Categories
Adventure Science Fiction

All Systems Red (Book Thoughts) by Martha Wells

Ahhh I had to restart the novellas before reading Network Effect. I know they don’t really affect the full length book but it feels right and they are quick reads (or listens).

For those unaware, The Murderbot Diaries is a series of 5 novellas and one full length novel set prior to those events, about a security bot who hacks itself and would rather watch tv dramas then do its job.

It’s snarky, at times funny sci-fi that reads more like adventure fiction as the actual science is pretty limited.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: All Systems Red
  • Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
  • Author: Martha Wells
  • Punlisher & Release: TorDotCom – May 2017
  • Length: 160 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ☀☀☀☀ sure for scifi/adventure fans!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid ― a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

I really love Murderbot.  There is absolutely Nil for world building which is where I perpetually dock a star, but the action, plot, mystery, snarky characters, and AI ethical struggles won me over pretty quickly.

As in most novellas, the plot and action move quickly.  We get what we need about The Company and the function of Security bots, while the rest is characters and banter and action.

I enjoyed the plot too, we get plenty of danger and an added mystery / who dunnit as well.  Murderbot might prefer not to interact with humans but it surprisingly is quite good at it’s job, when while epically half-assing it

It’s hard not to like Murderbot as a character too. It just rolls it’s eyes and snarks at the humans – but lord forbid someone tries to kill the humans because then it’s all NO YOU WONT HURT MY HUMANS!! Mensah and the others are interesting too, in the glimpse we get some complicated crew dynamics as they deal with their terrible situation ( and rogue SecUnit).

I love the moment when MB is like – These are my humans! I also appreciate Murderbot’s sentiments towards humans, AKA it’s favorite quote time – because honestly I relate to the not caring parts 😂

Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency

 

As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure

 

I don’t know why, because it’s one of those things I’m not contractually obligated to care about

 

I was the one who was supposed to keep everybody safe. I panic all the time, you just can’t see it, I told her. I added the text signifier for “joke.”

All in all – definitely check out Murderbot if you like snark and adventure and quick reads.  I will add that All Systems Red won a boatload of awards in 2018 – The Hugo, Nebula, Alex, AND Locus! For all that the Hugo and Nebula have given into the PC crowd, this book wasn’t terrible. Murderbot has no sexy parts (I picture an amorphous Ken doll) and identified as “It” – which makes blessed sense to me – but otherwise the book is not terribly PC and the awards are well deserved in my opinion!

Categories
Adventure audiobooks Suspense Thrillers

The Pursuit (Book Thoughts) by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

I decided to finish out the Lee Goldberg portion of the Fox and O’Hare series and was not disappointed.  Book 4 – The Scam – was my least favorite in the series and I almost didn’t read The Pursuit but now I’m glad I did.

The action was back.  The heist and con were dangerous, exciting, and interesting, and the bad guy was actually pretty dark in how he treated his employees (and was planning on killing tons of Americans).

A new character was introduced, if anyone remembers the robbery that the team accidentally botched in The Chase – the leader is brought back as a sewer expert.  Oh my gosh he had me cracking up with laughter because he took himself so seriously, but he did his job.  It was also nice to drop back in on Montreal, one of my favorite cities!

The regular team is back as well, Willie and Boyd and the crew.  We finally see some chemistry and action between Kate O’hare and Fox too, which *even I* was ready for at this point.  I’m glad Jake (her dad) approves too.  I’m also glad that he got to pass his love for rocket launchers onto Willie!

The characters carry these books for sure even when all else fails.  Jake always manages to bring in some amazing old military buddies and the entire team has great chemistry at this point. I always say there is banter for days but it’s true!.  There’s a new office assistant type character as well that I think was a Goldberg addition 😂

I think what finally set this one apart was the ultimate danger and complexity of the con – I do love medical things and the bio terror / terrorism angle was something new for the series. Also it seemed like a lot of bad guys got shot and killed – and the FBI was like GUYS YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN! 

Overall: if you think there’s a book 3-4 slump, I would keep reading for this one.  You can always check out the audio as well, Scott Brick can do no wrong and delivers a solid no frills narration with plenty of vocal variety!

