus the title: Blast from the Past. Mac, Gnarly (Mac’s German shepherd), David O’Callaghan (Spencer police chief), and Randi Finnegan (U.S. Marshal) are all scrambling to protect Archie and figure out why the body count appears to be rising and who, exactly, is putting out the hit orders on all these people?
It is a fast paced, humorous mystery that will appeal to anyone who enjoys a light hearted mystery and dogs. I appreciated that Carr includes a complete cast of characters at the beginning of her novel. Carr's Mac Faraday Mysteries include: It's Murder, My Son; Old Loves Die Hard; and Shades of Murder. Blast from the Past is the fourth book in the Mac Faraday mystery series.
While I've mentioned the previous three books in the series, this was my first  Mac Faraday mystery and I didn't have any problem following the action. If you like following a series from the beginning you might want to check out the first three books, though, because I'm sure there are things I missed because I didn't have the complete back story. 
Blast from the Past is a well developed story full of intrigue that moves at a brisk pace. The characters are interesting, the villains varied, and the action is as quick as the humor. I have a feeling any of Lauren Carr's mysteries would be pleasurable distractions, as well as entertaining. (I got a big laugh out of the high-priced assassins named Hillerman and McCrumb.)
very highly recommended
When she saw the butt of the gun come out from behind his back, Archie, her eyes on the target in her side rearview mirror, fired three shots from her pink handgun, engraved with The Pink Lady across the muzzle, over her left shoulder. The first shot took out the rear driver’s side window before ripping through the gun man’s neck. The other two went through his head before he hit the ground. In one movement, Archie threw her right arm around to fire out the rear window at the partner who only managed to get one shot before she hit him in the lower neck. Her second shot went through his head. The world seemed to stop. Location 336-342

“Lucky thing I know every officer in the Spencer police department,” Archie told David as he knelt to examine the two dead men lying in the road. “When I saw two of them riding together, especially since I didn’t recognize them, I knew that they were in your stolen cruiser and something was up.”
“Or rather going down.” The police chief wiped the sweat dripping from his blond hair down the back of his neck. Location 355-358
“A couple of high-priced assassins—just got a match from their prints in the AFIS.” He pointed his computer tablet to the dead driver. “Benny Hillerman—suspected killer in thirteen hits.” He then pointed at the dead partner. “Frank McCrumb—suspected of seven murders. Those are only the deaths the feds believe they know about.” Location 375-378

"This witness had to give up everything—even quit school—to go into the federal witness protection program—but it was what she had to do to stop Tommy Cruze.”
Mac stared down at her. Her eyes were emerald pools of tears. “That was you.”
Wordlessly, she nodded her head. Location 416-419

“I said to get in the car. We’re relocating you. Now!”
The federal marshal lowered her cell phone from her ear. “We don’t have time to talk about this. Cruze is out. He knows where you are. You’re in danger. We don’t even have time to pack—” Location 505-508

David drew in a deep breath. “Count of three.”
“Who’s counting?”
“I’m counting.”
“Why do you get to count?”
“Are you serious?” David asked. “We’re pinned down by a maniac wanting to kill us, and you’re going to argue with me about who gets to count to three? If it’s that important to you, you count.”
“Well,” she said, “if you’re going to be that way, you count.”
“No, you count.”
“I can be just as big of a man as you are.”
David’s chuckle held a naughty tone. “I don’t think so.” A shot from inside the window broke off a branch of the tree, and it landed next to them. “Let’s both count,” he said. “Good idea.”
“To three.” They counted in unison. Location 763-775

“No, Mac. I’ve heard it before, but now I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Bullies are chickens. They cover up their cowardice with bravado like a child in a mask on Halloween. Their bullying covers up how scared they really are. Maybe they can even forget it themselves.” She shook her finger, her nail dipped in rose-colored polish. “I called him on it.” Location 888-890

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Acorn Book Services and Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Kingdom of Rarities

The Kingdom of Rarities by Eric Dinerstein
Island Press, 1/17/2013
Hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781610911955 
In The Kingdom of Rarities, scientist Eric Dinerstein poses an intriguing question: What if the way we categorized the living world was reshuffled for a moment, from a system designed to inform us about evolutionary relationships among species to one with two camps based on abundance: the Kingdom of Common species and the Kingdom of Rarities? What new observations and connections would emerge?

The Kingdom of Rarities explores that idea, building a narrative around the concept of rarity and its implications both for our understanding of how the natural world works, and for what it can teach us about protecting biodiversity during a time of large-scale environmental change.
Dinerstein highlights cutting-edge science from remote outposts around the world, focusing on some of the key questions that scientists are asking themselves right now:
What are the rarest species?
Why are rare species most likely to be found in certain types of environments?
Which species have always been rare, and which have only recently been made rare?
Which species or places are most in need of saving?
As well as a scientific journey, The Kingdom of Rarities is also an adventure story—to meet the rare species that are central to this tale, the reader travels with the author to exotic locations including remote New Guinea, Hawaii, the heart of the Amazon, and the foothills of the Himalayas.
Throughout, Dinerstein explores rarity as a central principle within conservation biology. Looking through this lens not only advances our understanding of the natural world but also inspires the creation of new tools and technologies that can help us both add to our knowledge base and design more effective conservation strategies. He focuses on real-time threats to biodiversity, from climate change to habitat fragmentation, and draws on his long and distinguished scientific career to illuminate the concept of rarity for readers across the spectrum of scientific knowledge.

