Thursday, August 31, 2017

The End of the World Running Club

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker
Sourcebooks: 9/5/17
eBook review copy: 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9781492656029

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker is a highly recommended post-apocalyptic thriller.

When an asteroid breaks apart showering meteors, destruction and doom onto Earth, Edgar Hill of Edinburgh, Scotland, must finally confront and face his responsibilities, or lack thereof, as a husband and father. Before the world ended, Edgar was an overweight, lazy, unhappy man, likely an alcoholic, who left most of the responsibilities and sacrifices of parenting young children up to his wife because, well, he was the one who worked. (Yeah, right.) When the world ends he realizes he needs to up his game, but is wholly unprepared to do so - until his wife and children are whisked away in a helicopter and he has to cross 450 miles of unknown chaos to try to reunite with them.

Edgar heads out traveling with a group of men and one soldier, a woman, from Edinburgh to Cornwall in hopes of finding his family and evacuating with them on the boats. The boats are rumored to be taking people from Cornwall and going south, to Australia, maybe, or South Africa, to safety and civilization. Along the way the group encounters violence and chaos. Edgar's endurance is tested once the group realizes that they must head south on foot and that to make it, they must run.

This is really more of an end-of-the-world novel than a running to survive novel. The running club doesn't actually start running until half way through the novel. Before you get to the running though, you see scenarios of how quickly the veneer of civilization falls away and lawlessness, chaos and bedlam take over. It's kind of standard fare for an end of the world novel, though, so it is also expected.

The End of the World Running Club is well written, with plenty of gripping action along with reprehensible scenes and despicable actions. It is an engrossing novel that will hold your attention to the end - as any good apocalyptic novel should. I really liked the novel. The problem is that I never grew to like Edgar. I felt like his family might be better off without him.

I also understand that he was written as a disagreeable character; Edgar tells us all his flaws and his feelings. He whines about his inadequacies as a man, husband, and father. He is expected to miss his family and, suddenly, he does after the world has ended and they have been taken away from him. Sometimes it's easy to say you want something or someone when they aren't there, in all their neediness, clinging, and crying. I get it, the running club is representative of Edgar's evolving and changing into the man he should have been. But... let me just say that the ending was pitch perfect for me.

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


Fever by Deon Meyer
Grove Atlantic: 9/5/17
eBook review copy; 544 pages
ISBN-13:  9780802126627

Fever by Deon Meyer is a very highly recommended post-apocalyptic thriller, survival tale, and coming-of-age story, set in South Africa.

Fever opens with Nico Martin at age forty-seven writing his memoir, beginning with "I want to tell you about my father's murder." Then the story jumps back in time to when Nico was fourteen. He and his father, Willem, are driving a truck filled with supplies, looking for a safe place to live after the population was decimated by the fever, a devastating coronavirus that wiped out 95% of the Earth’s population in just a few months. Willem and Nico make their way to the town of Vanderkloof, a town Willem knew before the epidemic, and one that he feels will be a good location to start a new society.

It is in Vanderkloof that the town of Amanzi is founded and survivors make their way to the town. Meyer introduces a wide variety of people as the town grows. There are struggles and challenges to be faced between factions within the town and from threatening biker gangs from the outside. As he discovers what he views as his father's weaknesses, Nico discovers his strengths and comes to the realization that he is going to be his father's protector. It is in this changed post-apocalyptic world that Nico recalls the beginning of his rite of passage to become the man he is destined to be, while he remembers his father, the man he loved who was murdered.

Integrated into the plot are parts of transcripts from the recorded personal stories of survivors. This historical record not only tells the detailed stories of others, it also adds to the richness of the narrative, expanding the background information of what the reader knows. These personal views from other survivors also tell about events from different perspectives.

This is an extraordinary novel with wonderfully executed characters and a compelling, intelligent plot. The characters are all well developed, fully realized with a complexity and depth that is to be admired. Meyers sets his characters into a detailed, intricate plot full of tension and formidable obstacles and opponents making this sweeping epic novel a page-turner that will keep you up way-too-late finishing. The ending was a surprise, but perfect. I didn't have a clue until it was almost over.

Additionally, Meyers did research into several areas of his novel ( a list of further reading is included) making the narrative a great combination of facts and fictional storytelling. Along with other readers, I do enjoy a well-researched novel, fiction or nonfiction. It always adds an astute depth and intricacy to the plot. 

An absolutely perfect stuck-overnight-at-the-airport book or, more accurately, a stuck-glued-to-the-pages-where-ever-you-start-reading-it book.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Assault: Cycle Two of the Harbingers Series

The Assault: Cycle Two of the Harbingers Series
by Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, Bill Myers, Alton Gansky
Baker Publishing Group: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780764219757

The Assault: Cycle Two of the Harbingers Series by Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, Bill Myers, Alton Gansky is a highly recommended second installment of the group-story.

