Tag Archive | reading

Book review: The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

The Traveler (Fourth Realm, #1)The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The following is the cover blurb: “In London, Maya, a young woman trained to fight by her powerful father, uses the latest technology to elude detection when walking past the thousands of surveillance cameras that watch the city. In New York, a secret shadow organization uses a victim’s own GPS to hunt him down and kill him. In Los Angeles, Gabriel, a motorcycle messenger with a haunted past, takes pains to live “off the grid” – free of credit cards and government IDs. Welcome to the world of The Traveler – a world frighteningly like our own. In this compelling novel, Maya fights to save Gabriel, the only man who can stand against the forces that attempt to monitor and control society. From the back streets of Prague to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, The Traveler portrays an epic struggle between tyranny and freedom. Not since 1984 have readers witnessed a Big Brother so terrifying in its implications and in a story that so closely reflects our lives.”

You are being watched.

Of course, in 2018, we all know that, and we willingly participate in the surveillance (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). When this book was written (2005), social media was in its infancy, and, while cell phones were everywhere, smart phones were just beginning to penetrate the public consciousness. This book takes the idea of ubiquitous surveillance and runs with it, creating a multi-tiered society: the civilians — we ordinary folk who go about our daily business blissfully unaware or simply not caring how closely we are tracked and manipulated; the Tabula — a mysterious cabal of wealthy no-goodniks who do the tracking and manipulating, for the good of society, of course; the Harlequins — an equally mysterious class of bodyguards-cum-assassins whose only purpose in life is to protect… the Travelers — people with the ability to psychically travel to other parallel dimensions.

Over centuries, the Harlequins and Travelers developed an “off-grid” lifestyle: as far as the government knows, they don’t exist. They live “off-grid” under assumed names and false identities.

To live off the grid, one must be completely dedicated to avoidance of the usual comforts, such as an established residence, electricity, and running water; or one has sufficient wealth or knowledge to provide one’s own infrastructure for those comforts (e.g., paying cash for a home, buying solar panels and generators, digging wells and buying pumps, etc.); or one has a vast network of trusted acquaintances with access to stolen identities that enable one to hide in plain sight.

Their off-grid habits weren’t perfect: the Tabula hunted the Harlequins and Travelers mercilessly and have nearly succeeded in exterminating them. The few remaining Harlequins believe there are no Travelers left. They spend their time in hiding, protecting the knowledge of their class. Then they hear that the children of the last known Traveler are still alive. The ability to travel between realms is hereditary, and thus is launched a global search for these now-grown children. Unfortunately, the Tabula also become aware of their existence, and finding the potential Travelers quickly turns into a race between two warring enemies.

A decent story, as far as it goes. Not particularly well-written, but not a complete dud.

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Book review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

KindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Giving this 3 1/2 stars.

You all know the plot by now: Dana, a modern black woman, is inexplicably thrust back into the antebellum South, time after time, where she is presumed to be a slave based on the color of her skin. Eventually she figures out she is drawn back to that particular plantation and that particular time to protect the life of the young son of the plantation owner. Said son is her ancestor — a twist on the Grandfather Paradox: she must keep him alive long enough to father a child with a particular slave or she will not exist.

Ms. Butler pulls no punches in her graphic detailing of the brutality of slavery. Said brutality makes this a difficult read. It’s a worthwhile read, regardless. If I have a quibble, it’s that the time travel mechanism is left completely unexplained — a trick of the cosmos, a spiritual connection, a genetic memory? Who knows? Although the “how” of Dana’s multiple trips to the early 19th Century isn’t relevant to the story Ms. Butler wanted to tell, I still wanted a bone to chew on, some pseudo-rational gobbledegook, however implausible, that my brain would accept as working within the confines of the story.

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Dual book review: This Way to the End Times and The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

This Way to the End Times: Classic Tales of the ApocalypseThis Way to the End Times: Classic Tales of the Apocalypse by Robert Silverberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A diverse collection of short stories covering a wide variety of ways the world may end, or the aftermath thereof. I’m a sucker for apocalyptic fiction, and this was right up my alley. As with all short story collections, some were better than others, but all were worth reading. Presented in mostly chronological order by date of publication beginning with the early 20th Century, the reader can see how the apocalypse changes as technology advances. That all by itself makes for fascinating reading.

The Heart Is a Lonely HunterThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A book I read because it’s on a bunch of lists of “Books You Must Read Before You Die.”

I won’t say it was a waste of my time, but truly, I didn’t care that much about John Singer, the fellow identified by cover copy as being the main character. I was much more interested in Mick Kelly, the young girl whose family owns the boarding house in which Mr. Singer resides. Maybe that’s because I remember reading The Member of the Wedding when I was a teenager and was expecting something similar.

Maybe I’ll just reread that book.

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Book review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m going to quote the Publisher’s Weekly synopsis here: “…[an] intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death. Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.”

Excellent work. That complex game and the detailed description of its play take up several chapters of this novel. They were probably the hardest for me to get through — I am not a gamer and I don’t care about video games. At. All. But these chapters serve to advance the plot, they’re relatively interesting (I’m aware some folks find them “awesome”) and, eventually, the implications of each game-playing session become clear.

I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. But the author and translator did an excellent job of explaining astrophysics to the unwashed masses (that means me), and I was able to follow enough of the science and reasoning to make sense of the direction of the plot. Plus the sheer educational value of the history of the Cultural Revolution, of which I knew nothing, made this a worthwhile read.  I’m looking forward to the second book of the series, as soon as it becomes available at my library.

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Book review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency, #1)The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good science fiction is a joy forever. John Scalzi writes good SF.