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

Notre-Dame de Paris (or The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo

Here is the summary via Amazon:

The complete and unabridged translation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The setting of this extraordinary historical novel is medieval Paris: a city of vividly intermingled beauty and ugliness, surging with violent life under the two towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Against this background, Victor Hugo unfolds the haunting drama of Quasimodo, the hunchback; Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer; and Claude Frollo, the priest tortured by the specter of his own damnation. Shaped by a profound sense of tragic irony, it is a work that gives full play to the author’s brilliant imagination and his remarkable powers of description.

Translated by Walter J. Cobb

**originally published in France, 1831.  Approx 500 pages but differs between versions*

I tend to find classic novels a huge struggle to read. This is especially true when the author takes an entire section (literally) of the book just to describe the view from the cathedral rooftop.  I knew from reading a number of modern reviews that Notre-Dame de Paris is a tiresome read at times, but even I wasn’t ready for the ratio of story involving the characters – very small – vs. the rest of the book. The rest includes architecture, history, society, more architecture, more social commentary, more history etc.

That said, I readily admit to using a teaching guide so I could at least follow and try to absorb what Hugo was trying to tell his readers.  I think that really enriched the read. I know next to nothing about French history so it was kind of interesting to see the parallels and explanations that he was giving the 1830s Paris readers, of the medieval 1400s Paris in which the book takes place.  Truly this is a piece of historical fiction

There is also a running commentary on architecture, orphans, classism, unrequited love and all the forms it can take, plus internal vs external beauty.  I liked the parts that actually focused on the characters.

The characters are really funny actually, I liked Gringoire the most. I think he liked the goat more than he liked La Esmerelda. Then she was terrified of everyone else who loved her, except for Phoebus, who was (pardon my French haha) basically chasing hookers.  She was obsessed with the idea of him. Frollo and his failures made for an interesting villain,he basically sunk into madness once his ideals were thrown haywire and his life caught up with him.

One other thing that seemed funny was that in this original version, La Esmeralda had absolutely NO personality at all, she was just entirely a tool for the story. The men were actually interesting though, and so was the general arc of the story

Oh, gosh, I forgot the one that truly had me cracking up – the frequent use of the word Ejaculated in conversation 😂 oh I do hope that wasn’t the translator having a gag at Hugo for some reason. It does make me wish I could read in other languages – how much of an original work truly gets lost in translation?

This one was a true struggle but I’d recommend reading it if you enjoy classics! I would imagine though that Hugo was rolling in his grave over the Disney version, what a travesty haha I was expecting something much different but am glad that I read the full, unabridged translation.

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fiction

A Well Rounded Literary Reading List – from Alexis Levitin

An intro from @OneReadingnurse: Hi everyone! I have been working on compiling a not-to-be-missed reading list from all over the world, for those who – like me – either feel like their reading isn’t necessarily well rounded, or are simply looking for new ideas.  I originally posed this question to my PHD of something-literature-related father, who then asked his extremely well read, travelled, and translated, friend, Alexis Levitin.  Both are published short story writers, professors of lit, and Levitin has translated poetry and other works from many countries. He focuses on the Portuguese.  I would really encourage everyone to check out his links, which are posted at the end.

What I’ve got here is, to be honest, a copy and pasted email, but so much thought was put into it. It is by no means a total list, and you can note that he doesn’t focus so much on known “classics” as simply great writing.  I got their permission to turn this into a guest post, so enough from me, here it is!


Dear Athena,
      Hi. I am happy to help you build up a good reading list. But let me first give you some general advice. It is wiser to start with shorter pieces by great authors, rather than delving immediately into a one thousand page monstrous epic that might kill your desire to read any further.
     Russia:
1) Read short stories by Anton Chekhov, probably the greatest short story writer ever. “Lady with a Pet Dog” is the greatest short story ever written, but very adult.
2) Read Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, a very short novel that is very Russian.
3) Read all the short stories you  can find (there are hundreds, in fact) by Leo Tolstoy, probably the most intelligent novelist of all time.
4) Read Tolstoy’s painfully great novela, The Death of Ivan Ilych.
5) Although it is very long, read Dostoevksy’s Crime and Punishment.
 
        France:
1) Read the very short, very accessible The Stranger by Camus. It is my favorite 20th century novel. Anything else by Camus is also worthwhile.
2) If you are interested in religion and sex and love, there is a great short novel that no one reads. It is Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide.
3) Read various short stories, always amusing, by Guy de Maupassant.
4) You can try Flaubert, who is truly great, but not easy to read. About the clash between romanticism and ordinary boring life, try Madame Bovary.
 