This volume contains the second collection of four interconnected stories in the Harbingers Series that started with Invitation. This is an ongoing series created by these Christian authors with additional stories already available. In the series a team of four widely diverse people join together to use their individual skills.

The author's set up two rules for their collaboration:
Rule #1 Each author would write as one of the characters in the series: Bill Myers's character is Brenda, the street-hustling tattoo artist who sees images of the future. Frank Peretti's character is the professor, the atheist ex-priest ruled by logic. Angela Hunt's character is Andi, the professor’s brilliant but geeky assistant who sees inexplicable patterns. Alton Gansky's character is Tank, the na├»ve, big-hearted jock with a surprising connection to a healing power.
Rule #2 They would write the stories like a TV series with an overarching storyline. The series part would be their individual stories, novellas, written from their character’s point of view.

The stories in Cycle 2 of the Harbingers series continues the story of four gifted strangers brought together to fight a growing darkness. From the synopsis:
In Bill Myers's "The Revealing," the team finds themselves in Rome trying to retrieve the mystical spear Hitler once owned--the very spear that pierced Christ's side. This task will take them from hidden chambers inside the Vatican to a mysterious seaside cave with powers they could never expect.
Frank Peretti's "Infestation" unleashes a microscopic evil on the world that deceives, blinds, kills, then spreads. The Harbingers team must confront a monster bent on seducing and destroying mankind.
In "Infiltration" by Angela Hunt, the team is wounded and barely holding together. Forced to split up, they realize their investigations have led them into dangerous waters.
Alton Gansky's "The Fog" unleashes a supernatural mist unlike any other. There are vicious things in the fog that kill whatever they find. One team member realizes that the ultimate sacrifice may have to be made.

I enjoyed this second installment of the series a bit more than the first, probably due simply to knowing the characters already and what they are facing and also understanding what how the authors are collaborating on the series. Additionally, I also felt that this cycle of stories was stronger than the first, but, again, they are building on the previous stories.

As I noted before there are pros and cons to this collaboration. Since these are four individual short stories are written like a TV series with the same characters, each story stands alone while also working with the others to create a larger overwhelming story arch. This makes it easy to quickly read one story and know the next one will be a new adventure from a different character's point-of-view. This is also the potential downfall of the series. Because it is written as an ongoing series there is no concluding resolution and the character growth is limited.

In the end the real questions for readers are: Do you like episodic ongoing stories? How much time are you willing to invest in an ongoing series? I'm not even sure about my answer to these two questions. So far I do like the series and the stories. On the other hand I am also growing weary of authors making an ongoing series that lasts too long and reading books with no real conclusion. I have liked the first two, but I do wonder how many I am willing to read to reach the end. (I am positive the number is much small than it used to be due to the abuse of making an ongoing series by some authors in the past.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Baker Publishing Group

If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don't Rise by Leah Weiss
Sourcebooks: 8/22/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781492647454

If the Creek Don't Rise by Leah Weiss is a highly recommended debut novel set during the 1970's in the Appalachian community of Baines Creek, N.C.

The cast of characters tell the story from their point of view through their own chapters. Weiss have given each character their own unique voice in their chapters. Some characters are heard from once or a few times while others have multiple chapters to propel the story forward through their personal narrative.  This approach creates a powerful ensemble piece with strong character development and develops a compelling sense of place in the setting. 

Sadie Blue has been Roy Tupkin's wife for fifteen days and she knows that she has made a terrible mistake. He is a bully and his beatings are endangering their unborn child, as well as her own life. What she needs to do is listen to her Daddy's voice and find a smart way out. Her dour grandmother, Gladys Hicks, knows what Sadie is going through because she had to deal with her own abusive husband. Sadie's Aunt Marris Jones, a caring, optimistic neighbor to her grandmother, sees what is going on and wants to help Sadie.

Then Preacher Eli Perkins welcomes the new teacher to town, Kate Shaw. At 51 years old and over 6 feet tall, Kate is not at all what the community expects, but she is made of tougher stuff than they realize. She is also determined to make sure her students are fed during the time they are in school. Eli is attracted to her intellect, even though she is an agnostic, while his sister Prudence sets out to set others against Kate. Sadie likes Kate and Kate has promised to teach her to read. Birdie Rocas, a neighbor of Kate's and a local healer/diviner, watches Kate, protects her, and then befriends her. Everyone is concerned for Sadie's well-being.

