Audio Book Junkie

Audio Book Junkie

My name is Mike Finn and I'm an Audio Book Addict.

I'm here to share my experience of the books I listen to.

Review
4 Stars
"Originator - Cassandra Kresnov #6" by Joel Shepherd
Originator: A Cassandra Kresnov Novel - Joel Shepherd

"Originator" is the sixth and (apparently) the last Cassandra Kresnov book. I'm sad to see this series end. I've enjoyed every book. Each one has taken me deeper into this world, Each one has seen Kresnov grow and become more complex, more powerful and yet, somehow, more likable.

 

*Originator" has all the things that made the other books compelling: political intrigue, battle scenes, humour, philosophical musings on what it means to be human, and a perfectly paced plot

 

As befits the last book of a series, it brings together a number of characters from earlier plot lines and fully completes the story arc in a satisfying way, without making everything so neat and tidy that is seams false.

 

In this book, Cassandra finally brings into focus the idea that she and the other GIs really are a separate, physically superior, species and not just a synthetic imitation of humanity. She has to decide what that means. The plot of the story herds her into a position where she is forced to choose between loyalty to her own species and loyalty to humanity. Her response is original, life-affirming and fundamentally Kresnov.

As we edge towards the possibility of independent AIs, I can only hope that they'll be like Cassandra Kresnov when they grew up.

 

I'm addicted to Joel Shepherd now, so, with no more Kresnov to read, I'll be starting on his "Spiral Wars" trilogy, but it will have to be pretty damn good to push Kresnov off the top of my "THIS is what Military SF SHOULD be" pile.

 

 

Review
4 Stars
"The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie" by Alan Bradley
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

I came across "The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie" when I was looking for new Canadian authors to read.  Alan Bradley gets great press, so I bought this book even though I was concerned that I might be getting an extended one line joke in which an aristocratic, 1950's  stiff-upper-lip Brit attitude was made amusing by being exhibited by an eleven your old girl.

 

What I got was something much more complex and engaging than that. I got Flavia de Luce, a young girl with a remarkable mind and dauntless heart, who is determined to solve a murder her father has been arrested for committing.

 

The book is set in England in 1950. shortly after the end of the war. Eleven year old Flavia lives in a large and once grand Stately Home with her two older sisters who are close to each other but exclude her, her emotionally withdrawn father and no memory of Harriet, her adventurer mother who is missing, presumed dead.

 

The book is tolde entirely in the first person from Flavia's point of view, su its success depends upon enjoying seeing through her eyes. Alan Bradley pulls this off perfectly- Flavia speaks and thinks in the over elaborate language of an intelligent, self-educated unsocialised child, intoxicated by the complexity of the world and unblinkingly confident in her ability to master it. Here is her description of her discovery, some years earlier, of the love of her life: Chemistry

The book’s title was An Elementary Study of Chemistry, and within moments it had taught me that the word iodine comes from a word meaning “violet,” and that the name bromine was derived from a Greek word meaning “a stench.” These were the sorts of things I needed to know!"

Flavia is proud of her rational mind and of having the objective curiosity of a scientist but also gives full reign to her imagination. This is her description of stepping into the grounds at night.

"As I stepped outside, I saw that the silver light of dawn had transformed the garden into a magic glade, its shadows darkened by the thin band of day beyond the walls. Sparkling dew lay upon everything, and I should not have been at all surprised if a unicorn had stepped from behind a rosebush and tried to put its head in my lap."

Flavia, recognises that her fascination with death and poisons might be considered pathological but she also knows that it is a true part of herself. When she comes across dying man in her garden and holds his head as he breathes his last, she is honest about her reaction:

"I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life."

"The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie" is a splendid detective story. Its characters and plot put Agatha Christie to shame. It evokes uppor-class England in the first half of the last century deftly and simply. It unfolds the plot at just the right pace. Yet, by far the biggest achievement of the book is the gentle disclosure of the mystery of Flavia de Luce herself.