             Spain:
1) It is very, very long, but absolutely hilarious and great fun: Don Quixote. 
2) Miguel de Unamuno is great, but no one reads him nowadays. Try his wonderful novela Abel Sanchez.
3) She is not famous, but she is excellent: Esther Tusquets from Barcelona.
4) Garcia Lorca, Europe’s greatest 20th century poet, murdered for being gay.
                 Italy:
1) Dino Buzatti is a great Italian writer, a little like Kafka. His short stories are great and so too his short novel The Tartar Steppe.
2) Easy to read, accessible, but really not bad is Alberto Moravia.
3) Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo.
                   Czech/German:
1) Kafka is the greatest European writer of the 20th century. You should read everything he wrote, but especially short stories such as “Metamorphosis.”
2) Slow, but highly intelligent, try “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann.
3) Rilke is the greatest European poet of the 20th century, along with Lorca.
                      England:
1) Joseph Conrad, especially the great short novel Heart of Darkness.
2) E.M. Forster, especially Passage to India. 
3) Graham Greene. Anything he wrote. You will love him because he is full of action, full of intrigue, full of the struggle between morality and sin, etc. The best
novel to start with is The Power and The Glory.
4) D. H. Lawrence. Read all his short stories. There are many of them and they are full of inner action, emotions, inner conflict, class struggle, men vs. women, etc. His poetry is also very interesting and accessible, but his novels are just too much.
5) James Joyce. Avoid the huge books and read Dubliners.
 
                             The United States:
1) All short stories by John Steinbeck. Easy to read, but rich in human experience. You can also try the short novels Of Mice and Men and The Red Pony, but the latter is extremely painful in its realism.
2) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Essential reading for any educated person in the 20th century (and thereafter, ha ha). Alsdo his short stories.
3) Hemingway’s short stories, especially the greatest ones: “Hills Like White Elephants,””Cat in the Rain,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” and “A Clean Well-Lighted PLace.” Perhaps for love of your father you should also read the two stories called “Big Two-Hearted River,” about trout fishing and mental health. Also try the lively early novel The Sun Also Rises.
4) William Faulkner: try short stuff like “The Bear” and “Barn Burning.”
 His greatest novel, which no one reads, is called The Wild Palms. It is about varieties of love, romanticism, and death. Two novels interlaced.
5) Truman Capote- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
6) William Styron- Lie Down in Darkness (your Dad did his PhD on this great writer).
7)  James Agee- A Death in the Family
8)  Philip Roth- Everyman (short and right-to-the-point.)
9) Saul Bellow- Henderson, The Rain King
10) maybe Sherwood Anderson- Winesburg, Ohio.
As I was saying to your father today, I left out some great stuff from the 19th century: Hawthorne’s Short Stories, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and maybe his Billy Budd.  Edgar Allen Poe’s
best short stories, such as “A Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and, best of all, his great doppleganger story,”William Wilson.” Also Twain’s Huck Finn.
      From Greece there is Kazanztakis’s Zorba, the Greek” and the great poetry of Cavafy.
     It goes on and on…….
 
That should get you started. Good luck.
Alexis

You can “Meet the Author” here at this link!  He also has a website, that I am told is not updated but does list some publications and such to check out
https://www.plattsburgh.edu/academics/schools/arts-sciences/english/faculty/levitin-alexis.html
https://www.plattsburgh.edu/academics/schools/arts-sciences/english/faculty/levitin-alexis.html
Categories
Fantasy Literary Fiction Paranormal

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (all the things I learned) by Salman Rushdie

The only thing I knew about Rushdie going into this read was that 1) his eyebrows are terrifying and 2) about 30 years ago he really, really pissed off the Ayatollah enough to receive a death warrant. I knew that he was known for magical realism and I thought a book about Djinn would be a fun place to start – plus Ursula LeGuin plugged the book, and it pays tons of homage to Scheherezade and the 1001 nights (see title).

I expected a stuffy old idealist, which meant that while reading I was shocked by the humor and strangeness mixed in with the idealism and colorful characters, sex and profanity, giggles and terrible acts and general ridiculousness found on the same page as much more serious themes and topics.

