Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Fireman by Joe Hill

At first, no one knew what was happening.  People started to get a tracery of images on their skin, black and gold, almost like lace. At first, people called it dragonscale and were not that concerned.  But when the lacework started to smolder and then erupt into full flames that killed the host, reality set in.  Draco Incendia Trychophyton was a virus like none ever seen.  Thousands, then millions were infected.  Entire states were burned.  Society broke down as the power grids failed and food was hard to find.  Those not infected did anything they could to avoid those who were.

Harper Grayson is one of the unlucky ones.  Her work as a nurse put her in daily contact with those infected and soon she was also.  Her husband, Jakob, showed his true colors by revealing his hate of her for having the disease and his anger that she could have exposed him.  He leaves her, after failing to convince her that a mutual suicide would be the best choice.  But Harper has a reason to try to live; she has just found out she is pregnant.

Reeling, she leaves her house and all she knows.  She wanders until she finds a refuge, a camp of those with dragonscale who have found a way to keep the virus from erupting and burning those infected with it.  The camp is run by a kindly man known as the Father and protected by a mythical figure called The Fireman.  He has learned to control dragonscale and bend it to his will.  He fights against those who would do anything to destroy those infected.  Can this camp of individuals find a way to survive in a world determined to stamp them out?  Can they manage to live in peace or will power struggles cleave them into factions and cliques fighting for control?

Joe Hill has created a novel that touches readers' lives.  With the reality of the Ebola and Zika viruses and constant scares about bird flu and swine flu, most people are convinced of the inevitability of a virus that will sweep the world and wipe out millions of people.  The Fireman is a remote, scary figure that is not soon forgotten.  In Harper, he has created a heroine who is so full of common sense and practicality that she is instantly likable.  One can't help but continue to read to find out who, if anyone, survives.  This book is recommended for readers of dystopian novels and thriller fans.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

This novel opens with a prologue by a woman who has just had an encounter with a long-ago boyfriend.  She is glad to see him until she remembers that she read of his death in a motor accident several months before.  Yet he is definitely the man she remembers.  He knows the little ancedotes of their relationship, what they were eating when an event occurred, the weather when they were on an outing, conversations they had when alone.  His name is Nicolas Slopen and he gives no explanation for the fact that he is considered dead.  He leaves her with a flash drive and when it is opened, a strange story unravels.

Dr. Nicolas Slopen is an academic; his specialty the life of Samuel Johnson as documented by his cohort, Boswell.  Slopen is intrigued when he is approached by a rich musician who has taken up the hobby of acquiring first editions and literary trophies.  The man has a packet of letters he wants Slopen to authenticate as the work of Johnson.  At first glance, the letters seem authentic but are totally unknown in the history of Johnson's life and work.  Excited about perhaps finding a new trove of work, Slopen asks to see the originals.  When he does, he falls into a rabbit hole of intrigue and hubris the like of which can hardly be imagined.

Slopen's explorations in the matter take him from London to Russia to a madhouse.  He is befriended by a mysterious Russian woman named Vera and her bodyguard.  They live in London in a house where they care for Vera's brother, who is the passkey into a mystery that can hardly be believed.  Nicholas is drawn further and further into the mystery until he is totally changed.

Theroux has written a highly original novel that questions what makes us human.  His novel Far North was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction.  This book with its questions about personality and the foundation of human experience will remain with the reader as each person answers the questions of what it means to be a person.  This book is recommended for science fiction and philosophical readers.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The House Of Rumour by Jake Arnott

Jake Arnott is one of Britain's best novelists.  His books have a huge fan following and several have been made into major TV dramas.  In The House Of Rumour, he takes the reader on an intriguing journey through the twentieth century as he attempts to reconcile the nature of the world with the glimpses of other worlds each of us instinctively feels.

The reader is taken through the early stages of rocket propulsion, the rise of the hippie cults and philosophies in the sixties and seventies, the spy games that went on below the surface in World War II, the rise of science fiction, Jonestown, the heyday of B-movies about alien abductions, the Cuban revolution and the later raft migration of those revolutionaries to Florida, the long mysterious story of Rudolph Hess and the study of the occult.  These worlds are seen through the unifying thread of the story of Larry Zagorski, a young boy fascinated by the emerging science fiction scene, who went on to fight in World War II as a fighter pilot, and returned to make a living writing fiction and working for movies.  Larry was at the fringes of many of these stories and spent his life trying to work out what was reality and what was just the appearance.  Is this world merely a hologram or a figment of someone's imagination?