 

Flavia lives in an emotional desert that could crush a lesser girl. She feels that she is not loved. Her solution is to decide that she must love herself. At one point, riding her mother's bike, that Flavia restored and rechristened as Gladys, at great speed, she gives way to joy, thinking:

"I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did. “All hail Flavia! Flavia forever!” I shouted, as Gladys and I sped through the Mulford Gates, at top speed, into the avenue of chestnuts that lined the drive at Buckshaw."

I didn't want this book to end because I didn't want to leave Flavia. Fortunately, there are another four books in the series. I will be visiting her again soon.

Reading progress update: I've read 15%. and "Sleeping Giants" is outstanding
Sleeping Giants - Sylvain Neuvel

This has been on my TBR pile so long, the sequel has been published.

 

I started it today on a long drive and I'm astonished by how good it is.

 

So far, the book has been either dialogue or first person reportage in the form of reports.This work particularly well in the audiobook version, where there is a different narrator for each character, giving this the feel of an inventive and intriguing radio play.

 

Review
4 Stars
"Blood Bound - Mercy Thompson #2" by Patricia Briggs
Blood Bound - Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson is becoming on of my favourite Urban Fantasy series, partly because Mercy herself is exceptionally likeable without being in the least bit saccharin and partly because the books can be read as entertaining adventure or as an extending insight into the complexity of dealing with abusive power from a position of weakness without becoming abusive yourself.

 

"Blood Bound" is the second Mercy Thompson book and follows straight on from "Moon Called".

 

This time I read the ebook version as, for some obscure copyright reason, audible won't sell me the audiobook version in Switzerland. To my surprise, I enjoyed getting back to text, which gave me more control over how I read and engaged my imagination less passively.

 

In "Blood Bound", Mercy becomes more deeply involved with the local vampires and werewolves as they join forces to hunt down something truly evil that is preying on people in the area.

 

The plot is satisfyingly complex and generates lots of intriguing and original world-building material. The dialogue always work and there is enough humour to lift me out of the dark and keep me hopeful.

 

Those things would already make this an above average Urban Fantasy but what I enjoyed most was being in Mercy Thompson's company and seeing her reaction to the, often violent and abusive, power structures she encounters amongst the vampires and the wolves.

 

What is it that makes Mercy good company? Well, she's compassionate, generous and brave. She's a motor mechanic with a degree in history and has the hardened hands and extended vocabulary to match.  Most of all, she accepts that she is responsible for her own choices. She makes no excuses for herself. She lives with the consequences and takes for granted that, if your choices make you who you are, then who you are should determined your choices. She is capable of great loyalty and yet strongly values her independence.

 

In this book, Mercy continues to navigate her way through the archaically male-dominated wolf pack power structure, which is based on dominance and submission, with a constant, involuntary, edge of violence, which the female werewolves often get the worst of. Mercy grew up with werewolves and deeply understand this structure. She has no expectation that it will change. She chooses not give herself up to these mores. She choose to prioritise personal power and responsibility over positional power and pack rules.but rather manipulates them whenever she can, to make things closer to how she thinks they should be.

 

The only place where she remains unclear on what to do is when she puzzles over whether giving in to a latent desire for sexual submission would be a surrender of independence.

 

Mercy also get more involved with the vampires, this time getting to meet with some of the people in their "menageries". These are human members of the vampire household who are bound to them by blood and who serve as a kind of living larder.

 

I thought one of the most powerful sections in "Blood Bound" was when Mercy meets the people in Stephan's menagerie, Mercy likes Stephan but she is not blind to his predatory nature. When she visits his household, I was impressed by her ability to see beyond the "human cattle" tag and see individual people making choices. Stephan, like all vampires, lives off his people but the choices he has made and the choices that the people in his menagerie make, go a long towards turning horrible abuse into a voluntary power exchange.

 

I'm hooked now. I've prescribed myself a diet of one Mercy Thompson book a month for the rest of this year.