I watched a talk and Q&A that Rushdie did, mostly about his new book at the time called Quichotte, and he is HILARIOUS.  Brilliant clearly but also giggling about not wanting certain presidents in his fucking book, and he actually joked that thirty years later, only one of the two men (Rushdie vs. the Ayatollah) are alive, so things must have worked out.  I was laughing truly, he is a delight to listen to.

So what did I learn? Don’t assume an author is a stuffy old dude until you read something they write and hear their thoughts on their work.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Salman Rushdie
  • Publisher & Release: Random House, September 2015
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ ⚡ I don’t think I would tell people to read this book of his first

Here’s the synopsis:

In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub–Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor’s office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining.

Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious, wanton creatures known as the jinn, who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centuries ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world.

Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia’s children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, in which beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.

Inspired by the traditional “wonder tales” of the East, Salman Rushdie’s novel is a masterpiece about the age-old conflicts that remain in today’s world. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is satirical and bawdy, full of cunning and folly, rivalries and betrayals, kismet and karma, rapture and redemption.

I think the last line of the synopsis says everything.  The main issue for me is that the book was set another 1000 years in the future, so the first and last parts of it read like a historical textbook on the Djinn and an old war.  Not that this is a bad thing, but it caused me to switch over to the audio as that kind of literature gets into my brain easier when someone else is telling the story.

After a history of the Djinn, we meet Dunia, and then generations later we meet the descendants of her children. Many of these are described in the synopsis.  This was the highlight for me as things got quite strange.  For example – how does someone floating higher and higher off the ground take a crap once things start getting too splashy? Is a gardener capable of being a hero? Will the power destroy or drive mad or save it’s recipients when their Djinn blood is awakened?

“Bawdy and satirical” is an understatement an overall I liked those parts.  I didn’t love how he made religion the scapegoat of the dark Djinn, he pretty much dismissed a ton of people as sheep and clowns, but there were also some interesting ideas about God so who knows where he is really coming from.

The 1001 night war was a good idea, and I liked that he kept circling back to the storytellers.  Other themes obviously included repressed idealism, common heroes, how good and bad can originate much from the same place, and … right at the end there is a great piece on how history chooses it’s heroes and writes them accordingly

He also echoed a sentiment I have been feeling recently where people are so focused on immediate results (including in stories) that longer books and journeys aren’t appreciated so much anymore

One quick note on the narration – I love Indian accents, and Robert G. Slade did an awesome job.  The cackling comic book Djinn roughly quoted as saying “come get me mothafuckaaa” was one of the many, many things I thought he did well.  A large portion of the book also took place in America, and I think he has a great range of accents and voices to offer.  It was a no-frills audio and I think it was the right move for me to switch over

Overall: I think everyone should read at least one Rushdie book at some point, but the historical text parts of this one were a lot less interesting than the present tense chapters.  I would not recommend starting with this book.  I am personally going to try Quichotte next, but Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses (the one the sparked the Fatwa) I believe are his two most popular.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction

The Magician King (book thoughts) by Lev Grossman

Well I definitely couldn’t stop reading at the end of The Magicians, so here are my thoughts on The Magician King! So many series have a second book slump and I was absolutely floored that this sequel was even better than the first.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Series: The Magicians, #2
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2011
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of modern/contemporary fantasy

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy

I will do my best to keep this spoiler free.

So you guys know that I loved The Magicians. There was no sophomore slump in this series as Quentin, Elliot, Josh, and newish characters Julia and Poppy now have to save Fillory (and the entire multiverse) from the end of all magic.

First off – I loved Poppy.  I would have paired her up with Quentin any day and she taught him a lot about optimism and perspective.  Quentin finally identified “home” and was willing to fight for it.  I loved when he embraced his sorcery and role. He learned what it takes to not only be a King, but a hero, and was willing to sacrifice everything for Julia at the end.  Even if he had known the price I think he would have said yes.

That said, I am probably the only one but I don’t sympathize with the Julia story.  She had it rough but she should have dropped it after failing the Brakebills exam.  When she got a second chance to return to normalcy and rejected that too – she made her choice.