Arnott has created a fascinating look at the nature of the world through the myriad stories that he weaves together in this novel.  He is reminiscent of David Mitchell, Don Delillo, and John Barth as he creates a world that the reader will be mesmerized by.  The book could have used some editing as some threads seem to go on too long or not entirely mesh with others, but this is a masterpiece of literature that the reader will not soon forget.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in the nature of the world.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Innocent by Harlan Coben

Matt Hunter expected his life to be successful but routine.  That plan changed forever the night he tried to break up a bar fight and another boy died.  Matt was sent to prison and his life changed from his early hopes and dreams.

Now Matt has been out for a while and things are looking up.  He has a job as a paralegal, a step down from his plan to be a lawyer but one for which he is grateful.  His brother arranged it at his law firm.  Most importantly, Matt has Olivia.  She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he could hardly believe it when she fell in love with him and agreed to marriage.  Now Olivia is expecting and they are closing on a house in the suburbs.

But Matt's life has taught him one thing.  That is the fact that the best laid plans can go astray in a moment.  Matt's next moment occurs when he gets a strange image and video on his camera from Olivia.  He is faced with the realization that his marriage may be based on secrets and lies.  Can he find his way through a maze of untruth and find reality before his life explodes again?

Harlan Coben cannot write a bad mystery.  The reader emphasizes with Matt and wishes him the best.  As the plot unfolds, the tension mounts and it is hard to believe that things will ever have a happy ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, April 22, 2016

April is coming to a close, although I surely don't know how.  The days are getting longer and warmer and hopefully I'm through with traveling for a while.  We went to the University of South Carolina in Columbia last weekend for Admitted Students events for our daughter who will be attending this fall.  It is such a warm, student-centered environment that I hope will launch her into a successful adulthood.  We even found a California Dreaming restaurant, one of my favorites, a block off campus.  I've been buying a lot of books lately, filling in my list of Booker and Bailey's Prize nominees.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Dinner With Edward, Isabel Vincent, memoir, sent by publisher
2.  City Of Secrets, Stewart O'Nan, historical fiction, sent by publisher
3.  Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Reckoning And Ruin, Tina Whittle, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Almost English, Charlotte Mendelson, literary fiction, purchased
7.  To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Sugarland, Martha Conway, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  The Body In The Wardrobe, Katherine Hall Page, mystery, sent for book tour
10.  The Spinning Heart, Donal Ryan, literary fiction, purchased
11.  Reader, I Married Him, Tracy Chevalier, anthology, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:
1.  Lexicon, Max Barry, hardback
2.  The House Of Rumor, Jake Arnott, audio
3.  Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Amy Stewart, Kindle
4.  Strange Bodies, Marcel Theroux, hardback
5.  The Innocent, Harlen Coben, hardback
6.  The Fireman, Joe Hill, Kindle Fire
7.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
8.  A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin, hardback

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Small Backs Of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

It was an award-winning photo, one that was instantly recognizable and that defined a war.  It was shot in Eastern Europe in one of the wars that was fought so long that people forgot there was even a war going on.  It caught a young girl in mid-flight as she was flung out of her house which was exploding after a direct mortar hit.  Her blonde hair haloed her head and she seemed to emerge from the picture, asking for help and recognition.  She disappeared as she had emerged, into the war torn country.  No one knew who she was, where she went or if she was dead or alive.

In America, the photographer won prizes and launched her successful career.  She sent a copy to her first love, a writer.  The writer had been married to a famous painter, but was now married to a filmmaker.  Her brother was a successful playwright.   Another friend was known far and wide for her poetry.  Each of them was affected by the photograph, but none as viscerally as the writer.  She had just had a stillborn daughter and was having a difficult time adjusting to the world without her child.

These artistic individuals came up with a plan to help the writer recover.  They decided that they would find the girl in the picture and bring her to America.  They hoped that giving the girl a second chance at life would help the writer to also find her way back to life.  Undeterred by the difficulties, they came up with a plan that would allow them to find the child and smuggle her into the country.