 

 

Review
3.5 Stars
"The Firemaker - The China Thrillers #1" by Peter May
The Firemaker - Peter  May

 I came to Peter May via his rather bleak "Lewis" trilogy, with a dour Hebridean detective returning to his home island and uncovering dark deeds. It all seemed so authentically Scottish that I couldn't really imagine him writing anything else.

 

Then I discovered that, more than a decade earlier, he'd written a set of thrillers set in China in the late nineties, in which none of the characters are Scottish. I was intrigued, picked up a copy of "The Firemaker"and discovered a whole new side to Peter May.

In "The FIremaker", Peter May shows great skill in merging genres and tropes to produce something new and interesting.

 

It has many of the hallmarks of a RomCom; a cute-meet between the two principals that set them at odds, a plot that keeps forcing them back together, and a finely paced set of will-they? won't-they? moments that stoke up the unresolved sexual tension in the best tradition of such things.

 

This is overlaid with massive culture clashes as the small, blonde, female American pathologist, running from her troubled past to her first assignment in China, meets ambitious and newly promoted Chinese Policeman who is dedicated to his work and wants to help build the new China.

 

Wrap all of that around political intrigue and a set of gruesome murders that seem connected but make no sense together and you have the makings of a very good book indeed.

 

This was the art of the exotic thriller being practiced at its best. The resarch was used to add an authentic sens of place without ending up feeling like a lecture on China and its recent history. Neither the American nor the Chinese culture walks away unscathed or undefenced. The people seem real and the plot unfolds with enough surprises to keep me turning the pages.  The ending... well see for yourself. It works but is perhaps more RomCOm than Thriller.

 

I'cw already downloaded the next book in the series and hope to be returing to Peter May's China very soon.

 

 

My Best Reads, Best New Finds, Best New Series and Biggest Disappointment in January, February and March 2017

2017 q1 complete.png

In the first three months of 2017, my job so much of my time and my energy that I began to resent not getting enough time to read, think and write about my books. I tell myself that this doesn't mean I'm addicted, just that books are necessary to my peace of mind.

 

I read twenty three books in the quarter. All but four of them were genre reads (urban fantasy, science fiction, thrilers). These are my comfort foods and their predominance in my diet shows the stress of the quarter. Nevertheless, some of them turned out to be challenging and stimulating in unexpected ways.

 

So here are the best and most disappointing of the twenty three.

 

Best Read of the Quarter

war child"Warchild" by Karin Lowacheeis one of the most original, vivid and emotionally engaging science fiction books I’ve read in a long time.

 

In "Warchild" Karen Lowachee has been brave enough to focus on the emotional damage war inflicts on the most vulnerable. The book confronts the reality of the damage done to the life of Jos, a nine year old boy who is abducted, enslaved and abused by the pirate who attacks his ship and kills his family.

 

The first section of the book is particularly hard on the emotions. Jos’ description of his abduction and what happened during his enslavement is written in the second person, giving it a distant, disconnected feel, like someone reporting something that happened to someone else a long time ago.  The distance amplifies the sense of helplessness, of wrongness and brutality in a way that breaks the heart and stokes impotent rage.

 

“Warchild” has an original plot and world-building that would make it first class science fiction but Karin Lowachee pushes herself to go further. She keeps the focus on Jos as he finds himself having to choose between two strong men, an Alien Commander and a Human Commander, each of whom seem to want something from him. Both men help him develop as a soldier. Each offers patronage and expects loyalty. Jos cannot  bring himself completely to trust either man.

 

Karin Lowachee’s writing is assured and skillful, managing to combine depth with brevity. "Warchild" left me emotionally frayed but still hungry for more. Karin Lowachee is now on my "IF she wrote it, I'll read it" list.

 

Best New Finds of the Quarter

jhour-of-the-bees"Hour Of The Bees" by Lindsay Eagar was my most pleasant surprise of the quarter.

