Book Review: Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks

Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks

Hundreds of years in the future, the Earth has been rendered nearly unlivable by centuries of warfare. Some fortunate souls remain safe in their underground bunkers, enjoying the comforts their decaying technology has to offer, but the majority of the human race is forced to scrape out a living on the radioactive sands. Star and her sister, Nene, are part of a caravan that travels the wastes between villages. Their already dangerous lives are torn asunder when a flaming light shoots across the sky. The relic “angel” satellite is a harbinger of something much worse, something that has lain dormant for centuries, and is only now waking up . . .

The world building in this novel is crazy good. Sparks has built up a horrifying, sci-fi (but no too out there) future Earth. The use of artificial intelligence, chemical and biological warfare, and weather manipulation as an offensive weapon has stripped the planet of anything green, and poisoned the sky and the land. The devastation is so complete that no one remembers the world as it used to be, and though technology is everywhere, the decaying, almost feral mechs are beyond their comprehension. This is a world that, while horrible, is easy to get lost in.

This is only slightly problematic in that next to such a complex and vividly realized world, the characters that populate it seem small and flat by comparison. Star, Nene, and the others who populate Spark’s world are interesting, and decently developed for (what I assume is) a first book in a series. Yet, throughout the book, the setting is definitely the star of the show.

This is a great book for any lover of sci-fi, post-apocalyptic and/or and speculative fiction. Cat Sparks has created a brilliant world, and I dearly hope she is planning on writing more in this setting.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – May – Corporate Overlords

Well, after a whole lot of delivery company drama, my May Nocturnal Reader’s Box has finally arrived (yay!). I’ve been looking forward to this one since the twisted souls who put the box together every month dropped some hints about what would be included for May. (And those same evil people have been teasing the June box for about two months now, and I am actually  salivating)

So let’s get down to business. The featured book this month is Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. 

Here’s the Goodreads description:

In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.

Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.

Wick is a special kind of supplier, because the drug dealers in the city don’t sell the usual things. They sell tiny creatures that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Against his better judgment, out of affection for Rachel or perhaps some other impulse, Wick respects her decision. Rachel, meanwhile, despite her loyalty to Wick, knows he has kept secrets from her. Searching his apartment, she finds a burnt, unreadable journal titled “Mord,” a cryptic reference to the Magician (a rival drug dealer) and evidence that Wick has planned the layout of the Balcony Cliffs to match the blueprint of the Company building. What is he hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the Company?

Sounds pretty cool, right? Oh, and did I mention that the book comes with a signed bookplate?

The second book is Normal by Warren Ellis

From Goodreads:

Some people call it “abyss gaze.” Gaze into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you.

There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.

For both types, if you’re good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it’s something you can’t do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the “abyss gaze” takes hold there’s only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.

When Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, arrives at Normal Head, he is desperate to unplug and be immersed in sylvan silence. But then a patient goes missing from his locked bedroom, leaving nothing but a pile of insects in his wake. A staff investigation ensues; surveillance becomes total. As the mystery of the disappeared man unravels in Warren Ellis’s Normal, Dearden uncovers a conspiracy that calls into question the core principles of how and why we think about the future—and the past, and the now.

Doomsday seems a bit close for comfort lately, but I’m always up for some speculative fiction! 

And now we come to the goodies! As ever we get a pin (velociraptor, sweet!), and this month’s box includes two bookmarks, one from The Dark Tower series and one from The Southern Reach trilogy, which was also written by this month’s featured author, Jeff VanderMeer. 

Also included was charcoal soap from  the Paper Street Soap Co., in “Tyler Durden” scent (I was a bit nervous at first, but it’s quite pleasant)

A journal (Yay! What? I don’t have a problem, I swear) in a Southern Reach theme

And, as always a lovely custom art print, this one from The Dark Tower (now framed and hanging proudly in my house)

But the last two items really made my day:

A set of Ingen branded socks (I still love rereading Jurassic Park!)

And (squeeeeee) a towel with “Don’t Panic” embroidered on it!

Which, clearly, will have to start traveling with me. You know, just in case.

So if you haven’t already, you really should go to http://www.thenocturnalreadersbox.com/ and check out The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for yourself. I have to say that by far, this is one of the most consistently satisfying book boxes I’ve tried. Can’t wait for next month!

