I downloaded “Graveminder” because it was read by Emma Galvin (I fell in love with her voice when I listened to “Divergent”) and because the premise seemed promising – a town with restless dead who can only be quieted by a Graveminder and where the last Graveminder has just been killed. There was enough there to pique my interest.
Emma Galvin did the best job she could with the material at hand but the book dragged and dragged. The “reveals” were so slow that I became impatient with them. The book seemed to start several times. There was no narrative thrust to the tale.
“Graveminder” is peppered with good ideas and potentially interesting characters but none of them go anywhere.
I was left with the impression that Melissa Marr had come up with a great pitch for a book and then been unable to move it from idea to fully realized novel.
There was enough there to get me to think that other books by Melissa Marr might be worth a read but my recommendation for “Graveminder” is: don’t bother.
"A Fine And Bitter Snow" moves right along from "Singing For The Dead" continuing the "we're really a series now" feeling that has been there since "Hunter's Moon".
This book brings Kate back to the Park and gets her reinvolved with the regular cast of characters from the previous books. Kate is most fully herself in the Park. Seeing her in this environment shows how she has changed: her quite assumption that she can and should intervene in Park politics, the hole in her life where Jack used to be and her dawning recognition that, although she still values her solitude, she yearns for a man to share her life with.
I can also see what hasn't changed: Kate's loyalty to her friends, her refusal to be pushed into anything, her bravery in the face of danger and her practical compassion in her dealings with people in trouble.
"A Fine And Bitter Snow" gave me another opportunity to see Kate through Jim Chopin's eyes. Somehow this seems a clearer and more passionate view than I ever remember getting through Jack Morgan's eyes.
There is, of course a murder and Kate involves herself in investigating it. The death takes Kate back to her childhood and beyond, to the very early days of the Park being formed and shows once again that you can never leave your past behind you. The murder mystery is not particularly challenging but that is more than made up for by how well drawn the characters are.
I dislike murder books that seem fascinated with the murderer, revelling in the violence they do to others and relegating the victims to incidental plot devices. Dana Stabenow draws real people and describes real grief. In many ways, this makes her murders much more terrible than those of her more blood-thirsty contemporaries.
One of the ways that the people in the Park deal with grief is through holding a Potlach. Kate sets this one up (another way in which she is unconsciously stepping into her grandmother's shoes) and her choice of the picture as a Potlach gift sums up the focus on celebrating the person's life. The stories told at the Potlach reminded me of the ones that were told at the wakes my (Irish) grandfather's generation used to hold.
I'm hooked on Kate Shugak now and no longer constrained by books not being available on audible (at least in the US - there are still gaps in the UK) so I've downloaded the rest of the books and will be rationing them out at one a month (unless I give way to weakness and read more).
The Kate Shugak books are usually credible, compact mysteries, set against a backdrop of some significant aspect of life in Alaska. "Dead In The Water" has Jack Morgan getting Kate to go under-cover as crew boat fishing for crab off the Aleutian Islands, to investigate the disappearance of two former crew members.
What follows is a vivid description of what life on board is like and an mystery with enough twist and turns and action and physical danger to keep everything moving along nicely.
For me the "whodunit" aspects of the Kate Shugak novels are secondary considerations, a frame for hanging the important stuff from. When the book is back on the shelf and time has passed, it's not the plot twist that stay with me but the vivid scenes of Alaskan life and what I learn about Kate Shugak.
"Dead In The Water" has several of these memorable moments: Kate drinking with a crew of Russian fishermen in a bar in the port, all of them trying to woo her in a semi-serious, larger than life kind of way; Kate's enounter with a young, deformed, Aluet girl who interprets life by using a storyknife to draw in the sand on the beach and her basket-weaviung grandmother who shares details of the history of her people and Kate's plunge into the freezing depths, trapped in a crab cage. All of these are told with a skill and an eye for detail that makes them real and compelling.
Kate is the centre piece of all of these novels. She is the reason I keep coming back. I this novel I got to see her as a woman confident enough of her own attractiveness and her own strength to spend time with the Russian sailors without feeling threatened by them or offending them. I saw the softer side of her in her gentle teasing of her young, over-enthusiastic Californian-surfer crewmate who loves EVERYTHING Alaskan. I saw the heart of her in her passionate relationship with Jack Morgan. I saw her again tracing the impact of her heritage and her culture in her deference to the elder who teaches her to weave and her affection for the young girl telling stories written in sand.