The book got absolutely brutally grimdark towards the end as the hedgewitches essentially got what they asked for when knocking on the gods’ door. They endangered magic everywhere and were just idiotically out of their league.  I would have liked to know more about why the Free Trader Beowulf clan members weren’t chosen for magic school to begin with, what was the test really looking for?  They were so smart yet didn’t seem to consider the consequences of their actions

Their journey was interesting both  philosophically and from a religious standpoint. It was fascinating to follow their train of thought on religion as an objective study, translating to magic ….. but … I have to wonder what exactly they were thinking, to go from not trusting anyone to setting up a huge summoning which a total stranger presented! For being such geniuses they really did not think their plan through, and then the world went grimdark.

No spoilers but it takes a lot to make me cringe, and I was cringing.  I read an interview where Grossman stated that he thought the most broken people made the best creative works, and translated that into magic for the story.  The characters make so much more sense now.

All in all: I loved this one.  I liked the hedgewitch magic theory vs. religion, even if their levelling system was stupid.  I liked Quentin’s character growth.  I liked the humor.  I liked Josh’s comeback.  The magic was huge, dark, and wild in this one.

Mark Bramhall is once again a fantastic narrator as well.  I think with the humor and swearing and inflection, so much inflection, the audio narration brings a lot to this book.  I liked closing my eyes and envisioning Quentin storming the watchtower.  The end was wonderful too.  I think he does a great voice for Elliot, Josh and Quentin, and brings a lot of excitement and sorrow where appropriate.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes:

“You didn’t get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do.”

Grossman took a bit of time exploring what it is to be a hero

“Maybe this was one of those times when being a hero didn’t involve looking particularly brave. It was just doing what you should.”

Probably Quentin’s single biggest moment of character growth. Gosh I loved his protectiveness towards Eleanor and Benedict

“You’re saying the gods don’t have free will.”

“The power to make mistakes,” Penny said. “Only we have that. Mortals.”

An amazing bit on the gods – what is greatness if they can’t love their creation? Magic!  Quentin loved magic, he deserved it! He would fight for it!

“It’s true,” Eliot said. “Statistically, historically, and however else you want to look at it, you are almost never right. A monkey making life decisions based on its horoscope in USA Today would be right more often than you. But in this case, yes, you were right. Don’t spoil it.”

Elliot’s story ARC warmed my cold little soul in this one too. He’s found his place, his assertiveness, he’s taken charge of his home, and he’s as hilarious as ever.

The only other thing too is that I really love both alternate cover editions, I don’t just like TV covers but look at Julia! It’s beautiful

Screenshot_20220131-191503

That’s enough rambling, in a few weeks I’ll have my thoughts posted on the final installment of the trilogy!

Categories
Fiction General Fiction Literary Fiction

The Latecomer (ARC Review) by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Thank you so much to Celadon Books for the free early copy of The Latecomer! All opinions are my own

One thing that I definitely don’t read enough of is literary fiction and family drama, and I love that this author uses a bit of satire on certain hot topics in her books!

If you like generational stories, complicated family dynamics, coming of age, art, reconciliation (coming to Jesus moments?) and a few good jabs at both liberals and conservatives, this is definitely a good book for you!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Latecomer
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
  • Publisher & Release: Celadon Books, 5/31/22
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes if you like smart family dramas

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Latecomer is a layered and immersive literary novel about three siblings, desperate to escape one another, and the upending of their family by the late arrival of a fourth.

The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?

A complex novel that builds slowly and deliberately, The Latecomer touches on the topics of grief and guilt, generational trauma, privilege and race, traditions and religion, and family dynamics. It is a profound and witty family story from an accomplished author, known for the depth of her character studies, expertly woven storylines, and plot twists.

Ha yes so what else is there to say? The summary is excellent.  The father’s guilt and prior trauma set the stage for a wife who never lived her own life, and a set of triplets that absolutely abhor the entire situation.

I never quite understood the childhood strife between the siblings and eventually chocked it up to a plot device, although they certainly weren’t getting any good examples from the parents.

Each sibling has their own chapters, and later on, the unheard of fourth sibling kind of brings everyone together as the synopsis says.

I appreciate this author the most for her satires.  In The Plot, it was against trolls in publishing and the book world, and here she takes on liberal and conservative education.  Oh was I laughing at poor Harrison (the smartest sibling probably) trying to navigate the utterly terrible high school that the triplets went to.  No grades, feeling consortiums, no context to the victimization the kids are learning! A liberal nightmare.  Don’t worry, she gets the conservatives back too in spectacular fashion but that’s a spoiler 😂

It’s always nice to see Ithaca, Rochester, WNY in general in these books too.  A gorges pun will make me smile any day.