 

It was a book I went to with wariness. The blurb sounds a little miserable, a twelve year old girl forced to spend the summer with a grand father she barely knows and who is sinking into the quicksands of dementia. The cover is bland, amateur, and not even slightly intriguing. I read it because Almarie Guerra is the narrator and I loved what did with “The Water Knife”.

 

Fortunately, “Hours Of The Bees” turned out to be a fresh, original and pleasantly non-didactic book that made me think, cry and occasionally laugh.

 

It centres around an eleven year old girl who is beginning to discover her identity and her independence and the relationship she builds with her newly-met grandfather who is losing both his identify and his independence.

 

While the two of them spend the summer together on an isolated ranch in the Painted Desert, her grandfather tells her the story of his life, starting always with “Once upon a time”.

 

Much of my pleasure in the book came from the splendid ambiguity created by having what might otherwise be a one of those tiresomely pious magical realism be told by an old man with dementia to a girl with limited experience of life. This ambiguity left me to make up my own mind and helped me to concentrate on the emotional truths of the novel: that life must be embraced to be lived, that love is the anchor of hope and that a place can have a soul that we can push roots into and be nurtured by.

 

The pace of the story-telling is perfect: slow enough to give the sense of time passing on a remote desert ranch and fast enough to keep you wondering what will happen next. Each moment is threaded between the pearls of “Once upon a time…” story telling that changes the context of the present moment and the meaning of everything that passed before.

 

improbable-fortunes"Improbable Fortunes" by Jeffrey Price, is as improbable as the title suggests but is all the more fun because of it.

 

Set in Vanadium, a town built around a worked-out uranium mine in South West Colorado, “Improbable Fortunes” tells the story of a likeable, impeccably honest, and almost unbelievably naïve, ranch hand called Buster,

 

The story opens with a dramatic and slightly zany disaster, involving a mud slide a destroyed luxury ranch house that is, for some reason, full of cattle, a damsel in distress and Buster, apparently to blame for it all.

 

Most of the rest of the book is spent recounting Buster’s progress towards this event from his birth onwards.

 

Abandoned at birth, Buster is raised by a variety of foster parents who gift him, almost accidentally, with a wide range of skills that will become useful to him in later life

 

The families that Buster lives with each has something odd about them and each suffers an unexpected tragedy that soon gives Buster a reputation as Jonah or worse.

 

Buster is guided through his chaotic life by the local sheriff who acts as Buster’s guardian angel for reasons that only become clear towards the end of the novel.

 

“Improbable Fortunes” is the kind of book that you can only really get by reading it, not be reading about it. Even then, if you’re like me, you’ll be smiling, scratching your head and saying “I’ve no idea what just happened but I enjoyed it so much I want ti to happen again”.

 

Best New Series of the Quarter

 

This quarter I'm going to pick to "Best New Series", one from the Urban Fantasy genre and one from the thriller genre. Both of them are now in my "I'll let myself read one a month so that I won't get through them too quickly" category.

moon-calledI’m over a decade late joining the Mercy Thompson party (partly  because I was put off by the, mostly inaccurate, covers) but now that I’ve read the first one, I want the rest RIGHT NOW:

 

I finally picked up “Moon Called” when I found that I was going to be trapped on another long-haul flight where they lock me in a steal tube for nine hours at a time. It was a good choice, time flew by and Patricia Briggs now has a new fan.

 

“Moon Called” is Urban Fantasy as it should be. There’s a likeable, kickass heroine who was raised by werewolves, makes her living fixing German cars, can take on the shape of a Coyote at will and is happy to spend time with fey, vampires, werewolves and humans as long as they’re interested in cars. There’s a complex cast of weres and vampires and fey and humans who are written up as people rather than game avatars.

There’s a nicely curly plot with strong action scenes but with a pace slow enough to give me time to get to know people.

 

The whole thing has a positive, feel-good vibe to it without getting cosy and losing its edge.