Book Review: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk


Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

This is the sequel to Damned, which I didn’t realize when I started reading. So, caveat: There will likely be spoilers for Damned in this review. Bonus: you can read this book as a stand alone, though I’m sure it makes a lot more sense if you’ve read the previous book (though that is always hard to tell with Palahniuk).

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This book explores the further adventures of Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer, out in the world now as an undead spirit after a Halloween ritual backfires. Madison decides to revisit her movie-star parents’ apartment, which starts a reminiscence of a hideous summer spent with her hayseed grandparents upstate. As Madison works through her (frankly insane) past, she comes to realize that she and her family have been the central cogs in a doomsday battle between the forces of heaven and hell.

I always feel a bit at a loss when trying to describe Chuck Palahniuk. The man has the ability to turn weird tastelessness into an art-form, and I feel like folks either love him or they hate him.This book feels a bit less fun (I’m not sure that’s the right word, but oh well) than his previous books, but that may be because I didn’t read the first book in the series. Palahniuk is on form with plenty of what-the-fuck moments, twisted humor, disgusting metaphors, and lots of information about things you wish you would never need to know. The ending is a bit unsatisfactory, in that it doesn’t really exist, so I can only assume that Palahniuk is planning on making the series a trilogy.

If you have never read a Chuck Palahniuk book, this is definitely not the place to start, try his most well known: Fight Club, or one of his other popular stories, like Choke, or Invisible Monsters. If you are a Palahniuk fan, I’d certainly recommend giving this book (and the previous one) a shot.

Book Review: Ice Ghosts by Paul Watson

Ice Ghosts

Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

In 1845, Sir John Franklin, a British explorer nearing the end of his career, set out in command of two ships to discover the Northwest Passage: a nautical route between Canada and the arctic that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The hunt for the passage had taken up decades, and the accumulated loss of lives and ships in its pursuit was largely considered part of the cost of ensuring Britain’s continuing dominance of the seas. Franklin was determined to be the one to finally find the passage, and to ensure the immortality of his legacy. Setting off with the prophetically named Erebus and Terror, Franklin and his crew of 128 men disappeared into the great white desert of the Arctic Circle. The search for the crew and for the ships would span more than a century, and cost millions of dollars; Franklin’s widow would spend the family fortune in a vain search for answers. The mystery of the Franklin Expedition would capture the imagination of governments, academics, and the public. Franklin achieved his dream of an immortal legacy in the most unfortunate way possible.

Watson explores the story from the late 1840s through to the present day. From the first rescue attempts (delayed by bureaucratic posturing within the Royal Navy), through to the high-tech hunts of the 21st century. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this story involves the local Inuit tribes, whose oral histories seemed to point to the fate of the Franklin Expedition, but were nearly universally disregarded by the European, Canadian, and American searchers.

Watson has written an engaging and fascinating history. The saga of the Franklin Expedition is one of those epic historical tales that seems more like an adventure story. Watson has done a marvelous job of capturing the suspense and drama that accompanied the lost expedition across the decades. His use of multiple primary sources, and his emphasis on the Inuit oral histories make this book stand out from the pack. Fans of adventure-oriented nonfiction like The Lost City of Z should certainly make a point to read this book next.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

The land of Ravka has been decimated by the Shadow Fold; a mysterious consequence of dark magic which blights the landscape in monsters and darkness. The people of this tormented land have not known peace for generations.

While attempting to cross the fold, Army cartographer Alina Starkov finds her transport attacked by the monsters that dwell within. Faced with near-certain death, Alina calls upon a hidden power, and manages to push back the darkness. Returning to non-blighted land, Alina learns that she is a Grisha (witch/mage), and that she may be the only one who can save Ravka from the Shadow Fold. Suddenly thrust into the aristocratic world of the Grisha and Ravka court politics, Alina must master her gift, while at the same time learning to navigate the treacherous waters of court life.

This is YA done right. Books like this keep me coming back to the genre when I feel that reading one more angsty book will drive me mad. The plot (this is the first installment in a trilogy) is well executed. The characters are still in their nascent phase, but show great promise. The requisite love triangle feels a bit more realistic than most entries in the YA genre.

I especially enjoyed the way magic is handled, and the care the author shows in her world building. Bardugo has put together a grand vision, and she has the skill to translate that vision into a gorgeous work of fantasy. The story actually reminds me a bit of the Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan, another fantastic series in YA Fantasy.