There is plenty of drama, deep characterization, growing up, and reconciliation too.  Everyone has to find their own way before they find each other and it was nice to see those stories.  There are lots of good coming of age elements as well as reconciling later on as adults.

The end – with Harrison and his new friend –  just had me cracking up.  She ended that on a fantastic note. 

The only thing I didn’t like in the ARC, and it may or may not be cleaned up in the final, was the narrative points of view.  Sometimes the triplets were talking and it was like second person “our” when speaking of the past, or an “I” in present tense, but the POV never seemed consistent even within one chapter.  That’s where I docked the star.

My advice: set aside a chunk of time for this one and enjoy it.  It’s complicated and a great read to take one’s time with. 

Drama  ✔ characters✔ satire ✔ complicated dynamics ✔ making a few strong social comments ✔

If anyone reads this please do let me know, I would love to chat about it!

 

 

 

 

Categories
Fiction Suspense Thrillers

The Favor (ARC Review) by Nora Murphy

Thank you so much to Minotaur Books for the free digital advanced copy of The Favor by Nora Murphy! All opinions are my own

I have mixed but overwhelmingly positive feelings about this book. It is a gripping domestic thriller that I read in two sittings. The author is a lawyer who has worked with survivors of intimate partner violence and it’s obvious she knows what she is writing about. My only issue was with one of the points of view that just didn’t ring true.  I would definitely recommend The Favor to anyone who enjoys a fast paced stressful domestic thriller.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Favor
  • Series: N/a
  • Author: Nora Murphy
  • Publisher & Release: Minotaur Books, 05/31/22
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨ yes for fans of domestic thrillers

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

A gripping debut domestic suspense novel, The Favor explores with compassion and depth what can happen when women pushed to the limit take matters into their own hands.

Staying is dangerous. Leaving could be worse.

Leah and McKenna have never met, though they have parallel lives.

They don’t—ever—find themselves in the same train carriage or meet accidentally at the gym or the coffee shop. They don’t—ever—discuss their problems and find common ground. They don’t—ever—acknowledge to each other that although their lives have all the trappings of success, wealth and happiness, they are, in fact, trapped.

Because Leah understands that what’s inside a home can be more dangerous than what’s outside. Driving past McKenna’s house one night, she sees what she knows only too well herself from her own marriage: McKenna’s “perfect” husband is not what he seems. She decides to keep an eye out for McKenna, until one night, she intervenes.

Leah and McKenna have never met. But they will

This is a shorter and very fast paced read that will be perfect for summer reading.  Like I said I read it in two sittings and have no regrets.

Both of the women have a present tense point of view. I thoroughly enjoyed their narratives and was just downright scared for them the whole time in the current storyline. As the author writes in the afterword,  IPV occurs among white collar professionals and it is just terrible how these things can happen even to well educated women like Leah and McKenna. They are respectively a lawyer and doctor. There was a second timeline that started when Leah got married and worked towards present day events, showing how things devolved once the husband got control

Once a crime occured and the third voice is introduced, I unfortunately thought the detective’s POV detracted from the book. The whole side storyline involving his partner showed that some people don’t escape the violence and may have helped to toggle his understanding of events. It generally felt distracting though. The detective felt like a very cookie cutter character and even just with some of the generic investigator lines that he said it was difficult to feel anything for him. I also think that due to the nature of the crime in the novel there would be no way that he could start to close the case so early. The social pressure would be unbelievable, heck maybe I’ve read too many procedurals but it seems like some special crime crew would get involved if he wanted to close the case. What happened definitely works for the book but it just didn’t feel real at all

The only other silly thing was that one of the women mentioned the importance of financial independence, well before the control and coercion started, but then didn’t hesitate to transfer all of her funds into a joint account when she got married. All of your funds – hello that’s not maintaining your independence! Good advice there for women to absolutely not do that and maintain a portion of their own finances. It was also shown that some banking related things can be subverted with forged signatures, but I thought banks required most of those forms to be signed in person?

Don’t mind me please I am just splitting hairs now. These things absolutely worked in the scope of the novel. The Favor is a thrilling, suspenseful, quick read and contains a list of resources for suspected abuse at the end as well as a thoughtful afterword which I think added a lot to the novel.  One good thing that the detective character accomplished was identifying signs that IPV may be happening to somebody, as in, what does it look like to people in their social circle?