 

Perhaps the main thing is that I like Mercy Thompson and  want to know what happens to her

 

b9w6-square-1536

Barry Eisler recently reacquired the rights to his John Rain novels, gave them new titles and new covers and personally narrated new audiobook versions.

 

I was intrigued and decided to try the first book "A Clean Kill In Tokyo" which was published in 2002 as "Rain Fall".

 

It was a fun read all the way through, not least because Barry Eisler turns our to be an excellent narrator.

 

John Rain is a Tokyo-based assassin, who specialises in making it seem as if the men he kills die of natural causes. Rain had a Japanese father and a white American mother, was raised in both countries and is fully at home in neither. He lives an affluent but disconnected life, built on killing for money.

 

In this novel, he's the hero. That's not a role he has much experience of. He takes it on reluctantly and it doesn't entirely fit him. Even as a hero, his kill-rate is very high and causes him not a moments disquiet.

 

The foot-in-two-worlds aspects of the book are well executed and gave me an intersting blend of the familiar and the exotic..Tokyo becomes almost a character in the book. It's described the way someone who lives there would see it, with its peculiarities taken for granted. The tourist map of Tokyo has been overwritten by one that stresses the places that are important to John Rain: Jazz Clubs. Whiskey Bars and the intricate subway network that he uses to elude those trying to follow him.

 

The plot is a mixture of backstory, explaining how John came to be the killer he now is, and a protect-the-brave-independent-but-vulnerable-damsel-in-distress theme that's given a twist by the fact the Rain killed her father.

 

There is political intrigue, espionage, crime, corruption and lots and lots of fight scenes featuring martial arts, street fighting, knives, staves and guns.

 

I'm hooked now. Fortunately, there are eight John Rain books in print with a ninth coming out in July. .

 

Biggest Disappointment of the Quarter

daughter-of-the-blood-anne-bishop-p13-lge

I bought “Daughter Of The Blood” because I’d read and enjoyed a “Black Jewels” short story and because I’m a fan of her “The Others+ series

In audiobook format, “Daughter Of The Blood” runs for a little over sixteen hours. I made it to a little over two hours before setting it aside.

 

The ideas are original, complex and fascinating. I can see that it has the makings of a strong trilogy but it’s not one I’ll be reading.

 

The story was much darker than I expected. There is a sharp edge of sadism  that cuts into the flesh of the story lightly but persistently, leaving thin rills of frustrated eroticism draining into my imagination. If this had been more skillfully done I might have run with it but much of the story in the first couple of hours was tell rather than show and I grew weary of being fed on backstory and foreboding rather than character and action.

 

The narrator of the story seemed unable to leaven the text but rather fell into a declamatory style that assaulted the ears and added nothing to the atmosphere or characterisation.

 

The main thing I took away from this book was how much stronger Anne Bishop’s storytelling is now than when this novel was published.

 

Review
2 Stars
Detective Inspector Huss (Inspector Huss #1) by Helene Tursten, (translated by Steven T. Murray) - DNF
Detective Inspector  Huss - Helene Tursten

The Detective Inspector Huss series gets good reviews as Scandi-crime so I bought the first book in the hope of having a new series to follow. I'm now forty percent mark and I'm setting it aside.

Maybe my mistake was going back to the first book. The Swedish version of the book was published in 1998, nearly twenty years ago, so it's describing a world that isn't there any more, but it's describing it in a way that takes the period for granted, sliding over the surface rather than digging for the details that would have given it period feel,

Perhaps reading the novel in translation accounts for feeling that I'm constantly at a distance from the characters, even when I'm in their heads. The first person accounts feel more like stage directions than interior monologues.

The plot is interesting enough, the murder of an unpleasant, rich, man who heads a family that is deeply unhappy and who seems to have long term relationships that may be toxic.

The plot rolls out via a very familiar Police Procedural route that, perhaps with the passing of time, seems very familiar and unsurprising.