That is more than enough to make any book successful and is quite extraordinary for a short, crime-fiction novel.
I bought this book for all the wrong reasons: it was on offer, I liked the title and I loved the cover.
Two chapters in, I was so taken aback by the style and the content that I thought, "Damn, I knew those were stupid reasons to buy a book" and almost stopped reading.
Then I examined my own reaction and realized that I was in a kind of reader's shock. The problem with reading something original and different is that the WTF reaction can produce complete disorientation. My imagination struggled for traction, not because the writing was difficult or obscure, but because the style and the content of the story were so different from what I'd expected. I was having difficulty figuring out what I was supposed to do with the book.
The answer, of course, was open up my imagination, relax my preconceptions, and listen to what the author had to say.
A third of the way through the book, I was in love: with the characters, with idea of a story told as a series of first person accounts on tape to a third-party, with the deft skill Marie Manilla showed in moving back and forth along the timeline in a way that enhanced my enjoyment and deepened my understanding and with the constant dance between magic and reality, belief and logic, love and hate, fate and choice, that was presented in a series of bravura performances, ranging in intensity from a broadway musical, through classical ballet to a passionate flamenco.
This book made me think, made me cry and made me hope. Two thirds of the way through, I wanted it to go on forever. I wanted to wrap myself up in this world and never leave.
Sadly, I found the ending week and disjointed. I got nothing at all from the last chapter, which, although it bookended the first chapter, seemed so disconnected from the action of the novel that I became irritated with it.
There are things about the book that people may find challenging: the plot and the narrative style walk a tightrope between the reality and myth, making it hard to know what I was meant to believe or not believe; forcing me make and re-make my own decisions on the truth of the tale. The language in the book is casually (but deliberately) offensive to modern-day ears (Poor Italians in America who live on DagoWop Hill - insult, humour, honesty, all of the above?). The attitude towards the Catholic Church, the clergy and the nature of miracles is antagonistic to the point of insult. Men are depicted, for the most part, as nasty, brutish and short-lived. The rich are shown as selfish, vain, and vicious. The poor are shown as superstious and ignorant.
What lifts the book above a rant or a semi-mystical piece of nonsense, is that it is powered by a deep understanding of the need for love: the love between father and daughter; mother and daughter, husband and wife. It shows families in different configurations and holds them to a single test of worth: do you love each other?
This book is bold and innovative and ambitious so it is inevitable that there were points were I found myself momentarily pitched out of the story when my ability to believe had been stretched too far, but the book as a whole is a joy I'm glad I didn't miss.
The thing I've enjoyed most about the previous White Trash Zombies books has been the development of Angel Crawford from junkie, high school drop out, loser to hard-working zombie morgue worker with a good heart and firm friendships.
I'm not sure whether this book presses the turbo-charge button on that development or sets us off on a completely different path. It's unsettling. I think Dianne Rowland means it to be. By the end of this book, it's clear that we're not going to have a series of Angel books that repeats the same plots and characters like a familiar soap. There is a story arc here and I suspect the ride is going to get very bumpy
Angel Crawford goes through a series of changes in this book that make her look less familiar. She is taken away from her home town to the bright lights of New York City which she gawks at like any first-time tourist and which also has some unpleasant surprises in store for her, one of which is a store owner who tries to rape her. Suddenly Angel becomes Wasp from "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" and is one step away from killing her assailant. Next we see her in action against the Saberton bad guys (and the things they do really are I-think-I'm-going-to-throw-up bad) where, with the help of special chemical "mods", she becomes Ninja Angel, moving at speed and killing with ease. It doesn't stop there. She for plot reasons that I won't reveal, she goes on to be the one who negotiates with Saberton and becomes Power-play Angel, right down to the fancy clothes and bringing her own armed muscle who always politely refers to her as "Miss Crawford."
All of this is well done. The action scenes and the dialogue work, the plot kept me turning the pages and there's still a sort of did-I-do-that amazement, tinged with self-deprecating humour that keeps Angel from being simply monstrous.
When the time came to go home, I stated to wonder if it was "Miss Crawford" or "Angel" I'd be reading about next.
It turned out that Dianne Rowling had one more change to throw my way: the re-emergence of the old Angel who is still connected to her old boy friend, still having fights in bars, still fighting the same urges.
