Sunday, January 31, 2016

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

It's a routine extended space flight.  The astronauts on the space station are ready for an extended work assignment of a year or more.  But when an event causes the moon to explode, everything known becomes unknown.  Astronomers quickly realise that the debris from the moon explosion will inevitably cause the destruction of the Earth's atmosphere and thus the destruction of all life on Earth.

The expected time frame is two years and the best and brightest minds try to come up with a plan for the human race to continue.  Obviously, the best hope is space and soon every spaceship available is put into service taking up supplies, scientific knowledge and those lucky few deemed important to the human race's continued existence.  The inevitable happens and all those on Earth's surface are soon gone.  There are several thousand inhabitants in space, surely enough to continue.  However, the human characteristics of power attainment and subterfuge create a situation in which after several years, only a handful of humans survive.

Five thousand years later, those humans have survived and thrived with a sophisticated technological society and several billion inhabitants in space.  Plans are moving ahead to solve the problems of the Earth after the land destruction and new plants and animals are stocked there once the atmosphere is stable.  This is to support the eventual return of humans to Earth.  But as the plans progress, it becomes clear that there are surprises in store on Earth and that the story has other chapters yet to be written.

Neal Stephenson writes novels which explore large ideas and Seveneves is no different.  The reader is forced to consider what would be essential in a worldwide disaster and what characteristics would allow the human race to survive.  The ability to cooperate in order to survive and even thrive is explored as is the need for flexibility to handle whatever situations may evolve.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction and those interested in survival thinking.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Avenue Of Mysteries by John Irving

Juan Diego is a famous writer, now in his fifties, living, writing and teaching in Iowa.  But that's not where he started.  Juan and his sister, Lupe, were 'dump kids' in Oaxacan, Mexico.  Their mother was a prostitute/cleaning lady for the local priests.  They lived at the dump with the dump boss, who was probably not their father.  Their friends were the dump dogs, feral animals that tended to die early.  Juan and Lupe scavenged the dump.  Juan saved every book he found, and taught himself to read.  This brought him to the attention of the priests.  Lupe could read minds; she knew everything about a person's past although she wasn't as good at knowing the future.  Neither of the children were particularly religious; they didn't feel that the Virgin Mary had come through on her promises.

Avenue Of Mysteries is the story of Juan taking a trip to the Philippines but spending his time remembering his past and all that occurred.  He and Lupe had lived at the dump, at the church's orphanage and at a circus.  All three places left their mark on him.  He eventually left Mexico with his adoptive parents.  Eduardo was a man who wanted to become a priest but fell in love with Flor, who was a transvestite.  Together they left Mexico and took Juan with them to live in Iowa.

In his most recent trip. Juan Diego meets a mysterious mother and daughter pair.  Each is a fan of his work and each is determined to arrange his life and take control of his days.  He goes along with their plans but in reality is consumed with remembering his days with Lupe and what it all meant.

John Irving is an author whom readers either love or dislike intensely.  I'm on the love side of the equation.  Fans will recognize many of his recurring themes; the meaning of love, the inevitability of the future doing what it will with you and the need to understand and validate the lives of those most unlike you.  The typical Irving devices are there; the geographic location of Iowa, transvestite, circus animals and reading.  No one hits the same chords in a reader as Irving and this novel hits those chords again.  This book is recommended for readers interested in the human condition and how our choices affect our lives.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Half In Love With Death by Emily Ross

Jess Galvin has gone missing, another teenage girl who has disappeared.  Some say she ran away while others think something much more sinister has occurred.  Her sister, Carolina, just a year younger and who shares a room with Jess, was the last to see her.  Jess said she was sneaking out for a while and for Caroline to cover for her.  By the time Caroline gets worried the next day and tells her parents, hours have gone by since Jess left.  There is no sign of her.

The family attempts to go on.  The girls' father makes a trip to California since Jess talked about going there to become a movie star.  Caroline and her brother go back to school where no one is sure how to act around them.  Her mother cleans incessantly and tries to convince the world all is fine.