There's nothing wrong with this book except that I'm not sufficiently engaged with the characters to spend the time that it would take to finish the book

Review
5 Stars
"My Year Of Meats" by Ruth L Ozeki
My Year of Meats - Ruth Ozeki

"My Year Of Meats" was a delightful read that provided an accessible story, engaging characters,  humorous glimpses of two culture misunderstanding one another and still managed to take a serious look at the American meat industry and the American public's unwillingness to believe unpleasant truths.

 

Published in 1999, "My Year Of Meats" tells the story of Jane, a Japanese American documentarian, who spends a year making a series called “My American Wife” that is intended to promote the sale of American beef in Japan by showing wholesome American housewives cooking wholesome American meat.

 

Much humor arises from the gaps in perception between what is happening in front of the camera and what makes it to the TV show, the gap between Japanese and American views of wholesomeness and the gaps between how men and women react to things. It's a sign of Ruth Ozeki's skill that the same gaps are also used to generate empathy and compassion for the people involved.

 

One of the themes of the book is our willingness and ability to take in a fact-based view of the world and to take action on what we know. Jane's journey from seeing her role as "Hey, it's a job." through, "I want to be fair to the people I film" to "I need to do something about these abuses" provides a vehicle for us to consider how and why we engage with what we know. During her journey, Jane comes to the view that, to some extent, we all cultivate an level of ignorance to protect ourselves from "Bad Knowledge", that is, knowledge that we acquire from a constant barrage of bad news that leaves us feeling powerless because we can't act on what we know so we would rather no know it.

 

I enjoyed Ruth Ozeki's lightness of touch. Her people are believable. Her humour is compassionate in its way and yet she still manages to seed new ideas and concepts.

I've just started "Originator" book six in the Cassandra Kresnov series
Originator: A Cassandra Kresnov Novel - Joel Shepherd

"Orgiinator" is a biiggish book (520 pages) and it's the last Kresnov book, so I've been saving it until I had some time. With Easter coming up I thought I'd crack open the audiobook.

 

I'm a little over an hour in and I'm wondered why I waited so long. These books have just gotten better and better and I was pretty excited about the first one.

 

I love the way Joel Sheperd effortlessly mixes fast paced, action-packed military SF with complex politics and extended insights into how individual psychology and social dynamics interact.

 

The good news is that I have another twelve hours to go.

Review
3.5 Stars
"A Lonely Resurrection - John Rain #2" by Barry Eisner
A Lonely Resurrection - Barry Eisler

"A Lonely Resurrection" follows straight on from "A Clean Kill In Tokyo", John Rain is trying to lie low and retire from the killing business but is pulled back into that world by his friend and sometime protector, a police inspector on a crusade against corruption in Japan.

"A Lonely Resurrection" was good solid entertainment all the way through. It spends a lot of time on (very) physical  and vividly described combat, John Rain kills more people and with more ease than Jack Reacher normally manages and he seems to have much better sex with the women in his life. The plot provided a satisfying mix of feint and attack and betrayal that kept me guessing.

Barry Eisler narrates his own book perfectly, getting the pace right and squeeting out all the drama without becoming melodramatic.

One of the things I enjoyed most was the verbal love affair Barry Eisner has with Tokyo. He makes me hungry to go there. Read the description below of Tokyo by night and you'll see what I mean.

    There's something so alive about Tokyo at night;  something so imbued with possibilities. Certainly the day time, with its zig-zagging schools of pedestrians and thundering trains and hustle and noise and traffic, is the more upbeat of the cities melodies, but the city also seems burdened by the  quotidian clamor and almost relieved ,every evening, to be able to ease into the twilight and set aside the weight of the day. Night strips away the superfluity and the distractions. You move through Tokyo at night and you feel you're on the verge of discovering that thing you've always longed for- At night, you can hear the city breathe.

It's clear that John Rain, killer and loner that he is, reluctantly and hesitantly, on a journey to discover the possibility of redemption or, perhaps, atonement in these books. He is developing as a character but his true nature is unlikely to change. He will always kill. The questions is, how will he direct his killing? For profit? For personal vengeance? Or for something bigger and more important than himself.