My Thoughts:
In The Kingdom of Rarities, Eric Dinerstein explores rare species and asks some interesting questions, including: Why are so many species rare? Have they always been rare, and, if not, what causes or environmental changes have contributed to rarity? What be done to save rare species? Dinerstein asks “Why, wherever you land, do you always find a few superabundant species and a multitude of rare ones?”  While rare species are found everywhere, we really know very little about why this is the case. Are all these rare species are on the brink of extinction or have there always been rare species?
Dinerstein says, "To understand rarity in nature, whether as an artist or a biologist, one of the best places to look is in the tropical belt. The Amazon and Congo basins, Southeast Asia including Sumatra (Indonesia), and New Guinea are the four largest expanses of rain forest; along with some smaller regions, they hold more than 60 percent of the world’s known species—crammed into less than 5 percent of Earth’s surface." 
"The island of New Guinea is especially interesting to biologists because so many of its species are found nowhere else." This is especially true of the Foja Mountains in the heart of Papua Province. The Kingdom of Rarities covers Dinerstein's travels, as well as the travels of others, across the world, considering various rare species.
Some of the rarities Dinerstein explores include Birds of paradise, the golden fronted bowerbird, the orange faced honey-eater, the Juan Fernández firecrown hummingbird on an island called Más a Tierra, (Robinson Crusoe Island), Kirtland’s warbler, rhinoceroses, including the greater one-horned rhino, and, in South America, jaguars and pumas, the giant anteater, giant armadillo, and maned wolf.

Factors discussed that influence rarity are extreme habitat specialization, an isolated population (especially if this isolation is geographic), and a changing environment due to outside factors introduced, such as agriculture. “Wholesale conversion of land [to agriculture] not only threatens to make no small number of common species rare through human activity, it also threatens the very existence of what is now rare.”
Eric Dinerstein is Chief Scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, where he has spent the past 24 years working to save rare species globally. Certainly this gives him the insight and experience to consider the question of rarities across the world. Dinerstein does a superb job discussing the questions in a manner that will capture the attention of a lay person as well as a professional. He includes illustrations, maps, annotated bibliography, and index. The Kingdom of Rarities is a fascinating, entertaining, thought provoking book.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My advanced reading copy Kindle edition was courtesy of  Island Press and Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Drowning House

The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group,1/15/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385535861

A gripping suspense story about a woman who returns to Galveston, Texas after a personal tragedy and is irresistibly drawn into the insular world she’s struggled to leave.

Photographer Clare Porterfield's once-happy marriage is coming apart, unraveling under the strain of a family tragedy. When she receives an invitation to direct an exhibition in her hometown of Galveston, Texas, she jumps at the chance to escape her grief and reconnect with the island she hasn't seen for ten years. There Clare will have the time and space to search for answers about her troubled past and her family's complicated relationship with the wealthy and influential Carraday family.
Soon she finds herself drawn into a century-old mystery involving Stella Carraday. Local legend has it that Stella drowned in her family's house during the Great Hurricane of 1900, hanged by her long hair from the drawing room chandelier. Could Stella have been saved? What is the true nature of Clare's family's involvement? The questions grow like the wildflower vines that climb up the walls and fences of the island. And the closer Clare gets to the answers, the darker and more disturbing the truth becomes.
Steeped in the rich local history of Galveston, The Drowning House portrays two families, inextricably linked by tragedy and time.

My Thoughts:

In Elizabeth Black's debut novel, The Drowning House,  photographer Clare Porterfield's life is in turmoil. Her six-year-old daughter has died. She is immersed in inescapable grief and her marriage is drowning under the weight of her sorrows. She accepts an invitation to return to her hometown of Galveston, Texas, in order to select the material for a photography exhibition funded by the wealthy Will Carraday.
Clare has been gone from the island for many years and, along with others, is questioning her real reasons for returning. In fact, Clare has had a long time relationship with the Carraday family. She had left the island after a tragedy involving her and her friend, Patrick Carraday. He was sent away and they were kept apart.
Galveston has a past seeped in tragedy and that feeling imbibes the novel. Part of the novel explores the mystery surrounding Stella Carraday’s drowning during the hurricane that devastated Galveston on September 8-9, 1900.
Clare may be in Galveston to look at photographs, but what she really seeks are answers to decades old questions, some of which she didn't even know she needed to ask. She has some questions about her past and her family that need to be answered. As she tries to come to terms with her new life, memories start to come to light in a new way.
While the writing in The Drowning House is superb, I'm going to admit that I knew, without a lot of effort, the big secret(s) the novel was going to reveal very early on. If Black had allowed that the reader would have that foreknowledge, leaving us to feel oh-so-slightly-smug at our deductive prowess, and then did a little flip with the plot, I would be applauding her for the extremely well-written novel with the clever plot twist.
Black has written a sensitive, atmospheric, southern gothic mystery. While readers might know as quickly as I did the secrets that are going to be revealed, Black has done an amazing job developing her characters, as well as life in Galveston in this finely crafted novel.
Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for review purposes.