If the Creek Don't Rise is a collection of many points of view where the characters are in each other's stories. While the synopsis makes it sound like it is solely Sadie's story, it really is a character driven novel. Telling the story through the viewpoints of different characters works extremely well in this novel with a southern Gothic feel to it. Even Roy gets a chapter. I will note that ultimately, Sadie gets the last word, so the arch of her story is told.

The writing is excellent and the characterizations are exceptionally well done. The sense of place is firmly established. I liked the ending too. This is certainly a novel worth reading, but for me, a well developed plot was a wee-bit lacking in If the Creek Don't Rise. Oh, there are anecdotes told and stories shared while confronting the immediate question of helping Sadie, but there were so many other stories and questions that were never resolved. For example, why give us the chapter from Prudence, and then not another word from that harpy? Or just drop the thread of  Reverend Eli's attraction to Kate? In the end I liked If the Creek Don't Rise quite a bit, but not enough to give it my highest rating.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Sourcebooks

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The History of Bees

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde
Touchstone: 8/22/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501161377

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde is a highly recommended novel spans the generations with alternating chapters from families in 1851, 2007, and 2098.

In 1851 William Savage is a biologist and seed merchant in England. After an agonizing bout of depression that left him bedridden for months, his passion for research returns. He becomes obsessed with building the perfect beehive, one that will benefit the bees and his family for generations. Mainly, William is focused on his son Edmund's education to prepare to take over his life's work.

In 2007 George is a beekeeper in Ohio whose ancestry is traced back to a long lineage of beekeepers. He still makes his hives by hand according to the dimensions passed down through the generations and recorded on old yellowed diagrams his wife Emma found in an old trunk and framed. His whole family has the detailed instructions to build their unique hives memorized.  George and Emma sacrificed and saved for years to send their son Tom to college so he could return with new ideas to keep the family business going.

In 2098, Tao is a pollinator in China. The bees have long since disappeared. She climbs the pear trees daily along with the many other workers and painstakingly hand pollinates each flower with a specially developed feather brush. Tao spends her precious free time trying to teach her three-year-old son Wei-Wen hoping that he will be chosen to be further educated. Otherwise in five years, at the age of eight, he will be done with school and sent into the fields to begin helping with the hand pollination. When Wei-Wen has an accident and is taken away to the hospital, Tao is desperate to find him.

While The History of Bees is about our dependence on bees and the devastation that would occur with their disappearance, the main theme is really the bond between parent and child - more specifically the desire of parents wanting their sons to take over their passions and the sons wanting no part of it. It is the story of the bees that ostensibly ties these three narratives together, but the stories are really about the expectations of individual families. Ultimately Tao's story will provide the thread that will truly tie the three narratives together.

I read the English translation of The History of Bees, which was originally published in Norwegian. While I'm sure the translation was very good, the voices of George and Tao almost seemed a little simplistic at times. Since this is Lunde's first book for adults, that may explain it. William is a decidedly annoying character. Certainly, however, she did an excellent job making their three different voiced separate and distinct and mixing historical fiction, present day, and future dystopian narratives into one coherent novel. 

I had two problems with The History of Bees. First, the narratives do meander off course at times, which slows the actual flow of the novel down a bit. Secondly, the distracting focus on sons taking over in all three time periods might have been alleviated with a daughter written in as one of the offspring for which the parents had expectations, or, if all main characters were fathers with expectations for their sons. In William's time period the sexism makes sense, although ultimately it is a daughter who cares about his work. Certainly both George and Tao could have had daughters without damaging the flow of the story.   (This doesn't seem to concern other reviewers, so it may just be me.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Touchstone.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Massacre of Mankind

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Everything We Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Last Lost Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Know a Secret

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

The Luster of Lost Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Emma in the Night

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker  
St. Martin's Press: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250141439

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker is a highly recommended psychological thriller/mystery.

On one night both of the Tanner sisters disappeared. At that time Emma was seventeen and Cass fifteen. Now three years have passed and Cass has returned home, without Emma, and she is sharing an incredible story of what happened and begging her family, the police, FBI, etc. to find Emma. She says that three years ago the two girls were picked up from a beach on Long Island Sound by a couple who wanted to help Emma, who was pregnant. They were both subsequently held on a mysterious island in Maine and the couple took Emma's child as their own. Cass escaped and now she wants them to find the island where she was held and find Emma.

It's a bit more complicated than this because the two girls came from a dysfunctional family. Cass calls their mother, Judy, Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Martin is a classic example of Narcissistic personality disorder. The FBI forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Abby Winter, knows about Narcissistic parents and identified Judy Martin as such three years ago when her girls were missing and she became a minor celebrity. She's back on the case with Special Agent Leo Strauss. It seems that Cass may be leaving things unsaid in her many interviews, trusting that Abby will be able to figure it all out, while making sure Mrs. Martin hears every word.