I've booked myself a monthly John Rain entertainment spot until I've read the entire season.

Go to Barry Eisler^s website to hear him read an extract from chapter one and to get more background on the places his stories take place in.

Review
3 Stars
"Low Midnight - Kitty Norville #13" by Carrie Vaughn - Cormac gets his own book
Low Midnight (Kitty Norville Book 13) - Carrie Vaughn

"Low Midnight" is the first book in the Kitty Norville series that ISN'T about Kitty. We see everything in this book through Cormac Bennet's eyes.

 

It was this fresh vision that I enjoyed most- The plot is slight but fun; a fairy-tale quest in order to win access to information about Roman and a shoot-out with characters from Cormac's past.¨

 

The story is unfolds with skill, keeping a nice balance between action and mystery.

"Low Midnight"is a pleasant read rather than a compelling one but it's a must for the fans.

 

Two things made the book for me: getting to see Kitty as Cormac sees her rather than how she sees herself and finally getting an insight into how Cormac deals with the having the consciousness of Amelia, a wizard executed for a murder she didn't commit, living inside him.

 

There are only a few scenes with Kitty in the book but they are what energises Cormac on his quest. Kitty has changed Cormac's world. First she talked him out of killing her, making him question his belief that all werewolves needed to be put down, then she folded him into the circle she thinks of as family, refusing to let him retreat back entirely into his silent-loner lifestyle.

 

When Cormac looks at Kitty he sees boundless energy, unconscious power and influence and inexhaustible altruism. She makes him want to be a better man. Despite her strength, she makes him want to protect her. Cormac brought Kitty into focus in a way that explains the impact she has on other people more clearly than Kitty has ever been able to explain it to herself.

 

Cormac has played a strange role in the past few Kitty books. Suddenly this silent hunter of werewolves and vampires has stopped hunting and started protecting and he's been using magic to do it.

 

I understood the explanation of how this came about - Cormac agreed to host the disembodied consciousness of Amelia, a dead  Edwardian English gentlewoman with magically abilities. In return, Amelia kept Cormac from harm in prison - but I had trouble understanding what it meant. Cormac didn't talk about it and Kitty couldn't decide whether Amelia was ally or parasite or friend or something entirely new unique.

 

in "Low Midnight" Carrie Vaughn does a great job of breathing life into both Cormac and Amelia. I was fascinated by their relationship. I loved the idea that they would meet "face to face" in the memory of meadow from Cormac's past, when Cormac went to sleep. The characters are so compelling that I could easily imagine a spin-off Cormac and Amelia series.

 

"Low Midnight" moves the "Long Game" story arc forward by gaining new information on Roman that should help Kitty.

 

 

Review
5 Stars
"Warchild" by Karin Lowachee - science fiction brave enough to confront what abuse and war does to a child.
Warchild - Karin Lowachee

I found "Warchild" because Tanya Huff recommended Karin Lowachee as one of her favourite science fiction  writers. There's no audiobook version, the cover is depressingly generic and the title didn't speak to me. Normally I'd have moved on and then I'd have missed one of the most original, vivid and emotionally engaging science fiction books I've read in a long time.

 

"Warchild" confronts the reality of the damage done to the life of Jos, a nine year old boy who is abducted, enslaved and abused by the pirate who attacks his ship and kills his family.

 

The first section of the book is particularly hard on the emotions. Jos's description of his abduction and what happened during his enslavement is written in the second person, giving it a distant, disconnected feel, like someone reporting something that happened to someone else a long time ago. Here's an example, describing nine year old Jos' encounter with Falcone, the predatory Pirate Captain who has enslaved him:

"He forced your chin back and looked at your throat, then he lifted your hands and inspected your fingers, your nails, your knuckles. Then he stepped back

'Take off your clothes.'