Instead I said, “I’ll drive.” Saying it made it seem like something I could do.
“You’re going to drive to Texas from D.C.? By yourself?” Now I had his full attention. “You haven’t driven anywhere in months.”
I had tried. I’d gone out to the garage, keys in hand. I’d seen through the window Bailey’s blue parka lying on the backseat, one arm flung out in a gesture so vividly like her that for a moment I could almost believe she was alive. Then the truth washed over me. Bright spots swam up from the concrete floor and my legs began to shake. I went back into the house. (Location 140-145)

 “If it will make you happy.”
I didn’t tell him that happiness had always seemed to me to descend suddenly, when you least expected it, like a sun shower. That often it wasn’t until much later you could look back and say, then, on that ordinary morning, with a car full of six-year-olds squirming and kicking, as the station wagon flashed through the dappled light of the tree-lined streets, then I was truly happy. (Location 148-152)

If I had been asked, I would have said that I’d lost my daughter a year ago—two months and three days after her sixth birthday. I lost Bailey. That was the way I thought of it, and the thought was both hopeful and damning. Lost suggested that she might someday be found, as if she had wandered into the next aisle at the grocery store or been forgotten by the car pool, that she might reappear, absently twirling a damp strand of hair around one finger. Still, anyone listening carefully would understand that it was an admission of guilt. I lost her. I also lost the person I was then, the person I was becoming. Lost her completely. (Location 165-170)

Jules, my agent, would have said more positive things. That I was a young photographer whose star had risen suddenly. That I had been invited to Galveston to choose material for an exhibition. To write the introduction to the exhibition catalogue. And it was true. In my camera bag I had the letter confirming everything. (Location 174-176
Natives call Galveston “the Island,” as if there were no other. Those who are BOI, born on the Island, take pride in the fact. My name is Clare Porterfield, but the house I grew up in is known as the Hayes-Giraud house, for the families who lived in it a hundred years ago. (Location 219-221)
“That’s right. They can’t send me away.”
Eleanor sighed. “Clare, we’ve talked about this. Your leaving the Island was something we agreed on together, both families. It was a serious situation. The girl died.”
“That wasn’t our fault!” (Location 323-326)
“Michael is fine.” To my surprise, it was true. I knew Michael had suffered. I’d seen him, shoulders hunched, sobbing in the shower. But he had completed his task, delivered his burden to wherever it is old sorrows go. While I had barely started. I was beginning to think that grieving the loss of my child would be my real life’s work. Michael’s ease—one of the traits I’d loved and married him for—was now the principal thing dividing us. (Location 364-367)
Growing up, I believed I was deficient in a way that I couldn’t identify precisely and that this explained my failure to fit in with my family. It was something inside, not visible, a matter of character or outlook, I thought. And for that reason, hard to come to terms with. But here was a man whose defect was plain to see, and it didn’t bother him at all. I stared as he matter-of-factly measured out the bait shrimp, made change, his sleeve rolled comfortably above the elbow. I hoped that if I studied him long enough, I might learn his secret. (Location 1026-1030)

I wondered if what they really meant was that now people remembered things differently. That was the way in Galveston. Real events were absorbed into the Island’s narrative and in time became something else. So that life there could go on. (Location 1307-1309) 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Dead Friend Sarah

My Dead Friend Sarah by Peter Rosch
CreateSpace, 2012
Paperback, 228 pages
ISBN-13: 9781475198232

Mere months into recovery, Max, an alcoholic with twisted control issues, meets Sarah — the same woman that for years he's habitually dreamt will die after a botched abduction. "Doing the next right thing," a popular AA phrase he's picked up in the rooms, means befriending Sarah long enough to warn her and hope she takes him seriously. But when Sarah falls in love with Max, his newly sober thinking drives him to choose his overly devoted wife, and he abandons Sarah — even when it condemns her to death. When Sarah goes missing, the NYPD suspects Max's dream may have been a pre-crime confession. The truth, all of it, lurks inside of Max, but only by drinking again does he recapture the nerve and clarity vital to free his wife, sponsor, and himself from a life imprisoned by lies.

My Thoughts:

My Dead Friend Sarah by Peter Rosch is really about Max, a recovering alcoholic who is having repeated dreams about a woman being kidnapped and dying. He discovers the woman accidentally on the streets of NYC and begins clandestinely following/stalking her, sure that his dreams are a premonition of the future. He finds out her name is Sarah and ends up striking up a relationship with her, only to break it off in favor of his wife, Rachel. This doesn't stop Max from still following her, thinking he is protecting her. The novel opens up with Max reporting his reoccurring dream to the police.
The beginning chapters of this mystery alternate between Max and Sarah. Max has an addictive personality and may be an unreliable narrator. He is an alcoholic, struggling with recovery in AA, keeping contact with his sponsor, Sam, and striving to tell the truth. Sarah, who keeps herself distant from other people, is a suicidal events planner who has been going to therapy for years. Both of these flawed characters like to think that they can control the actions of others.
The story itself is compelling and a quick read. The inside information about AA becomes an integral part of the story. It also becomes clear that while Max has a goal of always telling the truth, he may be struggling with that as much as he is with maintaining sobriety.
There are a few flaws. While the chapters alternate between Max and Sarah at the beginning, if you aren't paying attention, you might miss this since they are written in exactly the same manner. It might have been nice to have more differentiation between their voices. There were a few grammatical errors which I could easily overlook since I considered them part of a conversational style of writing, but they might really bother some readers.
highly recommended