Chapters alternate between the point of view of Cass or Abby. Cass relates privately, to the reader, the story of her family, specifically her mother, and how Mrs. Martin's narcissism has poisoned her relationships and her choices have resulted in unstable parental support and put her daughters in compromising situations. Dr. Abby Winter has her own struggles and understands Narcissistic personalities, she is determined to uncover the clues and hints that she believes Cass is so carefully revealing to her.

The writing is good and Walker slowly reveals the girls background with their mother along with little clues about what may have happened. Cass's story is very compelling, especially because you know she is leaving something unsaid, that she has a plan, but you really don't have a clue what it could be. The character development is well done. Both Cass and Abby are complicated characters and Walker manages to capture this part of their personalities while exposing why they exhibit some of their traits. It all combines into a narrative that will hold your attention.

There were drawbacks. Clues were slow to come in Cass's interviews and the ending wasn't quite worth the wait for me. Additionally, parts of the narrative became too repetitious. This is almost a partial study of Narcissistic personality disorder in all of the background stories of Judy's behavior - the abuse heaped upon the girls because of her personality disorder and the men she married. Second is the girls behavior and reactions to everything. We hear almost too much of their past - what they were putting up with, doing, and fighting about - along with Cass's interviews.  Solid 3.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Girl in Snow

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
Simon & Schuster: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501144370

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka is a recommended murder mystery, highly for the right reader, that focuses on character studies of three individuals.

The body of 15-year-old Lucinda Hayes, a popular high school student, is discovered on a playground in Broomsville, a quiet Colorado town. Girl in Snow follows the investigation through three different characters: Cameron, Jade, and Russ.  Ninth-grader Cameron Whitley was obsessed with Lucinda and stalked her, often watching her house at night. He also did numerous drawings of her. Did Cameron's love for her somehow result in violence? Jade Dixon-Burns, an overweight 16-year-old with acne and an abusive mother, hated Lucinda for stealing her babysitting job and her best friend. Russ Fletcher is a local police officer who is on the case. He promised his former disgraced partner, Cameron's missing dad, that he'd look out for Cameron, but he is unsure if this is possible. Russ's ex-con brother-in-law, Ivan, is the overnight janitor at the school and also a suspect.

Chapters in the novel switch between these three narrators and the bulk of the action is set over a three day period. The murder mystery part of the novel is downplayed in favor of the careful scrutiny of the thoughts, actions, and past events in the lives of Cameron, Jade, and Russ, whether it all relates to the mystery or not. This makes for an interesting character study but becomes tedious as solving the murder mystery is exponentially drawn out for far too long in the plot. It almost felt like the end result was an afterthought.

There is also a slight YA feel to the novel, perhaps because of the focus inside the heads of two teens. Cameron's narrative feels dreamy, unfocused, and there are large section of time where he can't remember what happened. Jade's narrative sections also include scenes from plays she is writing based on real life interactions and conversations. She had some big reason's to hate Lucinda and this is fully explored. The end result of focusing on these two teens is that you get a double-portion of teen angst and anxiety, but less murder investigation.

Kukafka is a writer to watch, however, because of the quality of her writing and the portraits she creates of these three individuals. While the novel did feel a bit overlong and drawn out at times due to the dense prose, the skillful character studies also set it apart. This may not quite be the murder mystery you hoped you were picking up, but it is a fine character study and it does provide an answer to the mystery in the end.  (3.5 rounded up.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Impossible Views of the World

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735221536

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives is a so-so novel about a hipper-than-you-or-me art curator.

This is a week in the life of Stella Krakus, a curator at Manhattan's renowned Central Museum of Art. Her friend and colleague, Paul, has gone missing. Her mother, the world renowned glamorous art dealer Caro, wants to have lunch with her. Her soon-to-be ex-husband is stalking her. She's been having an affair/fling with her boss. And she's uncovered several different secrets, including an intriguing map, that she wants to research and solve the mystery.

Billed as a mystery, it really isn't, so if you are a fan of mysteries you might want to by-pass this selection. Sure she discovers some answers to the questions she raises about her discoveries/encounters  along the way, but it never has the feeling of a true mystery.  To make following the mysteries more challenging is the fact that Stella's not very likeable, or perhaps I'm just not as cool as she is.

I'll go with a so-so rating, conceding that small glimmers of  hope for the quality of future novels appear in the pages. Honestly, I struggled to finish this one but kept reading for one reason alone - some of the descriptions in the writing. Not all of the writing is worth the struggle, but there are small, subtle gems hidden among the dregs of way-too-much. The problem was in the way-to-much. It isn't always satisfying to read a novel that seemingly strives for pretentiousness. 

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