Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Reckoning by Jane Casey

The Reckoning is the second book in Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series. I loved the first (The Burning), and I think I enjoyed the second even more.

Maeve is an Irish cop, and a woman, and she catches plenty of grief from her London colleagues for both. As a detective constable, she knows she has to put up with it, especially when it comes from her superiors, like Detective Inspector Josh Derwent, new to her team. Fortunately, Superintendent Charles Godley is a good guy to work for, and he recognizes Maeve's talents. However, added to her work life stress is her on-again, off-again romance with fellow DC Rob Langton (strictly against the rules).

If all the British police lingo in that last paragraph made your eyes cross, this book may not be for you. I love a good British police procedural, and this is a great one. Maeve and Derwent are investigating a series of brutal murders of sexual predators. It’s hard to feel sorry for them, but each was tortured before being killed. There are a lot of plot twists, but also plenty of character development for Maeve, Rob, and Godley.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Reckoning and look forward to the next book in the series. If you enjoy the works of Deborah Crombie, Jo Bannister, Jill McGown, or Barry Maitland, I highly recommend Jane Casey.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My name finally came up on the wait list for Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. It has been incredibly popular since it came out in June 2012, and now I know why. I had a very hard time putting it down. The plot is full of suspense and the writing is terrific. Even though I guessed the first “big reveal” about three chapters in, there were plenty of twists and turns I did not expect. I didn’t like either of the main characters, and yet I could not resist reading more about them. I wanted to know what was going to happen next.
The day of their fifth wedding anniversary finds Nick at the bar he owns with his sister and his wife Amy at home. He gets a call from a neighbor - his front door is open and the cat is out. Amy never lets the cat out. When Nick races home, he discovers signs of a struggle. The book takes it from there, as chapters alternate between Amy's dated diary entries and Nick's account of his life as he comes increasingly under suspicion.
That short description barely scratches the surface of this book. I like character development, and there is plenty of that in Gone Girl, but there’s plenty of action too. If you are looking for an engrossing read, I highly recommend this book – just make sure you have plenty of time to read once you start it!

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney

This book is due out in January 2013. It seems appropriate because part of the book deals with the creation of a  commercial to be aired during the Super Bowl. Author, John Kenney draws on his own experience in the advertising business to create this first novel which is a combination of self-reflection, stream of consciousness and healing, as well as ironic and sardonic takes on modern life in general and the ad world in particular. His humor is wry and I found myself snickering out loud once or twice. The story deals on a deeper level with the main character's dysfunctional family and their past history related to their parents. The story has a few twists, some humorous, some touching. There is also the developing relationship between the main character, Fin, and his co-worker Phoebe. The story follows Fin's coming to grips with his past and renewed interest in his future. Occasionally Fin's introspection and first person observations get a little lengthy, but overall it makes for a good story. It would probably make a good movie.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Submitted by Devonzell, teen reviewer:

The Darkest Minds is about a girl named Ruby. It is set when America is in a worldwide pandemic that is killing off children... but also giving rise to something more astonishing.  Some children are showing signs of strange abilities. Ruby is one of them. These children are sent to concentration camps so that the government can catalog, experiment on, and treat them with the utmost indecency. Ruby and another boy are "rescued" by a group of people called the Children's League. Ruby then escapes and runs into a group of other escaped children who are on their way to the East River where they will be free, though the journey will not be easy.

I would most likely recommend this book to people who are fans of the Maximum Ride or Daniel X books.  If you like a good old "children vs. the government" story," this is your book.  It's also full of romance and teen drama. I personally thought it was a good book, especially when Ruby is learning to control her powers.  I give this 4.5 stars, because even though it's a good book it didn't captivate me.  But I hope you enjoy this book.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elzabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman

In the late fall, early winter 0f 1889-1890, two young woman journalists each undertook a trip around the world. They set off only a few hours apart in opposite directions. While Elizabeth Bisland, a journalist for The Cosmopolitan magazine, knew of Bly's journey, Bly, herself was unaware of Bisland's equal quest to go around the world in under eighty days, attempting to beat the speed of Jules Verne's fictional traveler Phileas Fogg. Such a trip was originally the idea of Nellie Bly (pseudonym for Elizabeth Jane Cochran) a year earlier. She was an enterprising, investigative reporter for Joseph Pulitzer's New York newspaper, World. The paper's editor took Bly up on her idea and made the arrangements for her journey. She traveled alone, with only a small carry-all bag and one blue dress, a checkered coat and distinctive cap. She aimed to use only conventional, available forms of transportation. Upon learning of this project, the editor of The Cosmopolitan determined to make a race of it, sending Bisland off, with only a few hours notice, on a similar tour. but traveling west to east, the opposite of Bly's east to west route.