“So, I don’t suppose you just want to tell me you did it, where and how—I mean you can leave out the why part. Save that for the twisted boob tube talking head who stands to gain financially off of your killing Sarah. Me? I just want to get out of here in time to go pick up my kid. I’m asking a lot of you to just admit it, confess, so I can go about living a normal life today.”
It was a compelling request from a man of physically diminutive stature, that sank in slowly, slower than all the new words he threw at me after taking a sip of his coffee. Location 9-13; opening 
“Fine Max. You know, we get a lot of crazies come through these doors, more than our share. And I want to believe that a guy doesn’t visit the police to outline what he is going to do to his victim months before doing it, just to get caught after the fact.” He paused as if to make way for the much bigger point he thought he had coming. “But you knew, and I think know, more than anyone about what has happened to Sarah, and claimed to have known it weeks before it ever happened.” Location 27-30
Ask my wife what she fears the most, and I’m pretty sure she’ll tell you something along the lines of this: to not be able to reason with someone or something. If she doesn’t know you well, she will probably just say zombies. But at the root of that zombie fear is the idea something could exist that there is no reasoning with. In other words, there is no talking a zombie out of eating you. Or she might say: to not be believed or trusted by the people you love even when you are telling the absolute truth. The latter fear is relatable to the first certainly, and closer to my own heart. I’ve always wanted to be believed, ironically even as I knew myself to be a liar. And as fears go it seemed pretty on point at that moment.
To know that your reality is just that, and have others dismiss it as fabrication or fairy tale no matter how hard you try to demonstrate or explain it, weighs heavy on a soul. Over time if you start believing what you know to be true is the lie everyone else paints it to be, the real madness begins. Location 49-56

My name is Max, and I’m not a writer by trade so forgive me for not putting the entirety of our situation more eloquently: I’ve prayed I’m mistaken, but at some point in the next few months Sarah will be abducted and shortly thereafter, dead. And I’m done trying to stop it. Location 83-84

This morning can’t be the last I see of Sarah. And I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not—Sarah will die after a botched abduction attempt later this year. I feel this to be certain. But as of this morning, as I stated, I will no longer be doing anything to try and stop it. Location 131-133
I would say anyone who only thinks they know me, for the last two years of my life anyway, might say, “Sarah has got it all figured out.” During that time I’ve tried to keep my own ugly business a private affair.
My perfect little life: good job, my own apartment, friends, and a social existence—albeit a mandatory one.
I’ve spoken openly about killing myself to certain people most of my life. Various doctors, therapists, and my father have all heard that plan beyond once or twice. Basically I told anyone who I thought might truly listen, or maybe believe it, except Max. Hysterical really, as Max might have been the only person who would have actually listened, but I never mentioned suicide to him. And I don’t think he has ever suspected nor seen the darkness inside me, and maybe that’s because when I’m around him it’s never been easier to put aside. Location 144-151

This would be the only time, sans alcohol to boot, I would intentionally make the first move in the ritual of making a new friend. And so wandering around behind a woman I had previously only met in a dream, while trying to construct a fool-proof plan to make her my friend, in an effort to save her from dying sometime in the future, seemed just shy of normal behavior. I didn’t mention it to my sponsor though, and since it was a secret, I knew it wasn’t normal. Location 280-284
And when she finally, maybe, just possibly came around to starting to appreciate me, her words from the many years before rang too loudly to ignore and betrayed her. “Letting someone in, truly into your world, seems a beautiful thing until they use that gift for something ugly, you’ll see.” Location 327-329 |

She glanced down at my wedding ring. I had taken it off and stuffed it in my pocket every other time I’d followed her on the off chance we’d finally connect. Location 486-487

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood

The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood by Philip Lee Williams
Christian Leaders & Scholars Press, 4/15/2011
Hardcover, 411 pages
ISBN-13: 9780979310225

The author was completing his twenty-year systematic investigation of the archaeological evidence of a worldwide Flood when Hong Kong explorers announced their 2010 discovery on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. Pottery found in what appears the remains of Noah’s Ark relate to a ceramic assemblage that archaeologists see originating on the plains of Ararat and from which the author traces a second worldwide dispersion of mankind. Using forensic analysis, Williams had previously identified what are now understood as ancient religious burials as in fact resulting from a worldwide Flood, radiocarbon dated to about 2400BC. Should his findings withstand the intense scrutiny invited by the author, it will rewrite the history of the ancient world. Accordingly, the advancing edge of belief and learning must return to the biblical foundations that the West has rejected since the Enlightenment.
My Thoughts:
In The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood author Philip Lee Williams states:
"Previous searches for a worldwide Flood have mainly concerned geological phenomena. In this book you will find a straightforward and systematic search for the biblical Flood in the archaeological remains of ancient man. Notwithstanding the general presumption that archaeological searches for the Flood using the biblical chronology of ancient man have proven fruitless, in twenty years of extensive study I have been unable to discover such searches. The Bible has indeed been studied in the light of archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern texts, but archaeology and the ancient texts are rarely studied in the light of the Bible.  (Location 138-142)"
The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood is really more a scholarly treatise on the author's search for proof of the historical truth behind what the Bible says. It proposes that it is better to look at ancient history with a correct Biblical understanding of antediluvian archaeology and a proper consideration of the scientific method. In other words, it establishes the scholarly foundation and background to consider approaching the material in a new manner.

