Tag Archive | book reviews

Book review: The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

The Map of True PlacesThe Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After the suicide of a client, Zee Finch leaves her fiancé and her Boston psychology practice to care for her ailing father in their Salem family home. Very little drama ensues. Really.

Honestly, I didn’t see any point in this novel. I didn’t particularly like Zee (although I loved the fact that her given name was Hepzibah) or her eventual love interest, Hawk; the emphasis on navigating by the stars was weird and contrived; in fact, the whole of the story felt contrived and weird and and incoherent, like a series of set pieces linked together only because they involved the same characters. Zee traveled some small distance as a character, but in the end I felt she was little different from the wishy-washy human being that began the story.

Sophomore novels are often a let down after brilliant debuts. The Lace Reader was brilliant. This? Not so much.

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Book review: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

JuneJune by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summer 2015: A persistent knock on the door and a ringing bell rouses 25-year-old Cassie Danvers from an alcohol-induced haze. Cassie, grieving a number of things — the end of her engagement, the demise of her photography career, and, most recently, the death of her beloved Grandmother June — stumbles to the dusty foyer and opens the door of the decaying family mansion to be greeted by handsome young Nick Emmons, who promptly informs her she is the sole heir and, allegedly, the granddaughter of Golden-Age Hollywood movie star Jack Montgomery, and would she mind giving a DNA sample to verify?

Summer 1955: Hollywood comes to St. Jude, Ohio, to shoot a movie. Lindie, age 14, is determined to get involved somehow; and she wants her best friend June to come along too. June is a few years older and already engaged, but Lindie disapproves of her fiancé — he’s too stodgy and undeserving of June’s beauty. June reluctantly agrees to visit the movie set, where she meets Jack Montgomery. And all manner of complications arise from there.

I’m a sucker for stories that take place in two separate time periods. I love seeing the connections, and how long-ago actions affect present-day circumstances. Add a dreaming house, visions of ghosts, back-stabbing intrigue, murder, and quiet heroism to the mix, and you’ve got a fabulous page-turner of a story that satisfies right up to the surprising conclusion.

Excellent story. This is Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s fourth novel. I’ll certainly be looking for the other three.

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Thank you to LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

Book review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth PetalThe Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

25 years after she witnessed the murder of her mother and two other women, Callie Cahill returns to Salem to aid her Aunt Rose, who is suspected of being involved in the death of a teenager. Callie, raised in foster care after the events of that fateful night, had thought Rose dead, and rushed to her side the moment she saw a news report.

In the years between Callie’s childhood tragedy and her return, Rose Whelan, once a noted historian, suffered a mental breakdown and became homeless. Rose is well-known to the Salem townfolk; while most of them ignore her, a few look out for her, and a few see her as an easy target. The boy who died was one of the latter. The circumstances linking Rose to the boy’s death are damning, and her freedom is in jeopardy.

Callie tries mightily to help Aunt Rose recover her memory of the night of the boy’s death while she herself is slowly recovering her own memories of her childhood. And in the meantime, she finds herself falling for Paul Whiting, the son of one of the wealthiest families in town.

Behind all of this lurks the still-unsolved “Goddess Murders,” as they are known, for which Rose was also briefly a suspect. What part did Rose play? How does Rose’s obsession with the legend of a banshee connect? Where does Salem’s history of witch trials fit in? And why do links to those long-ago murders keep turning up in the current investigation?

Brunonia Barry’s third novel is better than her second, but still not as good as her first. I appreciated being back in Salem with some familiar characters, and meeting some new ones. And the story moves along well enough. Still, the final twist to the mystery was too abrupt and, to me, completely out of left field. (Look, I understand authors don’t want to telegraph who the “bad guy” is and lay red herrings in the reader’s path as diversions, but this reveal was totally unexpected. Did Barry write herself into a corner and only belatedly realize she had to come up with a villain? Don’t know.) Also, major quibbles with how Paul’s character turned out.

Look, it’s a good read. And if I hadn’t ever read The Lace Reader, I’d probably give it four stars. But I have, and I know Barry is capable of much better.

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Book review: Olympos by Dan Simmons

Olympos (Ilium, #2)Olympos by Dan Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

MARS: Paris is dead. Hockenberry and Helen are lovers. Achilles and Hector have joined forces against the gods while the gods fight amongst themselves. Mahnmut and Orphu discover the quantum energy they’ve been tracking emanates from Earth rather than Mars, and it’s about to destroy both worlds.

EARTH: Meanwhile, Odysseus travels with Harman and Ada, seeking an end to Setebos. Daeman travels alone, seeking the same end. And the voynix drop their pretense of servitude; humanity’s continued existence is precarious.

Dan Simmons juggles many plates in the concluding volume of this epic duology. I admit to being a little lost at times, and occasionally needing to trudge my way through chapter 2017SFFReadingChallengeafter chapter in dogged determination. Yeah, the story bogs down now and then. So many moving parts! But stick with it, and you’ll be rewarded in the end.

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Read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge. Click that badge over there to see more reviews. And once there, consider joining us!