Breakneck pace, suspense, danger, women you’ll care about, and I think the tough topics were handled well and without judgement.

Definitely do pick this one up if it sounds up your alley, these characters have a heck of a story. Out in May!

Categories
Contemporary Fantasy Fiction Horror Literary Fiction Paranormal Young Adult

Wake the bones (ARC Review) by Eilizabeth Kilcoyne

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for the free early read of Wake the Bones in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Honestly I liked this one quite a bit but struggled with it’s age group appropriateness, so it was hard for me to rate.  I would push it on the 18-25 age group and keep it off the YA imprint.

With walking bones, rising evil, death, abuse, and a terribly disillusioned drowned ghost among other eldritch things, this is definitely one to have on board for spooky season. It’s much more lyrical than a typical horror novel though and encompasses magical realism and literary fiction too.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wake the Bones
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Elizabeth Kilcoyne
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, July 12, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: *scratches head* I just don’t think it’s a YA, 16+ if I were really stretching it

Here’s the synopsis:

The sleepy little farm that Laurel Early grew up on has awakened. The woods are shifting, the soil is dead under her hands, and her bone pile just stood up and walked away.

After dropping out of college, all she wanted was to resume her life as a tobacco hand and taxidermist and try not to think about the boy she can’t help but love. Instead, a devil from her past has returned to court her, as he did her late mother years earlier. Now, Laurel must unravel her mother’s terrifying legacy and tap into her own innate magic before her future and the fate of everyone she loves is doomed.

Elizabeth Kilcoyne’s Wake the Bones is a dark, atmospheric debut about the complicated feelings that arise when the place you call home becomes hostile.

Ok here are my quick thoughts on the age thing: it’s marketed as YA (13-18) but I really truly strongly feel it should target an 18-20something age group. The characters are 18+, one was in college and dropped out, and all were struggling with loyalty to home, their  future, and generational bonds vs their own fate. Is their home down on the holler or where does fate lead them? Many of the conflicts and issues were not ones that 13-17 yr olds are going to face, although some will, plus the language includes at least one f*co per chapter, s*x scene at the penultimate moment AGAIN (please, YA authors, stop doing this – we assume a second couple shacked up that night too) … I just have a hard time with this on the YA imprint.

That said: let’s talk about this contemporary fantasy / horror / literary fiction

It takes place mostly on Kentucky farmland, where Laurel’s family tobacco farm has sat for generations.  The atmosphere it set from the start with a hunt for bones and trip to the graveyard, where we learn that Laurel has a penchant for death.  From there, things slowly start getting spookier and spookier.  It never gets to the splattering stage but there are dead animals, blood trails, dreams of the dead, her mother’s drowned ghost, lots of blood, someone is hanged, and the devil is downright creepy .. among other things.

The spooky parts are interspersed with a number of important themes to the New Adult (18- ?) age group, like generational chains.  Laurel’s family has been rooted on Kentucky for generations, and she tried leaving, failed, and came home to the farm and friends that needs her.  Another character is abused by his father, and wants to leave, but also struggles with loyalty to his friends and the area.  One doesn’t want to leave at all and is happy as is, and, the fourth has no idea what he wants.

So we see these scary parts mixed with chapters about love and mixed feelings.  Two male characters (Isaac and Garrett) have feelings for each other and that is a constant storyline, plus Laurel and Ricky feel fated towards each other but recognize fear and obligation as obstacles.

All this taking place in a muggy, hot summer, in the middle of a pretty severe haunting.  Each character, even a fifth that is brought in as a guide to Laurel, has different parental and generational issues that has shaped their experience growing up in this small town.

Can they all be friends like they were before, what needs to change, what will their futures hold? Will they even be alive to find out?

Coming home and self acceptance are huge themes.  I loved how the magic worked, as Laurel’s mother was tied to the land and so is she.  Land based magic is my favorite but I’ve never seen it in a contemporary fantasy before so that was interesting

I wish I could share quotes … I normally am not a fan of purple prose but Kilcoyne manages to write about death, life, and survival in such a way that I had SO many quote tabs on the pages.

OH, yeah, survival is a HUGE theme too.  Everyone has to survive their upbringing, life situation, and all the self destruction of those around them while taking hold of their own futures.