This book was is gripping.  It bursts into the reader's mind and refuses to let go until the last page.  It turns thoughts of bodies and love, violence, relationships, war and art on their heads and shows them in differing ways.  The sex and violence are raw and this book is probably not for everyone.  But it is one of the most important books I've read and it will stay with me for quite a while.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those who want to know how the world works and how people fit into it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, April 13, 2016

I've been traveling and not through yet!  My daughter is a huge Elvis fan (not sure how the daughter of hard rockers is so retro) so we went to Memphis for spring break and toured Graceland.  Then a few days later, DH and I headed to Georgia to see all the grandkids.  We took the boys to Legoland and then our four year old granddaughter to the movies and babysat all four.  Home this week then off to Columbia for a college weekend with our daughter.

Reading, I've been to the swampland around the Dismal Swamp with Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic detective, spent time with the Beatles in an alternative world and I'm on a wild ride in The House of Rumors that has me with British spies, sci-fi writers, Nazi traitors, Cuban revolutionaries, and in cults that believe in aliens.  There's always a new world to explore in books.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  The Girls, Emma Cline, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  The Moor's Account, Laila Lalami, literary fiction, purchased
3.  A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Forest Park, Valerie Davisson, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Where We Fall, Rochelle Weinstein, literary fiction, sent by publisher
6.  The Whole World, Emily Winslow, mystery, purchased
7.  The Weekenders, Mary Kay Andrews, sent by publisher
8.  Kill Me Again, Rachel Abbott, mystery, sent by author
9.  History Of The Rain, Niall Williams, literary fiction, purchased
10.  The Lives Of Others, Neel Mukherjee, literary fiction, purchased
11.  A Shadow All Of Light, Fred Chappell, fantasy, sent by publisher
12.  The Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll, memoir, sent by publisher
13.  One Flew Over The Banyan Tree, Alan Jansen, literary fiction, sent by publisher
14.  Drafter, Kim Harrison, thriller, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Lexicon, Max Barry, hardback
2.  The House Of Rumor, Jake Arnott, audio
3.  Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Amy Stewart, Kindle
4.  The Small Backs Of Children, Lidia Yuknavich, hardback
5.  The Innocent, Harlen Coben, hardback
6.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
7.  A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin, hardback

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Death And Life Of Mal Evans by Peter Lee

In this alternate reality novel, Mal Evans, assistant to the Beatles for many years, lies dying in an LA apartment.  He has been shot by a police officer who mistook Evans air pistol for a gun.  As he lies on the floor, his life fading away, his last sight is of that police officer.

When he awakes, it is in England, and the time has regressed to five years ago.  He heads to the recording studio, and it is all as it has been back then.  Mal realises that he has the opportunity to get the band to never break up and for them to release more great music and avoid the downward spiral each encountered after the Beatles disbanded.

Beatle fans will be interested in this insider look at what it was like day after day living and working with the Beatles.  Mal Evans is a real person, although few know his name.  He did die in LA in an encounter with the police.  He was there day after day with the Fab Four and knew them and their secrets better than almost anyone.  Peter Lee has taken that insider knowledge to imagine a different story, one that works better for Beatles fans.  This book is recommended for music lovers and readers who enjoy alternate reality novels.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Empty Chair by Jeffrey Deaver

Lincoln Rhyme, renowned forensic criminalist and a quadriplegic, has come from New York City where he knows the environment to North Carolina, a massive culture and environmental shift.  He has come to a notable medical center where promising surgery has been done on others in his condition with some improvements in their quality of life.  Of course, with his condition, he never travels alone.  He is accompanied by his partner and lover, Amelia Sachs and his constant medical assistant, Thomas.

While he is waiting through the pre-surgical tests and scheduling, the local sheriff turns up.  He has heard that the famous Lincoln Rhyme is in town and he needs help.  Two women have been kidnapped and a man has been killed.  The whole town is sure they know who the culprit is.  Garrett Hanlon is a sixteen year old boy, known as Insect Boy, for his fascination with insects.  He is an orphan, his family having been killed in a car accident.  His time in foster care has not been pleasant and he is suspected of many crimes in the area.  Now he has disappeared with both a young college student who was on a historical dig and a nurse who was also in the area.  Local law enforcement feels they need more expertise to solve a crime this complicated and they prevail on Lincoln.  Restless as he waits for treatment, he agrees to give the local police force his assistance.

Rhyme is at a disadvantage.  He has left behind his lab, where he has every forensic instrument he could ever need.  His expertise in in items found in a city, not a rural North Carolina town with bogs and swamps and flora and fauna he has never encountered.  Amelia heads up a search team and as she and the deputies go in pursuit, things get more complicated than either Rhyme or Sachs could ever have imagined.