Book review: Ilium by Dan Simmons

Ilium (Ilium, #1)Ilium by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Allosaurs, Greek gods, and space-going Shakespeare enthusiasts? Dan Simmons must have read my Christmas wish list.

Troy is at war. The Greeks, led by Agamemnon and Achilles, and the Trojans, led by Priam and Paris, wage pitched and pitiless battles, aided by the gods and observed by humans. These humans — the scholics — were once experts on Greek poetry and ancient history. They were reconstructed by the gods from their DNA, and then brought back to make sure the path of the war follows the path of the Iliad as laid out by Homer. Thomas Hockenberry is one such scholic, tramping around the battlefield in the guise of various soldiers, making notes and reporting back to the Muse. One day, after nine years of such a life, he is summoned by Aphrodite and told he is to alter the course of things. He is to kill Pallas Athena.

On Earth, humans live in an idyllic setting, pursuing a sybaritic lifestyle. The world is a constant round of dinner parties, picnics, long walks through the woods, and casual sex. No work, no worries, no schooling, no commitments, their every need is seen to by the voynix, mechanical servants who cook, clean, and care for them in their Eden. Daeman, who, like most others of society, is spectacularly incurious about the whys and wherefores of his world, and who collects butterflies and bed partners with equal vigor, arrives at the estate of his cousin, Ada, for a birthday party. He is shocked to discover that the party is not in celebration of someone’s 20th — after which they will be whisked away to the Rings and then returned after rejuvenation — but of Harman’s 99th. In essence, it’s Harman’s going-away party, for he has only one more year of life. But a chance encounter with an allosaurus changes everything.

On Europa, the Five Moon Consortium, a conclave of biomechanical beings, gathers to discuss the 600-year lack of contact from the post-humans and the more recent (in the last 200 years) apparent terraforming of Mars. The consortium is especially concerned with unusually massive amounts of quantum-shift activity centered on Mons Olympus, and decides to send an expedition to investigate. Mahnmut, a Europan moravec, is excited to be included in this expedition with his friend Orphu, an Ionian moravec, and looks forward to continuing their discussions of Shakespeare and Proust and literature in general.  The expedition sets off well enough but soon suffers a severe setback, leaving Mahnmut and Orphu to make the best of what may be a fatal error.

Simmons adopted three different voices to tell these stories. The Trojan saga echoes Homeric prose, to the point of opening the novel with a paraphrase of the opening lines of the Iliad itself; and it is in this opening paragraph that we first begin to understand the sorrow and tragedy of the scholic Hockenberry and the rest of the cast of characters Simmons introduces. The story of Daeman, Ada, and Harman is told in simple descriptive language akin to the childlike outlook of the humans themselves; while the conversations of Mahnmut, Orphu, and the rest of the moravecs are full of technobabble and high literary analysis. This narrative trick is effective, if occasionally jarring when 2017SFFReadingChallengemoving from artless human idyll to high Homeric tragedy.

Three settings. Three stories. Three disparate and wandering paths that lead to the same destination? We’ll find out when I read the sequel.

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Read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see more reviews. And once there, consider joining us!

Book review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Fifth Season, we were introduced to Essun after the loss of her family. In The Obelisk Gate, we find out what happened to her daughter Nassun after her father killed her little brother and took off for parts unknown.

Essun works diligently to fit in and provide aid and stability to the underground community that has taken her and her traveling companions in. But politics and infighting, within the community and between the Stone Eaters who show up in unexpected places, make her situation precarious. Her Orogene abilities grow ever more powerful; meanwhile, Alabaster is dying, inch by inch.

Nassun travels across the ravaged countryside with her increasingly unstable father, until they reach their destination, a school that supposedly can cure Nassun of her Orogene nature. She, too, shows an increase in her power, much to her father’s dismay, leading to discord and treachery.

Environmental conditions worsen, vicious gangs roam the land; and the Obelisks approach.  And both Nessun and Essun are asked to consider the possibility of the prior existence of something called “the Moon.”

2017SFFReadingChallengeLike the first, illuminating excerpts from this culture’s foundational texts are sprinkled throughout the novel.  I love this method of providing back story and cultural context.

A worthy follow-up to the first volume. I can hardly wait for the third!

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/F Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see what others have been reading.  And once there, consider joining us.

Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2003 Review

Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.

AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.

A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.

2017 Re-read

Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.

Seasons of ReadingIt’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.

Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.

2017SFFReadingChallenge(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)

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Read as part of the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon.  This is the only book I managed to finish during the time frame.  Join us next time!

Also read for the 2017 Award Winning SF/F Challenge.  You can still join in on that one.

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Book review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It isn’t often I run across a novel that I almost literally cannot put down.

The Fifth Season is such a novel. I resented the time I had to spend away from it.

On a planet that might be Earth, a giant rift opened in the ground near the capital city Yemenes, creating volcanic eruptions and violent earthquakes that ripple across the land. In some areas of the planet’s single land mass, these eruptions and earthquakes have been mitigated by Orogenes, people with a special ability to quell the land and harness its power. Orogenes are despised and feared, even persecuted and murdered, by the ordinary folk, unless they wear the uniform of the Fulcrum — the school where Orogenes are trained to use their power in a constructive and controlled fashion.