Williams writes:
"In Part I, I explain how the teachings of modern science conflict with the biblical account of the origins of man and the difficult challenge that poses to a faith that is based upon historical truth.
In Part II, I point out how historical thinking is rooted in the Bible but how influential Christian theologians have shifted from teaching the historical revelation of the Scriptures to philosophical theology. As I explain, the God of the philosophers is not the God of the Bible.
In Part III, I show how Reformed theology gradually developed into the Deist view that challenged the literal words of Scripture. This section also shows how the modern understanding of history cut its biblical roots. Non-specialists may be shocked to learn how the framework for the modern versions of ancient history developed out of the deep racism of the Enlightenment. They may also be surprised to discover just how much the modern historical criticism of the Bible stems from the particular needs of German nationalism.
In Part IV, I review the most influential interpretations of the biblical Flood. I also explain the method of searching for the Flood that I determined to follow.
Part V covers what I discovered using this approach.
Part VI examines some of the implications of what I have found for related scientific and scholarly fields.
Part VII discusses the relevance this holds for our present world. (Location 143-154)"
Now, to be completely honest any actual discussion of discovering Noah's Ark is only at the end of the book, in the epilogue. Williams writes: "Though I had not intended to cover archaeological searches for Noah’s Ark, as I completed this book I became aware of an exciting new discovery on Mt. Ararat, which I describe in the Epilogue.  (Location 156)"
Although I am sure that Williams did not intend this to be the case, the fact that any discussion of discovering Noah's Ark was relegated to the epilogue was a bit disappointing to me as it made the title of the book feel deceptive.
Setting aside my personal feelings, the actual content of the book was interesting and certainly worth considering if you are interested in reading about someone's personal exploration of his faith and the soul searching he went through to align his faith with a scientific approach and explanation of various Biblical events, like Noah's flood, as well as archeological findings from sites around the world. The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood  also includes: Table of Contents; List of photographs, illustrations, and credits; Glossary; Topical Bibliography.
Recommended - know that this is not light reading.


Thursday, January 10, 2013


Flesh by Khanh Ha
Black Heron Press, 2012
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780930773885
The setting is Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. A boy, Tai, witnesses the beheading of his father, a notorious bandit, and sets out to recover his head and then to find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities. On this quest, Tai's entire world will shift. FLESH takes the reader into dark and delightful places in the human condition, places where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy may bring you the most comfort. In that emotionally harrowing world, Tai must learn to deal with new responsibilities in his life while at the same time acknowledge his bond, and his resemblance, to a man he barely knew-his father. Through this story of revenge is woven a another story, one of love, but love purchased with the blood of murders Tai commits. A coming-of-age story, but also a love story, the sensuality of the author's writing style belies the sometimes brutal world he depicts.

My Thoughts:
Flesh by Khanh Ha opens up with a much older Tai reflecting on a tumultuous time in his life when he was a teenager. At age 16, Tai, along with his mother and younger brother, witnessed the beheading of his father, a known bandit. After a terrible bout with smallpox, from which his younger brother dies, Tai sets out on a mission to retrieve his father's skull so it can be buried with his body, as well as uncover and seek revenge on the man who betrayed his father. He becomes an indentured servant to one man, is entangled in the opium trade, and then his contract is sold to another rich man in exchange for a favored burial site for his father and brother. Tai ends up rescuing, falling in love, and even killing to protect Xiaoli, another indentured servant who works in an opium den in Hanoi.
Throughout the novel Tai is always concerned about his mother and he burial site for his father and brother's bodies. It is clear that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is large; life is harsh and the average citizen is struggling to survive in what ever way they can. At the same time, Tai is experiencing gaps in his cultural and linguistic knowledge between the Annam and the Chinese.
Flesh is a dark, atmospheric historical fiction novel that captures life in Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. Ha skillfully uses descriptive prose, in some instances it is almost poetic,and many of his descriptions evoke a sensory-filled reaction - sometimes ominous. The settings he describes can be filled with a sensual richness or evoke a sense of foreboding. And, while Flesh is about family loyalties and the daily struggles of people, it is also a violent novel, sometimes seemingly casually so, which could be disturbing to some readers.