Fans of the young adult genre, young adult fantasy, and fantasy in general will enjoy this series. Even those who don’t typically read things in the YA sphere will find a lot to like in this book; it is technically a young adult novel, but it doesn’t read like one. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

 

Book Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

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New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

This is one of the Hogarth Shakespeare series; the Bard’s classic plays reimagined by modern-day authors. Last year I got to read Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest. Now, I’m moving on to Othello as envisioned by Tracy Chevalier.

Chevalier sets her retelling in 1970s Washington DC. The era, with its incendiary post-civil rights racial tensions, provides a brilliant backdrop for a story that orbits intimately around Othello’s otherness (both his race and, presumably, his religion).

Disconcertingly, Chevalier has set her story in an elementary school. The major players are now sixth graders; the horror and the tragedy of the plot enacted by eleven year olds. A bold choice, but one that ultimately plays out well. The petty intrigues and backstabbing of playground rivalries seem to need only a small push to spiral into terminal misunderstanding and violence.

The story, set over a single school day, begins with Osei, also called O, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat starting his first day at a new school, and the only black student enrolled. He quickly befriends Daniella (also called Dee), one of the most popular girls in school, and the two hit it off almost instantly. Unfortunately, Osei’s unlikely friendship with Dee, and his acceptance by Casper, the most popular boy at the school, inspire bully Ian to concoct a malicious plot to put the “uppity” Osei in his rightful place.

New Boy is a powerful retelling of a play that is in itself timeless. Othello continues to resonate with audiences today because the attitudes of racism, resentment, and revenge are depressingly familiar to us all. The child-like cruelty of the elementary students in New Boy is at once horrifying and familiar. The reinforcement of this cruelty by the adults in the picture (who, as one character points out, “should know better”) provides further commentary on the pervasiveness of racism and the continuous effort at education and cultural exploration needed to help combat it. By setting the story in the 1970s, Chevalier gives us some temporal space from such abominable ideas, but recent events should quickly make it obvious that we have not come nearly as far as we would like to think.

In all, this is a great modern retelling of a Shakespeare classic (is that redundant? I think it may be). Othello is an important story, and New Boy will make it more accessible for those who don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the Bard’s archaic prose.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

4321 by Paul Auster

I’m still working out this book. It took me an insanely long time to get through (almost three months!) And while I enjoyed it, I’m still not sure whether or not I liked it.

The book centers around Archibald (Archie) Isaac Ferguson. Well, technically four different Archie Fergusons. While each Archie is genetically identical, each takes a slightly different path in life, and as he grows from boy to teenager to young man, those paths diverge (and yet, still converge) all the more. Archie is born in 1947, enjoys a sometimes more, sometimes less (depending on the Archie) bucolic childhood in the fifties, and comes of age during the tumultuous sixties. The stories follow each Archie as he grows, one chapter for each period of each Archie’s life. Throughout the story, we see how each Archie is separate and distinct, yet at the same time, similarities and sameness abound.

As I said before, I’m still not sure whether I like the book or not. The writing is phenomenal. Archie (in all his iterations) is brought to life as a fully-realized human being. The boy seems to live and breathe within the pages. So too, is the setting he finds himself in. You can almost feel yourself immersed in the 1960s as Archie grows older, taste the tang of revolution and change in the air, the frustration of the United States’ useless war in Vietnam, and the longing of the younger generation to enact broad social reform. This book is real, and Auster is certainly a master of his craft.

So what the hell is my problem? Honestly, it may be more of a formatting and grammatical issue than anything else. This book was a slog. At 800+ pages, it’s physically imposing. But more than that: the chapters are generally forty to fifty pages long, sentences run on for the length of a (very long) paragraph. And while you find yourself immersed in the story, at the same time, you just want it to end; for the sentence to finish, for the chapter to be over.I really had to push myself to finish the book, and took to reading one chapter at a time, in between books. While I’m fully aware that all this is likely just my ADD throwing itself at the walls, be warned: this book is great, but this book is a commitment (which I may or may not mean in the sense of being incarcerated).

So in sum, this is a good book, a very good book, and one written by a very talented author. But I have to say that the more casual reader may want to pass this one by. But if you’re looking for a literary challenge, this is the book for you.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Target Omega by Peter Kirsanow

Target Omega

Target Omega by Peter Kirsanow

Michael Garin is the best of the best, a US special forces soldier so good at his job, and so mom and apple pie, that he would give Captain America an inferiority complex. Garin’s anti-WMD strike force is deployed in a successful mission to prevent a terrorist cell from acquiring a nuclear device. Within 48 hours of their return stateside, all but Garin have been killed by a deadly foreign operative. Finding himself the prime suspect in the deaths of his teammates, Garin goes rogue to uncover the motive behind their deaths and to stop a devastating attack against the United States.