The biggest secret Caroline kept for Jess was Jess's relationship with Tony.  Tony is the local bad boy, handsome and charming but the word is he's not to be trusted.  After Jess disappears, Tony starts to hang around with Caroline.  She knows her parents wouldn't approve but who else but she and Tony are willing to look for Jess?  They have the best chance of getting other teenagers to talk.  But soon the secrets that surround Tony start to scare Caroline.  When she is away from him, the discrepancies and rumors about him worry and scare her.  But whenever she is with him, he quickly wins her back to his side with his charisma.  Can the two find Jess or are the rumors about Tony more than gossip?

Emily Ross writes this novel in first person and the reader is transported inside the mind of a typical teenage girl.  There are school rivalries and posturing for popularity.  There are tentative first steps at romance with whatever guy seems interested.  Anyone who has been a teenager will recognize the thought processes of Caroline and how her naivete is easily used to manipulate her.  The teenager disdain of the adults around them and the surety that they are feeling emotions that no one has felt before and that no adult can understand is captured successfully.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and readers interested in family relationships.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Wait For Signs by Craig Johnson

Fans of the TV series Longmire will be delighted to find this anthology of twelve stories about Sheriff Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka Country, Wyoming.  Readers will find other familiar characters from the series such as Cady, Walt's daughter, Henry Standing Bear, his best friend and Vic Moretti, his undersheriff.  There are divergences from the series also as some main characters in the TV series are not found in these stories.  All of the stories occur after the death of Walt's wife, Martha.

The stories display everyday details about a sheriff's life.  Walt deals with everything from a robbery in progress to an owl trapped in a Porta-Potty.  He deals with animals from a wild rodeo horse to a mama bear with cubs to a queen sheep who rustles other sheep to the dismay of the ranchers in the area.  In all of the stories, Walt's desire to be kind to those around him while upholding the law shines through and the reader is struck over and over again with how such a tough, silent man has an inner core of kindness and love for his fellow creatures.  My personal favorite was a story called Thankstaking, where Walt and Henry reach beyond themselves to discover the true meaning of the holiday.  This book is recommended for fans of the Longmire series and for any reader interested in stories of the West and how law enforcement is really done on a daily basis.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, January 13, 2016

2016 has been a disappointing reading year for me so far.  Not that the books I'm reading are bad, but that it is almost impossible for me to read right now.  I'm going through a major flareup of dry eyes and reading even 10 pages is sometimes challenging.  If you've been wondering why there haven't been as many posts, that's the reason.  I'm undergoing treatment so hopefully something will work soon.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  The Infidel Stain, M.J. Carter, historical fiction/adventure, Vine review book
2.  Cold Moon, Alexandra Sokoloff, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Portable Vblen, Elizabeth McKenzie, literary fiction, Vine review book
4.  We That Are Left, Clare Clark, historical fiction, Vine review book
5.  Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, Bonnie Jo Campbell, anthology, Vine review book
6.  Free Men, Katy Simpson Smith, suspense, Vine review book
7.  Five Star Billionaire, Tash Aw, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Where It Hurts, Reed Farrell Coleman, suspense, sent by publisher
9.  The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth, historical fiction, purchased

When I can read, here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Maid's Version, Daniel Woodrell, Kindle Fire
2.  The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
3.  Avenue Of Mysteries, John Irving, hardback
4.  Seveneves, Neal Stevenson, hardback
5.  Wait For Signs, Craig Johnson, paperback
6.  The Empty Chair, Jeffrey Deaver, Kindle
7.  Throne Jack, Katherine Harbour, audio
8.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
9.  The Road To Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson, Kindle Fire
10.  Lexicon, Max Barry, hardback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall by Will Chancellor

Things are moving along satisfactorily in Big Sur for Owen Burr and his professor father, Joseph.  Owen is an athlete at his prime, six foot eight and expected to have a place on the Olympic water polo team.  Joseph has been a professor for many years and while he isn't famous, he has carved out a good life for his son.

Then tragedy strikes.  Owen is injured in a game and loses an eye.  He can no longer play the sport that has defined him.  After hospital and rehab stays, rather than finding a new focus, he withdraws all his money and disappears.  His father is frantic and has no idea where he is.

Where he is is Berlin.  Owen has decided that perhaps he should become an artist and that Germany is the place that serious modern art is being done.  He falls in with a group of other artists including one of the most famous modern artists and thinks things are coming together.  Unfortunately, the tribe he has moved in with are monsters and their only interest in Owen is to use him to make profit off his suffering.