But no Orogene can prevent the destructive atmospheric fallout from the Rift. The eruption has instigated a Season — ash coats the world, sunlight is obscured, plants and animals die off, and human life becomes increasingly precarious.

The story follows three women:

  • Essun, a middle-aged mother who hid her Orogene abilities from her fellow villagers, including her husband, but passed them along to her children
  • Damaya, a young trainee at the Fulcrum
  • Seyenite, a graduate of the Fulcrum, on her first big mission

These women live their lives, follow their orders, and try their best to stay safe. But their lives have an unexpected convergence; what one does in her youth severely impacts the life of another some ten years later.

Scattered throughout the novel are hints of the underpinnings and history of the cultural socioeconomics and societal structure. Pieces of lost technology (or “deadciv” artifacts) turn up now and then; some are benign, some are deadly. And just what are those large crystalline structures occasionally seen floating through the air?

2017SFFReadingChallengeFabulous world-building. Intriguing characters. Fascinating plot. Within 10 minutes of finishing this book, I bought the second of the series and pre-ordered the third. Yes, it’s that good. Yes, you should read it.

Why are you still here? Go get it now.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

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Book review: ‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

'Til Death Do Us Part‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every so often I indulge in a fluffy historical romance as a palate cleanser after a steady diet of more serious fiction. But I want well-written fluff, so I’m choosy about which authors to read.

I’ve long been an admirer of Amanda Quick‘s (*) work, and picked this one up, expecting another of her light-hearted Regencies. ‘Til Death Do Us Part is not a Regency, and not so light-hearted, either.

Calista (a name which I cannot encounter without thinking of Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame) Langley has a stalker. She thinks this person may be someone she rejected as a client for her “introductions” agency, and engages the brother of another client to help her find out the stalker’s identity and put a stop to his sinister gifts.

Trent Hastings approached Calista at her business, thinking she was running some sort of scam on his vulnerable younger sister. Realizing she was on the up-and-up, and recognizing the danger she’s been placed in, he volunteers to use the deductive skills he’s honed as a writer of detective fiction to locate her tormentor.

Much action, danger, and Victorian-era repressed romance ensue.

It’s been…oh, several years at least since I last read an Amanda Quick novel. She doesn’t disappoint. The mystery hangs together fairly well; the final twist is indeed a surprise, although I had begun to suspect all was not as it seemed with that particular person somewhere around the second or third time the character showed up in the story. The romance between Calista and Trent is medium-warmish, but not knock-your-socks-off don’t-let-the-kiddies-read-this-book steamy. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Personally, I don’t want an “insert Rod A into Slot B” sex scene, so I appreciated the, uh, discretion with which these episodes were approached.

Yes, it’s fluff. But it’s fluffy romantic suspense done well.

(*) AKA Jayne Ann Krentz

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Book review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She breathed deeply of the scent of decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue, and cleverness.”
~~~
Pause for a moment and ponder that quote.
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.
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I’d substitute cardamom for vanilla (because I’m not overly fond of vanilla), but otherwise, yes. This is what books smell like. Imminently satisfactory, is it not?

Charles Manx loves children. He wants children to be happy all the time. He seeks out special children so he can take them to Christmasland where, as you may have guessed, it’s always Christmas and children are always happy. Taking these children to Christmasland and leaving them there has the side effect of keeping Manx young and vigorous, but that’s merely an inconsequential bonus to Manx’s generosity of spirit.

Victoria McQueen, usually called Vic, rides her bicycle as an escape from her tense home atmosphere and warring parents. One day when she is still quite young, she discovers her bicycle gives her the ability to travel across a non-existent bridge and find things. She finds jewelry, and scarves, and photographs, and all manner of lost things. She tells the grownups cover stories about where she finds these items, and as she grows older, eventually comes to believe these stories herself. Because riding a bicycle across a non-existent bridge and coming out miles or even whole states away would be crazy, right?

On one of these excursions, Vic encounters Charles Manx. Manx recognizes Vic’s special talent and wants to take her to Christmasland. Of course, her talent will fuel his continued youth, but that’s not his primary motivation, of course. He has true compassion for Vic’s unhappy life and wants to alleviate her pain and suffering. Really, he means nothing but the best for these special children.

Vic manages to escape Manx. She grows up, grows older, has a child, endures multiple hospitalizations and medications (both doctor-ordered and self-prescribed) to deal with the trauma of her kidnapping and the constant murmur of voices in her head.

Then Charles Manx takes her son. And Vic must summon all her courage to go after him.

That’s the story. But this book is really about love. Vic’s love for her son and for Lou, the father of her son; Lou’s love for Vic and their child; Vic’s parents’ love for her, although she didn’t recognize such love until nearly too late; the sacrifices all parents make to keep their children safe; even Manx’s twisted version of love for the children he “saves”: all of it, every word of this novel turns on love in its many-splendoured and sometimes malformed manifestations.

NOS4A2 isn’t the best book ever, but it’s well worthy of the multiple award nominations it received and it’s certainly worth the time one spends delving into its nearly 700 pages.

Hint: Make sure you read to the very last page. Really. The VERY last page. Otherwise, you miss out.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.