In some cases the prose could have been tightened up and the actual storyline made a bit more concise. There is a fine line between artistic expression and expressionism in writing. Also, sometimes it felt like there was a sharp contrast between Ha's rich prose and the character's dialogue. While the action in the novel was always engaging, I did lose track of the point of the plot in some areas, which made me think it could have been made more clear with just a few minor additions (and subtractions) in the writing.
All in all, Flesh is highly recommended and I'll be looking forward to what author Khanh Ha publishes next. I think he is definitely a writer to watch.
Quotes:      First Chapter
Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years, he began writing short stories which won several awards in Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University (Athens, Ohio) with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Flesh is his first novel. He is at work on another novel.


Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for review purposes.   

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Tragedy Paper

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
Random House Children's Books, 1/8/2013
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780375870408

     Tim Macbeth is a 17-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is, "Enter here to be and find a friend." Tim does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. Despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential "it" girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving's most popular boy. To Tim's surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, and she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa enter into a clandestine relationship, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving's version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school's least forgiving teacher. 
     The story unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the tragic, love-struck figure, and Duncan, a current senior, who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa's story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving's history.

 My Thoughts:

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan is the story of the senior year of albino Tim Macbeth at the Irving School, as told through CDs to Duncan Meade. While it is now Duncan's senior year at the prestigious boarding school, Tim left the CD's as a legacy of sorts to him as the new resident of the small corner room Tim was relegated to the year before. Since all the seniors are assigned a tragedy paper as a senior year thesis, Tim promises that the CDs will not only tell the story of the tragedy that occurred the year before, but that the story will help Duncan write his tragedy paper. The CD's explain Tim's connection to the popular girl, Vanessa, and slowly build until the final tragedy is fully explained.

The Tragedy Paper is a YA novel and is listed as suitable for age 12 and up. It certainly would be a suitable novel for the YA audience. There is no questionable language and the rule breaking present is very innocent. The pacing of the story is gradual and deliberate, allowing anticipation of the upcoming tragedy to build. LaBan handled the plot and character development with skill. These characters felt like actual young people going through a confusing time in their lives, while unbeknownst to then a  tangible tragedy is about to unfold.

Certainly a novel about a tragedy, and a tragedy paper that must be written, will include many parallels to the literary influences found in other novels and plays. There was abundant foreshadowing and premonitions that something was going to happen.  Works mentioned or credited with influencing The Tragedy Paper include: S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and That Was Then, This is Now, The Sorrows of Young WertherThe Dead Poet’s Society, Thirteen Reasons Why, Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (based on King Lear) and, naturally, Shakespearean plays (with a Macbeth and a Duncan, need I even mention this.)

I will very highly recommend The Tragedy Paper as a YA novel worth an adult's time too.
Elizabeth LaBan worked at NBC News, taught at a community college, and has written for several magazines and newspapers. The Tragedy Paper is her first young adult novel. She lives in Philadelphia with her family. 

Disclosure: My Advanced Reading Copy Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House Children's Books and Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hunting Marfa Lights

Hunting Marfa Lights by James Bunnell
Lacey Publishing Company, 12/1/2009
Paperback, 320
ISBN-13: 9780970924940

Hunting Marfa Lights reports the results of an eight-year investigation (2001-2009) into mysterious lights seen near Marfa, a small West Texas town. This is, to date, the only long-term, extensive study of these phenomena. Reports of unusual lights east of Marfa extend back to the 1800s. Based on data collected, the author finds that while most of the observed lights in this area can be explained, about 3 percent are truly mysterious and of unknown origin. In addition to frequent on-site observations and photography, the author installed three automated monitoring stations equipped with a total of nine cameras, to collect nightly video records. Included in this 311-page book are 34 firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses and more than 120 illustrations and photographs. Of particular interest are compelling stories told by people, including the author, who have encountered these mysterious lights and have been astonished and amazed by the experience.

My Thoughts:

Hunting Marfa Lights by James Bunnell explores explanations for the mysterious lights that can be seen at night near Marfa, TX, "a high-desert basin surrounded by beautiful mountains and mesas." Bunnell writes:
"Mysterious lights are reported in many locations worldwide, but one of the best known of these sites is near the small West Texas town of Marfa. In fact, the Marfa Lights are so well known that the State of Texas has created a roadside park for travelers who wish to stop by and take a look. Marfa is slowly gaining worldwide recognition as the home of mischievous nocturnal lights that shine, pulse, dance, and do amazing things to delight lucky observers. These nocturnal happenings are observed mostly east of town in a region known as Mitchell Flat. The question is, of course, are Marfa Lights real and mysterious, or simply folklore hyped by locals to attract tourist dollars? (Location 113-117)" 
 "Marfa Mystery Lights (MLs) usually fly above desert vegetation but below background mesas, with altitudes varying anywhere from 400 feet to as low as 2 or 3 feet above ground level. There are exceptions. One type of mystery light flies high in the night sky entirely above local horizons. (Location 156-157)"
"Light colors are usually yellow-orange but other hues, including green, blue and red are also seen. Red is the most frequent alternative color. I have not witnessed a mystery light that was red from start to finish, but other people have. Marfa Lights are typically yellow-orange or orange for most of their lifetimes and will, on occasion, convert suddenly and completely into brilliant red. (Location 150-153)"