After a bloody showdown with this group, Owen and a female DJ he has met, take off.  In the meantime, Joseph has gotten wind that Owen is somewhere in Europe and comes to find him.  In the process, he becomes famous, but not in a way he had ever anticipated.  The two careen around Europe, missing each other for months.  Will they be reunited and will Owen find his way in life?

This is a debut novel by Will Chancellor and it is a towering accomplishment.  Owen is a striking character who will remain in readers' minds long after the novel is finished.  His journey to find himself and where he fits in the world is a compelling one and readers will want to accompany him as he attempts to find himself.  The love between Owen and Joseph is deep and fuels the novel.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for those interested in personal journeys of exploration.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert

Graham and Lindsey meet in Northern Ireland.  Lindsey lives there, sixteen and discontent with her life living with her father who ignores her.  Graham is there with an Orange March band where he plays the drum.  It is a Protestant custom meant to show the Protestant strength in Ireland to the Catholics, although Graham is not political, he just likes playing the drum and the uniforms.

Six weeks later, when Graham has returned to Glasgow, Lindsey shows up on his mom's doorstep, pregnant.  The two get married and in due course, Stevie is born.  Lindsey is fiercely independent and determined to get her little family ahead.  This is the world of working poor, where everyone lives in government housing and the jobs are cleaning houses, driving taxis and construction.  Lindsey wants her family to do better and for Stevie to have a better life.

But things go awry when Graham goes back to the life in the band.  Lindsey's discontent with her father was rooted in his activities with the Catholic IRA and the constant tension and fighting that politics meant there.  Although Graham doesn't see his actions as political, she can't stand to be reminded of that time.  The constant fighting breaks up the family and sets Stevie astray.  He runs away and is lost to the family.

The story is told in two parts.  The first part is the story of Lindsey and Graham, starting when they meet and moving forward.  The second part is Stevie's story when he returns to Glasgow after several years on his own.  As the two stories move towards each other in time, the reader is drawn into contemplation about whether the family can also move back together and be reconciled.

Rachel Seiffer is considered one of the best current novelists.  Her first novel, The Dark Room, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  Her second, Afterwards, was longlisted for the Orange Prize, and a collection of short stories, Field Study, received an award from PEN International.  This novel, her third, was longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Literature, formerly the Orange Prize.  This book is recommended for those interested in Irish history and those interested in how families can support each other and how easily they can be torn apart.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Tears Of Dark Water by Corban Addison

Daniel and his teenage son, Quentin, are sailing around the world.  Daniel and his wife, Vanessa, are having issues in their marriage, and Quentin is aimless, heading towards trouble.  Daniel decides that a sailing trip for father and son will be the cure for all the problems the family is having.  Halfway through the trip, Daniel's plan seems to be working; Quentin is back to his own self and focused on completing.  Then disaster strikes.

The sailboat is attacked and taken over by a band of Somali pirates.  They are led by a young fighter, Ismail, who has taken up the life of a pirate after the wars and corruption of Somali have ripped his family apart.

Paul Derrick is the FBI's top hostage negotiator.  He is called in to broker the release of Daniel and Quentin, backed up by a huge navel presence and an elite SEAL team.  This will be a difficult negotiation as it is so bound by time.  Usually, Paul has days if not weeks to wear down a hostage taker but the boat is only four days off the coast.  The government is determined that the pirates will never make landfall where the hostages can disappear with no chance of rescue.

Derrick is making progress when Ismail goes off the record.  He finds a way to contact Vanessa and the family left behind directly and demands a ransom for their release.  Daniel's father is wealthy and well-connected and the government agrees to try the ransom.  But disaster occurs and all the participants are left to face the fallout from what happens.

Corban Addison has written a compelling page-turner.  The story is told through the viewpoints of Daniel, Vanessa, Paul, Ismail's lawyer, Megan, Ismail and his sister Yasmin.  All sides of the complicated issue are explored in depth and the reader is pulled into the controversy and left to wonder how they would handle such a volatile situation.  This book is recommended for readers of thrillers and those interested in current events.