By the cliff-hanger end of the book the old angel and the new angel are ready to produce something different - good or bad is still to be seen but you can bet that I'll be buying the next book to find out.
"A Fatal Thaw", the second Kate Shugak book, is a substantial improvement on the first: the plot is more complicated, the characterization is stronger, the descriptions of Alaska and its people are sharp, vivid and memorable. This was the book that made me eager to read the rest of the series.
Dana Stabenow makes Alaska a character in her books. In " A Fatal Flaw" we experience the ferocious beauty of Alaska's mountains via an avalanche that Dana Stabenow makes frighteningly real.
The plot of the book provides a vehicle for exploring life in a very small bush town. Kate has to dig through the things people would like to keep secret, the histories they hide, the passions they disguise, the failings that are usually politely ignored unless someone turns up dead.
The spree-killer at the start of the book, who goes from homestead to homestead, shooting everyone he can find, pulls out a darker aspect of Alaska, which is famous for attracting the strange loners. The way Kate and Mutt bring him down is also a lesson in Alaska. Here you can't wait for the police to arrive. You have to act, and it you're Kate Shugak, you have to do more than protect yourself, you have to stop the killing. If you're Mutt, you have to do whatever it takes to keep Kate safe.
What really lifted the book above the norm for me was finding out more about Kate. It becomes clear that Kate is hiding out on her homestead, isolating herself so that she can get through life one day at a time after the trauma she's been through. It's equally clear that her former boss and many members of her community expect more of her. No-one is in the least surprised that it is Kate who takes down the killer at the beginning of the book and no-one objects when she is asked to investigate further.
Kate engages in the investigation reluctantly. It doesn't fill her with the joy of the hunt. . She understands and empathises with the weaknesses of the people around her and is mindful of their privacy. She is not motivated by enforcing the law. She acts to bring a natural justice that will restore people's ability to live as neighbours and to live with themselves.
By the end of novel, it's clear that Kate has started slowly to re-engage with the world, her culture and her community. Dana Stabenow captures this through a memorable and moving account of Kate at a Potlatch for the dead where she dances with an Elder and begins her own emotional thaw.
If you're an Urban Fantasy fan and you don't already own this book, buy it now. It's everything the first book in an Urban Fantasy series should be and more.
This is not one of those "Maybe the second book will be better" novels where you sense that the author is finding their way and you feel like you're in episode one, season one of a show that SyFy may take off the air. This is a book that feels like it starts in the middle of something complex with a thought through back-story and a clear sense of direction.
Kate Daniels, the kick-ass, leather-clad, sword-wielding, does-not-play-well-with-others, heroine who has a problem with authority, is saved from being a cliché by an awareness of how much of her own image is for show; a very human experience of fear and an acknowledgement that bravado such as making first contact with the feared were-cat leader of the shape-shifters by saying "Here kitty kitty..." while it may be witty, is also stupid and counter-productive.
I was excited by the possibilities of the future world that Ilona Andrews imagines, where magic literally bites. Waves of magic wash across the world, eroding technology with the relentless energy of a tide undermining a cliff-face, then ebbing and letting technology stand proud for a while. This creates a hybrid environment where people swap between using technology or magic to take care of business as routinely as if they were moving from gas to electricity to cook with.
In this context, Ilona Andrews re-invents vampires to be revenants piloted by necromancers and has shape-shifters enabled by a virus that can sweep away their humanity unless they live by a code of discipline.
There is a bad guy. A REALLY, stomach-churningly-awful bad guy. There are murders and abductions and political rivalry between powerful supernatural factions. There are fights and then more fights. Fights were you can taste the sweat and smell the blood and feel the fear.
There is, of course, unresolved sexual tension between our heroine and the uber-alpha male. Perhaps more interestingly there is a lack of sexual tension between Kate and a nice guy who, in any normal world, might be a future husband. These two experiences combine to show Kate as more than a smart-mouthed bravo with healthy physical appetites. She is someone who has a secret to hide. Someone with integrity to protect. Someone who is only slowly realizing that she is more alone than she would choose to be. In other words, she is someone ripe for change. What more could you ask for in a heroine?
The only thing I would change about this book is the cover art. I'm glad I was listening to this as an audiobook. This is not a cover I'd want to be seen with in public. The design looks like it was slapped together by someone using a Simcity avatar for Kate and an Aslan rip-off for Curran. Kate has the wrong colouring, her sword is the wrong shape, and the lion looks less dangerous than the average house cat. This kind of sloppiness is insulting to the author and to the readers.