Okay, first off: this book is fun. This is the literary version of The White House has Fallen, Broken Arrow, Rambo, or anything starring John Cena. There are explosions, car chases, shoot ’em ups, and thoroughly implausible hand-to-hand vs. gun fights. The main characters are pretty one-sided and fulfill their genre-defined role, but with this type of story they don’t need to be anything more. This is a popcorn-grade summer action flick bound into paper format, and I enjoyed reading this book.

On the other hand, as is common with this particular genre, there was a lot of ‘Murica flavored chest thumping, and red white and blue dick waving. highly enjoyable action scenes are interspersed with eye-roll worthy proclamations about what it means to be an American (guns, church, and apple pie), and the nature of the true enemy (pansy-ass liberals, duh). As I myself thoroughly own the title of bleeding heart liberal out to destroy all that makes America great, these darling little snippets did take away a bit from my enjoyment of the book (yes, I know, “cry me a river, snowflake”blah blah blah).

So, in sum, I do recommend this book to those who love military-oriented action thrillers, or for anyone wanting an entertaining beach read this summer. It was a genuinely good book, after all. But if you’re the type to take red state MAGA asides with more than just an eye roll (and in the current political climate, I heartily sympathize), this may not be the book for you, at least not right now (maybe 2018? Hopefully?). So read the book, it’s fun, but with just enough family-member-you-avoid-talking-to-at-get-togethers to keep me from being able to whole-heartedly recommend it.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker


Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

You might know this by now, but I’m a huge Jane Eyre fan. I will devour everything and anything related to the book. So when I saw that a book from Mr. Rochester’s point of view was coming out, I jumped on the opportunity like one of my dogs on an errant piece of cheese.

Mr. Rochester did not disappoint. The story begins with young Edward Fairfax Rochester as an unloved second son, torn from Thornfield Hall by an indifferent father to begin his education. The book follows Mr. Rochester though his teen years (banished from his father and older brother to a mill to learn to run a business), through his days in Jamaica (where he meets the mysterious and beautiful Bertha Mason), to his dissipation on the continent (where we meet the opera singer, Celine), and finally, to his fateful journey back to Thornfield where he meets a kind young governess after his horse slips on the ice.

Shoemaker has done a great job of adhering to the tone of the original book; the prose mimics Bronte’s style incredibly well. Shoemaker also manages to bring a fresh feeling to the classic book, while at the same time staying true to the original, no mean feat. In this regard, the book reminds me of Phantom by Susan Kay, another novel which expanded on a well-known story, but remained undiminished even next to the original.

While you do not technically have to read Jane Eyre before reading Mr. Rochester, I would certainly recommend that you read Jane Eyre first. Fans of Jane Eyre should definitely read this book, as should anyone with a love of classic and/or British literature.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Merchant’s Pearl by Amie O’Brien

 

The Merchant's Pearl.jpgThe Merchant’s Pearl by Amie O’Brien

Leila (formerly Sarai) is a missionary’s daughter sold into slavery after the death of her parents. Living in the cosseted and catty world of the Turkish Sultan’s harem, her main goal has been to remain unnoticed by the Sultan and his princes until she can make a claim for her freedom. When Prince Emre, the Sultan’s second son, claims her as his newest concubine, all her hopes seem to have been dashed. But Emre has been in love with Leila for years, ever since a disastrous attempt by his father to “gift” her to him. Despite Leila’s fear of physical intimacy, and her hesitation to tie herself into the place of a concubine, a rapport grows between the two. Meanwhile, the increasing instability of the Turkish empire in the face of the Industrial Revolution may provide them with a way out of their respective gilded cages.

O’Brien does a great job setting her story inside a well-researched and lovingly crafted historical setting. Her central characters, Leila and Emre, are crafted with multiple dimensions and feel more real than the typical heaving bosom and tall dark and handsome from romance novels. The story is, overall, more complex than many in the genre.

Ultimately, though, this book just didn’t capture me. The more modern speech was a bit jarring at times, but I can concede the use in these days and times. I’m tempted to think that the problem was on my end, I feel that romance novels for me can be hit or miss. However, I would still recommend this book to fans of historical romance. O’Brien clearly has talent as a writer, and aficionados of the genre will find a lot to like in the book.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.