The real question is … Does everyone survive? Heh heh I actually did like what the author did at the end, but no spoilers

For me, 🌟🌟🌟🌟, but I’m 33 and would hold this one til my kid was at least 17.  I will not rate it for YA

Categories
Adventure audiobooks Crime Thrillers

Dark Horse (ALC Review) by Gregg Hurwitz

I have to say that as someone who can’t always read a lot of pages due to my eye problems and resulting headaches, that audiobooks are a lifesaver.

Thank you so much to Macmillan Audio for reaching out to offer my first Advanced Listening Copy! I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Scott Brick narrate Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz. I have not read or listened to anything else in this series of books, and while I didn’t feel lost at all, I do think a bit of knowledge of the background characters and events might add to overall enjoyment.

***on that note – I don’t know how long it is going to last but the first two books in the series are free to read/listen with kindle unlimited at the time that I wrote this post!!

AUDIO-Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Horse
  • Series: Orphan X, #7
  • Author: Gregg Hurwitz
  • Narrator: Scott Brick
  • Publisher & Release: Macmillan Audio (Minotaur Books) 02/08/22
  • Length: 14h30m (432 pages)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of vigilante justice, spy thrillers, action novels, and a bit of snarky banter

Here is the synopsis:

Gregg Hurwitz’s New York Times bestselling series returns when Orphan X faces his most challenging mission ever in Dark Horse.

Evan Smoak is a man with many identities and a challenging past. As Orphan X, he was a government assassin for the off-the-books Orphan Program. After he broke with the Program, he adopted a new name and a new mission–The Nowhere Man, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. Having just survived an attack on his life and the complete devastation of his base of operations, as well as his complicated (and deepening) relationship with his neighbor Mia Hall, Evan isn’t interested in taking on a new mission. But one finds him anyway.

Aragon Urrea is a kingpin of a major drug-dealing operation in South Texas. He’s also the patron of the local area–supplying employment in legitimate operations, providing help to the helpless, rough justice to the downtrodden, and a future to a people normally with little hope. He’s complicated–a not completely good man, who does bad things for often good reasons. However, for all his money and power, he is helpless when one of the most vicious cartels kidnaps his innocent eighteen year old daughter, spiriting her away into the armored complex that is their headquarters in Mexico. With no other way to rescue his daughter, he turns to The Nowhere Man.

Now not only must Evan figure out how to get into the impregnable fortress of a heavily armed, deeply paranoid cartel leader, but he must decide if he should help a very bad man–no matter how just the cause.

So I want to focus more on the audio, since I am reviewing an ALC! Scott Brick is probably, as far as I know, one of the most prodigious narrators out there, I mean he read the Foundation universe by Asimov, Dune, at least some of the Lee Child books, some Erik Larsson, among other things.. and I think this is another amazing performance by him.

He has to voice cartel drug leaders, sicarios, Evan Smoak of course, teenage girls, and pretty much everything in between, and I don’t think he faltered once.  My favorite character was the weapon aficionado named Tommy –  the way Brick had him saying “MonGOlian CLLUSter-forNIcation” had he cracking up.  I think he’s a master, really.

About the book itself – so as I said I have not read any of the Orphan X books, but Hurwitz does a good job recapping who is who and bringing first time readers up on current events.  Obviously there is a bit of a storyline from book to book but it can be read as a standalone for sure.

There was good action throughout the book, good pacing, and a surprising amount of introspection from various characters as well.  I liked Smoak as a main character, the OCD was something a little different and I loved what he did at the end of the book.  Josephine was his little found-family-co-orphan and computer hacker. I liked her too. I want to go back and find the rest of her story, and that of her dog…named Dog!  It seemed like Tommy the weapons guy was featured in the prior book as well so I do definitely want to go back and read the series.

There are many things I could quote too to show the humor included throughout the book, but I will wait until a finished copy is out.  I did like the themes here of starting to trust people, self reflection, honesty with peers, and the whole debate of the morally gray, vs just evil drug lord.  The comparison of their parenting and values was actually pretty interesting and made Evan think about his own life quite a bit.

Anyway – I would definitely recommend this audiobook, the book itself, and potentially the series for fans of vigilante type novels, action books, with hints of romance and humor and found family elements as well.  It was overall good narration and good writing!

…and … there is a lion