I'm kicking myself for being eight years late discovering this series. The upside is that there are six more books in print, waiting to fill my imagination with strong characters working through conflicts and challenges in this complex future world
"Clean" is an excellent start to what I hope will be a long-running series.
It succeeds on many levels. It is a gripping story of a police investigation of a serial killer that draws upon familiar archetypes - a cop/consultant with a shady past and an addiction problem who has a strong, beautiful, karate black-belt partner (also with a painful past) who stands up for him because it's the right thing to do but still doesn't want him in her head - while breathing enough personality and context into them to make them feel fresh.
It skilfully builds a picture of a future Atlanta, coping with doing things manually after the Tech Wars have devastated the Western World. The ideas are seeded carefully without resorting to clumsy info-dumps.
It gives an insight into a Guild of people with "abilities" in Mindspace - telepathy, teleportation, and telekinesis - amongst other things that is original, credible, intriguing and left me hungry for more.
The prose is crisp and clear. The action scenes, including the ones requiring special powers, are exciting and fully visualised. Best of all, Alex Hughes' first-person story-telling is as compelling as any noir-fiction writer I've ever read, including Chandler. I loved that we barely get to find out the main characters name because he already knows it and seldom has to bother introducing himself. The main character is flawed in a very unglamorous way. He is often self-absorbed. He lacks social skills. He is an addict who constantly craves his poison. He is also brave and loyal and trying hard to get his shit together.
I listened to "Clean" as an audiobook. It's perfectly suited for the medium and Daniel May does a great job in giving the main character a a convincing voice.
"The Enemy", the ninth Jack Reacher book, takes us back to January 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Reacher was a Major in the Military Police.
One of the things I enjoyed about the previous book, "The Persuader" was the glimpses it gave me of who Jack Reacher was when he was in the Army. It left me hungry for more. Perhaps it had the same impact on Lee Child because "The Enemy is set entirely in Reacher's Army past.
"The Enemy" is a sort of "Origins of Wolverine" book. it deepened my understanding of how the Jack Reacher I met in the previous books came to be the way he is.
"The Enemy" explores how the US Army works via an investigation into the death of General. The plot is tight, complex and satisfying, spiced by conflicts with an asshole superior officer with an agenda and a larger mystery around a coordinated but unexplained large-scale re-assignment of Special Unit MPs.
I know nothing of the US Army other than what I've seen of their bases in Germany and the UK but I found Child's depiction of it convincing and compelling: the sheer scale of the organization as it was back then, the way bases are the same everywhere in the world, right down to the menus in the Officers' Club, the power of rank, the freedom to work the system, the complete lack of control on where and under whom you will serve.
I enjoyed seeing Reacher outside the US, in Germany (where the US bases make everything seem as close to home as possible) and France in which Reacher, son of a French woman, seems more at home than in North Carolina. I was fascinated to see how Reacher behaved with his older brother, a man who was killed in the first Jack Reacher book, "Killing Floor" and who's ghostwad evoked in the sixth book "Without Fail" when Reacher is approached by his brother's ex-girl friend.
Reacher in 1990 seemed less damaged and less lost than the Reacher in the other books. The Army and his family give him stability and a sense of purpose. It becomes clear how the loss of these things would change him for the worse.
But the 1990 Reacher is still recognisable. The things that make him scary are already present: his tendency towards violent confrontation, his inablity to let things go, his habit of using others to achieve his own agenda and his willingness to appoint himself as both judge and executioner. The things that prevent me from writing him off as a psychotic thug are also there: hisdrive to do the right thing, his willingness to take the consequences for his actions and his strong desire to keep the Army the way he thinks it should be.
"The Enemy" is a well-written period criminal investigation novel that would be attractive as a stand-alone novel. The insight's that it brings on Reacher's origins move it up into a compelling read and encourages me to thank that the Reacher novels will continue to get better, which is good news as I still have eleven more to go.
I stumbled over "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" and fell in love with it after only a few pages. As the audiobook was recorded in 2014 I thought I had discovered a hot new talent to share with the world. Then I noticed that I was reading the "20th Anniversary Edition" and realised that I was catching up with an author I should have been reading for year.