In this first installment of a new series, humanity has spread across the cosmos, and each world is united with all others under a single umbrella called The Interdependency. Interstellar travel and the spread of humanity was made possible by the discovery of a force known as The Flow, accessible at designated points in space-time. The Flow changes and shifts, opening up new areas of the universe and, occasionally, cutting off others.

The Flow is currently in a period of flux, and this fluctuation seems to be more volatile than other previous shifts. In fact, it seems that The Flow may disappear entirely within a very short time, thus leading to the collapse of the empire of the title.

The house of the Emperox, the leader of the Interdepency, is also in flux.  The Emperox died suddenly and his daughter, the new Emperox, was not quite prepared to be thrust into leadership so soon.  That, and the expected Flow catastrophe, makes for an uneasy start to her rule.  As you may have anticipated, all the uncertainty leads to much political maneuvering — read that as plotting and backstabbing — among the rest of the ruling houses of The Interdependency.

So, politics, impending doom, human foibles, space travel, and lots of foul language. Vintage Scalzi. I can hardly wait for the next volume.

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Book review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry (Aaron Falk, #1)The Dry by Jane Harper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aaron Falk returns to Kierrawa, his small hometown in southern Australia, to attend the funeral of his erstwhile best friend Luke. Decades earlier, Luke was the only person who stood up for teenage Aaron when he was suspected of murder; the unending suspicion drove Aaron and his father out of town. Now Luke’s death drags Aaron back; and Luke’s parents guilt him into staying, reluctantly, to investigate what they say cannot have happened: that Luke killed his wife and daughter and then himself in despair over their financial circumstances. The relentless heat and the bone-dry countryside are as integral to this novel as the still-suspicious townfolk who resist Aaron’s probing into old and new wounds.

Nicely executed whodunnit. I’ll look for more in this series.

Read on May 27, 2018

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Book review: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

A Colony in a NationA Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear-eyed analysis of the current state of racial tension in the United States. Chris Hayes is aware of his privilege as an educated, relatively affluent, white male, and uses that privilege to elucidate his premise that, for all its lip service to equality and justice for all, the US is a divided society — the Nation, generally composed of white people excessively concerned with public safety and “law and order;” and the Colony, constituted in the main by people of color who are increasingly the targets and victims of the “law and order” mindset of the Nation.

Hayes’ premise is easily confirmed by recent events in which people of color just going about their own business have had the cops called on them for what amounts to breathing while black. Not that the Philadelphia Starbucks incident or the Oakland barbecue incident are anything out of the ordinary for black folks in this country: we just hear about them now because of the ubiquity of smart phones and use of social media.

While Hayes doesn’t offer any solutions, that’s not the point of his book. The whole point here is to raise awareness. Look around. Take notice of the many ways the Nation oppresses the Colony. And, if you’re white, do your best to recognize your part in the oppression — because we all do it, despite our best intentions. Recognition leads to self-awareness leads to a change in behavior.

Because black lives matter.

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Book review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Sleeping BeautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen King

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sleeping women became enshrouded in cocoons and, without them, men tore the world apart.

This novel hinges on the premise that, without women’s civilizing influence, the human male is a brute savage, bent on destruction and domination. And while that might be true to a certain degree and for certain men, I simply can’t believe men in general would lose all sense of decorum and restraint within a three-day absence of their mothers, wives, and daughters, even given they don’t know if said absence is temporary.

I mean, give it at least a week, right? Maybe even two.

Two stars and “It was ok” is all the praise you’re getting from me, King père et fils. It was readable, at least.

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Book review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge)A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This third installment of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series covers the Elizabethan era of England’s history, with its attendant political intrigues, religious persecutions, and assassination plots. While our chief protagonist, Ned Willard, and his family are fictional, famous historical personages inhabit the plot: William Cecil; Mary, Queen of Scots; Francis Walsingham; Francis Drake; and of course Elizabeth Tudor.

Ned Willard goes to court as a young man, after having been disappointed in love, and is promptly taken under the wing of William Cecil, Elizabeth Tudor’s chief advisor. Together they oversee a network of informants and spies, rooting out planned rebellions and foiling attempts on the Queen’s life. The majority of the political story concerns the tension between staunch Catholics and Protestants, each believing they follow the One True Faith; and the accompanying efforts to sway England, France, and Spain toward one religious tradition or the other.

I liked this book. It’s well-written and steeped in historical detail. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the first of the line (The Pillars of the Earth, set in the 12th century), or even the second (World Without End, set in the 14th century). That may be because I am utterly fascinated by the Middle Ages — far more than with any other period in history — and thus novels set in other historical eras don’t engage me as much. Still, Elizabethan England is a dramatic setting, and the dramatic plotline delivers one punch of excitement after another.

Given that the three books in this series each take place approximately 200 years apart, I venture to guess that the next installment, should there be one, will cover the American Revolution, and will take place in both England and the New World. We’ll see.

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Book review: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I had to read this book. Had. To. Because I had to know what the view looked like from inside the mess being reported in the mainstream media.

And now that I know, I feel even more ill that this completely self-absorbed, functionally illiterate, childish excuse for a human being is seated in the Oval Office, and that he’s surrounded by similarly incompetent toadies and sycophants who believe it’s their job to tell him what he wants to hear instead of the truth.

Because he can’t deal with the truth. Truth and facts are dull. And they’re not about him. So, hey, don’t bother briefing me on this boring national security matter; let’s talk about my golf game instead!

OMFG. Unless Trump is removed from office as soon as possible, the American experiment just might be over.

Prior to reading this, I had no guilt about flipping this man’s official photograph the bird every day when I walk into the building where I work. And after reading it, I take a certain amount of pride in the gesture.

(Three stars because it’s choppy and uneven, and some of the transitions lack continuity. But yay for gossipy juicy insider tidbits.)

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