This phenomena was even noted by Native Americans and there are recorded stories from the 1800's, but no serious investigation was ever mounted until Bunnell undertook an eight year exploration utilizing several different monitoring stations and cameras to try to capture the allusive, mysterious lights. Because this is a scientific study of the lights, rather than a collection of fantastic stories, Bunnell approached his study in a methodical manner, recording everything he did and keeping thorough data, notes, photos, and charts of the various lights he or others saw.
Bunnell concludes that most of the lights can be explained, but not all of them:
"Based on my investigation of Marfa Lights phenomena, I believe that in most instances, mysterious lights seen from the Marfa Lights View Park do have explainable sources. Some are indeed motor vehicle lights. Others come from many explainable light sources, as discussed in Part II of this book. After eight years of investigation, I am equally convinced that there are also mysterious lights that are the real foundation behind all of the fuss over Marfa Lights. They are indeed rare, but real and most unusual. Stories of people who have experienced these marvelous displays speak volumes. Readers will find a generous sample of these stories in Appendix A. Part I of this book contains photographs and descriptions of mystery light behaviors, and chronicles my evolving investigation into these complex phenomena and growing knowledge about them. (Location 123-128)"

Some of the lights are contributed include:
chemical combustion; various car, ranch, and train lights; sprites; plasma jets; and nocturnal mirages from various explained light sources.
Hunting Marfa Lights includes illustrations of equipment used, photos of lights and other things observed (the plasma jet photo was really cool),  34 stories in the first of 3 appendices - the other two cover data and equipment- a bibliography, glossary, a list of abbreviations and acronyms, and an index.
Bunnell wrote, "As mysterious and intriguing as Marfa Lights may be, I am convinced that they are natural events well deserving of scientific study and attention. It has been my pleasure and privilege to investigate these elusive phenomena over the last few years. This book is the story of that investigation. (Location 167-169)"
Highly Recommended - especially if you are planning to go view the Marfa lights someday or if you are simply interested in unexplained phenomena

Author James Bunnell grew up in Marfa, a small town in West Texas. He retired from BAE Systems as director of Mission Solutions for Air Force programs, and was a member of the launch team for all manned Apollo launches (from 1968 to 1973) and earned an Apollo Achievement Award for support of the Apollo 11 launch. He has written two other books: Seeing Marfa Lights and Night Orbs.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Great North Road

Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton
Random House, 1/1/2013
Hardcover, 976 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345526663


New York Times bestselling author Peter F. Hamilton’s riveting new thriller combines the nail-biting suspense of a serial-killer investigation with clear-eyed scientific and social extrapolation to create a future that seems not merely plausible but inevitable.

A century from now, thanks to a technology allowing instantaneous travel across light-years, humanity has solved its energy shortages, cleaned up the environment, and created far-flung colony worlds. The keys to this empire belong to the powerful North family—composed of successive generations of clones. Yet these clones are not identical. For one thing, genetic errors have crept in with each generation. For another, the original three clone “brothers” have gone their separate ways, and the branches of the family are now friendly rivals more than allies.

Or maybe not so friendly. At least that’s what the murder of a North clone in the English city of Newcastle suggests to Detective Sidney Hurst. Sid is a solid investigator who’d like nothing better than to hand off this hot potato of a case. The way he figures it, whether he solves the crime or not, he’ll make enough enemies to ruin his career.

Yet Sid’s case is about to take an unexpected turn: because the circumstances of the murder bear an uncanny resemblance to a killing that took place years ago on the planet St. Libra, where a North clone and his entire household were slaughtered in cold blood. The convicted slayer, Angela Tramelo, has always claimed her innocence. And now it seems she may have been right. Because only the St. Libra killer could have committed the Newcastle crime.

Problem is, Angela also claims that the murderer was an alien monster.

Now Sid must navigate through a Byzantine minefield of competing interests within the police department and the world’s political and economic elite . . . all the while hunting down a brutal killer poised to strike again. And on St. Libra, Angela, newly released from prison, joins a mission to hunt down the elusive alien, only to learn that the line between hunter and hunted is a thin one.

My Thoughts:

Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton begins as a murder mystery set in the future and soon becomes much more. It is 2143 and a member of the very wealthy and very cloned North family turns up dead in the river at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in northeast England. Police detective Sidney Hurst is on the case with a crew of help from the police as well as other very powerful people. It is apparent that the murder may be related to another murder in the North family from twenty years ago on the planet St. Libra. The only witness/survivor/convicted murderer from that mass murder was Angela Tramelo, who has been in prison since then. Angela always claimed that she was innocent - and that an alien monster was responsible for the horrific crime. Now it seems that she may have been telling the truth and the real murderer is an alien monster that is still on the loose, but now in Newcastle. Angela is released in order to join a mission to hunt down the monster.
That synopsis doesn't quite do Great North Road  justice, but this is one huge space opera combined with an intense murder mystery and alien-contact thriller. All the plots and sub-plots are neatly tied together in the end. The world building itself is exemplary, with plentiful details and descriptions. The main characters are very nicely developed both in personality and backgrounds. Once you get caught up in the story you might begin to forget exactly how long it is (especially if you are reading it on an e-reader. I began to wonder early on what was up when it seemed my Kindle was on 20% forever... then I looked up the actually length of the novel.
At nearly 1000 pages, there are places where Great North Road could have been edited; perhaps some of the details of the investigation could have been tightened up. It becomes apparent that, thankfully due to the length, that there were sections of the novel that I could read quickly in order to get back to some more exciting action. Since it is so long, you might have to throw out the 50 page rule if the opening murder investigation doesn't capture your attention. Try to read quickly along and get to when Angela is introduced. That's when the story really takes off. Not to say that I didn't enjoy the rest of it, but I can see where a reader might begin to wonder where the investigation is going. Don't worry - it goes places. If you enjoy murder mysteries and science fiction then you likely will not have a problem getting absorbed into the details of the narrative