This is the third novel in the Lincoln Rhyme series.  Rhyme is one of the most fascinating detectives currently being written about and the reader is easily drawn back into the world of forensic science and its role in solving impossible cases.  There are plenty of the twists and turns Deaver fans have come to expect and a surprising ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

Grace Blades has not had an easy life.  She started out as the only child of violent drug addicts who either ignored her or beat her.  When she was five, she witnessed their grisly murder-suicide, leaving her orphaned and an immediate candidate for the foster care system.  She bounced around from house to house, interacting as little as possible and being ignored at most of them since she was quiet and no trouble.  Grace's saving characteristic was her intelligence.  She scored in the genius ranks and attracted the attention of mentors as she got older.  Grace ended up being a psychologist and her specialty is working with those impacted by violence.

One day she gets a huge shock.  She has a new patient and when he walks in, she realizes that she has met him before.  They were both at a foster home together.  He hints about his reasons for seeking treatment and they fall into Grace's specialty but neither of them are comfortable and he leaves without committing to continuing.  Grace learns the next day that he was killed after he left her office.

Soon it is obvious that Grace is being followed and someone seems to have her in their sights.  She believes the only way to save herself is to find out what happened to her patient and if it related to the time they spent together as children.  As she races against time to discover his secrets, she starts to uncover a vicious killer's trail.

This novel is a departure from Kellerman's usual mystery novels that focus on Dr. Alex Delaware and his police friend Milo.  Grace is a less sympathetic character than Delaware but the reader feels that they can get further into Grace's mind and motivations, increasing the interest in her mystery.  It will be interesting to see if this is just a standalone for Kellerman or if he plans to develop Grace as character in other novels.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Two Years Eight Months And Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

What if we have never understood the basic underpinnings of our world and what causes events to happen?  What if we're really descendents of the jinn, or as the Western world calls them, genies?  This is the premise of Two Years Eight Months And Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie.

The title is not just a whim of the author.  It is the time it takes to reach a thousand and one nights, which is one of the most enduring legends of all time, how a woman outsmarted a cruel despot and saved herself by telling him stories for all those nights yet leaving him each night with a cliffhanger so that he always wanted to hear more.

Long ago, the jinn moved freely between Earth and their own land, having little interaction with humans and caring little for them. Occasionally one was entrapped and if rescued by a human, granted him wishes but overall there was separation between the two races.  Everything changed when Dunia, a female jinn and daughter of the mighty emperor, came to Earth and fell in love with a philosopher and married him.  Their descendants populated the world over the thousands of years after this event.  Dunia went back to the jinn land and the portal between the worlds closed.

Then the time of strangeness occurred.  The portal opened and the jinn were free to come to Earth.  Four jinn who hated the humans and were Dunia's enemies came through and in a war with her, created mayhem on the land.  They used humans to spread their hate and cruelty and from this terrorism was born.  Dunia's descendants fought against the evil jinn for dominance of the land.

Salman Rushdie is my favorite novelist and this novel did not disappoint.  It is a lyrical, bawdy, wide-ranging story that explores themes such as the endurance of love, the underpinnings of evil, the positive side of being different and the power of story and language.  It ranges across centuries and exposes readers to a new way of experiencing the world.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Path Of The Storm by James Maxwell

Two years after the end of the war against the Houses, the Empire is at peace but hardly thriving.  Essence, the substance that fueled all magic and on which the economy and everyday life was built, has been destroyed in the war.  Ervin Everstone, the wizard, is working on rebuilding the machines that create essence but it is a slow job.

Personally though, things are going well for the brother and sister responsible for saving the world during the war.  Ella is a respected enchantress while her brother Miro is the commander of the army.  Miro is about to wed his long-time love, Amber, who is also Ella's best friend.  But tragedy strikes on the day of the wedding and soon the trio are separated again as they leave home to try to right the imbalances that are tearing their world apart.  As the days go by, they start to realise that things are worse than anyone could ever have imagined.  For an Everman, those creatures who once strode the Earth and ruled it before they were sent to another world so that humans could live, has found a way through the seal.  He is determined to bring over all the other Evermen so that they can once again rule the world.

This is the third book in the Everman series.  Maxwell remains a fantasy novelist well worth reading and the reader will want to find out what is next for these characters and this world.  In many ways, it lays the foundation for the fourth and final book in the series, but many exciting things happen in this one also.  More of the backstory of the world is told, along with expanding the stories of the individual characters.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.