Little is now noted or remembered of this historic, remarkable undertaking by these two women. However, author Matthew Goodman has done a great job in bringing this story alive. Not only does he follow the progress of each, but he gives the reader the whole picture of the era, its personalities, customs, political and cultural tensions. He writes in an easy-flowing style. He carries the story of these two women beyond the time of the race to the end of their lives. This is a most approachable and enjoyable piece of non-fiction. The book is due out in March 2013.

Night of the Swarm by Robert V.S. Redick

The Night of the Swarm is the fourth and final book in Robert V. S. Redick’s Chathrand Voyage Quartet. The Quartet is a long and complex tale of intrigue, deception, love, travel, and magic. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, and have eagerly devoured each of the subsequent books. The Chathrand is a huge, ancient ship, basically a floating city, with many secrets of her own, and much of the action takes place aboard her. 

I like to see character development, and there is plenty in this series. I felt I got to know the many main characters. There are some interesting races in this series, like the ixchel, a race of small (about 8 inches) people who are often treated like vermin and can hide expertly on ships. One of my favorite characters is Diadrelu, an ixchel noblewoman. Another favorite is Hercol Stanapeth, a former assassin who turned his back on that life and became one of the good guys. My absolute favorite, however, is Ramachni, a wizard from another world who normally takes the shape of a black mink and who must leave his companions for stretches to regain his strength in his own world. When he uses magic against foes, he clamps his teeth and shakes his head like a mink killing small prey. 

One of the more interesting aspects of this world is the “woken” animal. Some animals suddenly experience sentience and language, and the woken animals add a playful but thoughtful element to the narrative. One of the main characters is Felthrup, a woken rat. 

I raced through The Night of the Swarm. There is a ton of action, but also plenty of interaction between the many characters. There are new challenges as well as old problems to be dealt with. Not everything gets tidied up perfectly, which I feel is a strength, since that’s how life is. I do feel a bit disgruntled at the ending, but I have high hopes that perhaps another book will bring back at least some of the cast of the Chathrand Voyage Quartet in a new series, and perhaps some further developments will make me happier. 

Although I was reminded of The Lord of the Rings more than once while reading The Night of the Swarm, it’s hard for a fantasy writer to be entirely original, and on the whole I find much creativity and originality in this series. Toward the end of this book, I was a little fatigued by the endless challenges met by the characters in their quest, but after four books that’s hardly surprising. 

If you like long, involved fantasy set in other worlds, I highly recommend the four books in this series. Although I’m not comparing it to The Lord of the Rings, I do feel there is much for an LOTR fan to love in the Chathrand Voyage Quartet. Now that the series has ended, it’s a great time to start this series since there is no long stretch in which to forget characters and plot points between books. If I had the time right now, I’d start over at the beginning!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin

Sensual and sexy, A Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin is a journey through the physical and the metaphysical.  After the death of her grandmother Evangeline inherits one drop of perfume that is made specifically for her. This scent is irresistible to anyone who smells it: men fall in love with her, cats go into heat.  Evangeline has always wanted to be desired, but is the scent a gift or a curse?
                Berwin is incredibly talented. She is able to create both a sense of place and complex characterizations.  In both settings, Louisiana and Upstate New York, the reader feels the sensual aspects of the place.  Not only is A Scent of Darkness a story of a magical scent, but the senses of smell, touch, taste become magic.
                Although the physical and emotional depictions in A Scent of Darkness ring true, the character of Evangeline is slightly unrealistic as an 18 year old.  She is as if a woman in her late 30’s looked back and imagined what she would do with that youth and vigor now.  She has none of the sense of confusion or rebellion that most people have at that age.
                The sex in the novel is semi-graphic, so readers who are uncomfortable with sex should not read it.  However, for a person who enjoys romance novels, A Scent of Darkness would be a nice change.  The plot is based around the romantic relationships of Evangeline, but it is more about the ideas of love and sex than the practical applications of them.   It is also not for people who are squeamish about blood, for reasons that I cannot reveal for fear of spoiling the audience.  People who enjoy action-packed plots would not enjoy this book as it is not very plot driven.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon

This book looked like it should have been a perfect fit for me: set in Wales, the main character tries to unravel the mystery of where the Arthurian legend originated.  Perfect for anyone with a love of fantasy, mysteries, Great Britain, and history, right?  Alas, the writing and characters were so wooden that I had to drive myself to finish a third of the book and finally gave up.  Life's too short to spend forcing yourself through something you don't like reading when there are so many great books out there.  Read on below to find one!!

Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan

The publication of Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan is very timely. The narrator, Steven “Crash” Crashinsky, relates how he managed, on April 21 of his senior year in high school, to stop a fellow classmate from blowing up the school and killing hundreds of people.

Crash has known the potential shooter, David “Burn” Burnett, since grade school, and in a slow, meandering narrative, Crash details their relationship over the years leading up to the fateful day that Crash became a national hero.

I had trouble putting down Crash and Burn. The narrator is a very flawed character, and the book is filled with unabashed teen-aged sex, drinking, and drug use. Part of Crash’s charm is that he knows he is not the hero he has been painted in the media. Crash has a very troubled relationship with his father, as well as a complicated relationship with both David Burnett and Burnett’s older sister. There are a lot of characters to keep track of in Crash and Burn, but that helps make the story feel like a memoir rather than a novel. There are a lot of people in our lives, and they don’t have to play a big role to be an important part of our story.

The book was not quite what I expected. Only a short portion of the book deals with the actual day that David Burnett took the school hostage (and that portion is tense and chaotic). But the details about Crash, Burn, their families, and their schoolmates that lead up to that day are also compelling. I winced at many of the exploits of Crash and his friends. I sincerely hope that all high schools today are not like the high school depicted in Crash and Burn. But I didn’t feel that the exploits were unbelievable.

Crash and Burn covers many timely topics. Crash has been diagnosed with ADD and struggles with his studies. Every student, weird, popular, or smart, worries about fitting in. The kids play a lot of video games, and watch a lot of stupid and violent movies. A girl is involved in internet porn. Everything is woven together in a credible way, and Crash has a strong and likeable voice. The circumstances that lead Crash and Burn to the faculty lounge on April 21 are messy, with no pat solutions offered.

Crash and Burn is a great read on an extremely relevant topic. Anyone who enjoys psychological fiction, plots that keep you guessing, and strong character development may enjoy reading it, and it would make a good book club selection.

I read an advance reader's edition. It is scheduled to be published in February 2013.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

We Have Met the Enemy: Self Control in an Age of Excess by Daniel Akst

I picked We Have Met the Enemy: Self Control in an Age of Excess by Daniel Akst as the library’s January book discussion title. In this month of New Year’s resolutions, it is a timely choice. Akst suggest that Americans are surrounded by temptations – drinking, smoking, drugs, porn, gambling, food, and more – and that life is a constant battle to resist overindulging.

This is not the kind of book I normally pick up to read, but on the whole I found it interesting and enjoyable. The author got a little too scientific in parts for my taste, but I just skimmed over these parts until I reached a more readable section.
Although most of the temptations outlined in We Have Met the Enemy do not attract me, I certainly feel the appeal of too much cheap and delicious food, as well as the pull to waste a lot of time on the Internet when I should be doing more useful things. I doubt I will change my behavior after reading this book, but I thought about it!

The author meanders around a lot of topics, musing about this and that stray idea that interests him. This is a book you can put down and pick up later. We Have Met the Enemy reminded me of Freakonomics and Mindless Eating (although it’s not as good as either of those books). If you enjoy not-too-scientific scientific books that challenge you to think about your own behavior, you might enjoy We Have Met the Enemy.