Very Highly Recommended - but know that it will require a time investment
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.


Sunday January 13, 2143
As midnight approached, the wild neon colors of the borealis storm came shimmering through the soft snow falling gently across Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It was as if nature were partying along with the rest of the city, providing a jade-and-carmine light show far more elegant than any of the fireworks that had been bursting sporadically above the rooftops since Friday. Detective Third Grade Sidney Hurst watched batches of late-night revelers staggering along the frozen pavement, calling out greetings or challenges depending on how toxed up they were. Location 310-315 
Temperature didn’t affect the ring of smartcells around his iris that shone minuscule laser pulses down his optic nerves, overlaying the street with sharp display graphics, correlating what he looked at with coordinate locations for the visual log he was running. As per protocol, Sid’s bodymesh—the interconnective network produced by all his smartcells—quested a link with Ian, making sure they remained in contact. Ian was represented by a small purple icon at the corner of his sight. The bodymesh also downloaded the visual log through the car’s cell and into the police network. Location 364-369
The man’s frozen-white body was naked. Which wasn’t the bad thing. The nasty and unusual deep wound just above his heart wasn’t the career-killer, either. No, the one thing that jumped out at Sid was the victim’s identity. He was a North. That meant there would have to be a trial. One that ended with an utterly solid—beyond legal and media doubt—conviction. Fast. Once upon a time—131 years ago to be precise—there were three brothers. They were triplets. Born to separate mothers. Perfect clones of their incredibly wealthy father, Kane North. He named them Augustine, Bartram, and Constantine. Location 544-549 

“More than ripped, actually. Looks like they extracted the smartcells, too.”
“Aye, man. That’ll be a pro hit, then,” Ian said.
“Yeah. Turn his hands over please,” he asked the divers with their rubber gloves. The skin on the tip of every white frozen finger was missing. Somebody was trying to make identification difficult, which might make sense for a normal crime victim, but a North …? “Okay,” Sid said abruptly. “Get the examiner down here to clear and retrieve the body. I’m now officially reclassifying this case as a one-oh-one. All records to be backed up and forwarded to my case file.” Location 583-588
“A body has been found in the river. There’s a nasty puncture wound on the chest. I suspect smartcell extraction, too.”
“I see.”
 “Sir, our preliminary identification is a North.”
This time the silence really stretched out as grains of snow kissed Sid’s nose and cheeks. “Repeat please.”
“It’s a North clone, sir. We’re at the Millennium Bridge. The examiner’s clearing the body to be brought ashore now. In addition, I have four agency constables with me on scene, two divers and Captain Foy on the boat. The two civilians who found the body are having their statements taken.”
“I want a lockdown on the area right away. Everyone on scene is to be taken up to Market Street station immediately. No external communication, understood?” Location 611-619
“The HDA is taking over for one simple reason,” Elston said. “The murder method, or to be precise the instrument used to shred the victim’s heart.”
“But … we don’t even know what the hell it is yet,” Sid protested.
“That’s exactly what makes this so special. You see, the murder method has actually been employed once before.” Location 1598-1601

The recording started to play. Angela was struggling against the hold the guards had her in, shouting furiously. The camera zoomed in on her beautiful face as it contorted with rage. “No!” she shrieked. “No no no, I didn’t kill anybody. Why won’t you listen, you stupid f*cks. Listen to me! The alien did it. The monster. Do you understand? It ripped them apart. I swear it—” The image froze again, catching Angela’s mouth open, spittle flying.
“She repeats that same claim for five minutes while she’s dragged out,” Vance said. “In fact, she never stopped claiming it.”
An alien monster?” Ian asked quietly.
“That’s what she said. That was her entire defense. Location 1745-1752

He didn’t like the amount of hostility and skepticism building in the office. The team had arrived expecting to be shat on by a grubby little political appointee, courtesy of the Norths; not be totally screwed by a paranoid spook who believed they were facing an alien Armageddon. Location 1808-1810
In fact she was starting to feel angry that they were here, angry that in this day and age old men still coveted and exploited young girls as they always had, that there hadn’t been any social progress since Roman times, how actually opening up new worlds had been a backward step because so much was now beyond the reach of true civilization and accountability. And as they always did, the Norths took the whole scene with girls to its extreme, because they could, because excess defined them, because unaccountability was their god. Location 5697-5701

The Lord’s universe was a lot bigger than the human soul was comfortable with. Music started playing. Location 7792-7793