The upside of this is that there are twelve more books in the series already, so a feast lies ahead of me.
The beekeeper's apprentice of the title is Mary Russell. She is as old as the century (or at least she was when the book was written in 1994) and is looking back on her long association with Sherlock Holmes whom she first bumped into on the Sussex Downs in 1915, when she was a teenage girl recovering from a recent calamity and seeking refuge in books and long walks. Sherlock Holmes, in his fifties and allegedly retired, now lives in the country, keeping bees and writing papers on the topics such as how to disguise one's footprints.
The book spans a four-year period which lays the foundation for a long-term relationship between Russell and Holmes. During this time the two are involved in three "cases" plus a side trip to Palestine. While the cases and the means of solving them are very reminiscent of Conan Doyle's Holmes, the man himself is quite different. The Holmes Russell sees is older, more humane, and (eventually) more willing to share than his earlier self. Russell is intellect and focus, seasoned by guilt beyond her years and more than ready both to challenge and learn from Holmes. Russell and Holmes and the relationship between them are the heart of this book. The cases are there only to set that heart racing.
The pace of the book, while not as slow as the original Conan Doyle stories sometimes were, is still leisurely by modern standards. I think it is all the better for that. I liked the idea that Russell and Holmes, on a desperate search to find a missing girl, still take days to reach the scene of the crime so that they can arrive in disguise, using the right form of transport. The finally case includes a side-trip to Palestine of several weeks. It is not strictly necessary to the plot and we find out very little about the assignment that Russell and Holmes have been on but their passage through the desert is uses to season and strengthen their relationship in ways that seem authentic to me.
If you are already a fan of Holmes then this book revisits that universe in a way that invigorates and refreshes while still honouring and building on the original (Think what "Dark Knight Rises" did for Batman or what "Into Darkness" did for Star Trek). If you've never read Conan Doyle this book will still carry you along on its merits and may even tempt you to try some of the "original" material for yourself.
I suspect that this is a love/hate book. If the style of writing doesn't grip your imagination and win your heart by the end of Book 1 of the novel, then this is not for you. If, like me, you are entranced, then another eleven or so books lie in your future.
This "End of Days" tale is more fiction with science in it than classic science fiction. The focus is on the characters and the different ways in which they are broken and on the nature and impact of belief on how we see ourselves and others.
Nevertheless, there is still a good end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it thriller to keep you turning the pages and solid science to keep everything credible.
"The Rapture" felt more real to me than other "End of Days" apocalyptic nightmare novels and movies, not just because it is set in the UK but because I feel a strong affinity for Gabrielle Fox, a paralysed therapist (now there's a metaphor to conjure with), from whose point of view the story is told.
She and I share certain values and assumptions that are common amongst the Brit graduate population but which rarely surface in American fiction.She embraces atheism with a bone-deep belief that perhaps only someone raised as a Catholic can achieve. She despises Christian fundamentalism at an almost instinctive level because she views that kind of faith as pathological. She is apolitical but fundamentally distrusts politicians and authority figures, especially as she is one. She pursues a professional career because it is something she is good at but not passionate about. She is a therapist who is insightful without being empathic, who distrusts the tools and language of her trade and understands that psychiatric hospitals are funded more for their value as surrogate prisons than as places of healing.
All of this means that Gabrielle views the concept of "The Rapture" not only with disbelief but with contempt, so she makes the perfect foil for all those around her who believe the End of Days has arrived.
Gabrielle is more than a plot device. As she mourns for all that the accident that paralysed her has taken away and struggles to imagine what her life could be, she becomes the measuring stick for human hopes and fears which brings scale to the idea of what it would mean if the world didn't end but we did.
The second remarkable character in "The Rapture" is Bethany Krall, Gabrielle's teenage patient, confined to the hospital because she murdered her mother. Bethany is a wonderful creation: convincing, frightening, violent, crude, repulsive, vulnerable, damaged and fundamentally honest behind all the lies.
"The Rapture" includes both credible science and credible scientists, even if rogue scientists with access to very large helicopters are little hard to imagine
My only reservation about "The Rapture" was that Gabrielle's perspective came a little too much from her head rather than the heart but that could be because I also live in my head and I use fiction to try and find the way to my heart.
This is a book that has "MAKE ME INTO A MOVIE" written all over it. I hope, if that happens, that they'll keep it in the UK and hire a director with an atheist's heart to make it.
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