It was cold and you shook. You shook from more than cold. You couldn't move"

The distance amplifies the sense of helplessness, of wrongness and brutality in a way that breaks the heart and stokes impotent rage.

 

"Warchild" has an original plot and first class world-building. In any other book, I'd have been praising the clarity with which an interstellar war between Humans, Aliens and their Human Sypthatisers is described. I'd have placed front and centre how the similarities and differences between the alien culture and the human military culture are explored. Nothing more would have been needed to make this a good science fiction novel.

 

Karin Lowachee pushes herself to go further. She keeps the focus on Jos as he finds himself having to choose between two strong men, an Alien Commander and a Human Commander, each of whom seem to want something from him. Both men help him develop as a soldier. Each offers patronage and expects loyalty. Jos cannot  bring himself completely to trust either man.

 

As events unfolded, I was shown that, beneath his shell of lethal competency, Jos is damaged: unable to sustain any kind of intimacy with his peers; unable to trust; deeply troubled by the things he refuses to let himself remember but which attack him through his dreams.

 

Jos becomes a soldier, regularly raiding ships, killing those who oppose him, capturing those who surrender, watching the people closest to him dying in battle. Jos does not get through this unscathed. He is finding it hard to hold on to who he is, to stay free of his past and of the pressures of his present.

 

Although the main body of the story is told in the first person, Karin Lowachee finds ways to reflect Jos' inner turmoil without using his interior monologue to do it. Perhaps the best example of this is the last chapter in Part IV of the book. Jos has been in a firefight in another ship and is returning to his ship "The Macedon" with blood on his hands and images of those he has killed fresh in his memory.  In other dystopian novels, this might have been the moment when Jos comes of age and knows his purpose. This isn't that kind of novel. Karin Lowachee sums up Jos' mental state in a chapter that consists of a single sentence:

"I go back to Macedon with things in my head I have no language for. They are just hoarse sounds in a hollow drum of silence."

I was surprised to find that "Warchild" was Karin Lowachee's first novel, her writing is assured and skillful, managing to combine depth with brevity.

 

I was pleased to find that "Warchild" is the first book of a trilogy and that all three books are available. I look forward to reading the rest of them, although "Warchild" left me too emotionally frayed to move straight on to the next book.

Review
2.5 Stars
"Summit Lake" by Charlie Donlea - gnarly plot and clever structure kept me turning the pages.
Summit Lake - Charlie Donlea

I read "Summit Lake" in two days. It's a page-turner book with a plot that starts off as clever and ends up as deeply cunning.  I didn't see the ending coming and I enjoyed being constantly offered the chance to guess who the bad guy was and never quite finding out.

 

"Summit Lake" is two stories intertwined: the story of Becca Eckersley, a student in her first year at Law School, comes to be raped and murdered in her parents' vacation home on the shores of the picturesque Summit Lake and the story of Kelsey Castle, a crime reporter recovering from her own trauma, who is sent to investigate Becca's death.

 

The novel is cleverly structured. It starts with the hook of Becca's brutally violent death and then alternates between following Becca's path to her death and following Kelsey's attempts to uncover that path despite an attempted cover up. Charlie Donlea uses the intertwining of the two tales skillfully, sharing and withholding  information to maximise the tension in both time lines.

 

The strength of the novel lies in the puzzle it sets and the skill with which the layers of the puzzle are unwound. This kept me turning the pages and wanting to know what happened next.

 

The dialogue in the book works well but the prose plods and occasionally falls over itself. If the plot had been even slightly less interesting, this would have put me off enough not to have read to the end. 

 

The worst of the distractions could have been fixed by a diligent editor, which somehow made them more annoying. 

 

At the least irritating end of the distractions was the habit of regularising irregular verbs: shone becomes shined, knelt becomes knealed and so on. At the most irritating end the distractions came from the misuse of language:

 

"All of this transcended on her in the seconds it took to fight the door open"

 

"She was tapping the MacBook with efficiency"

 

"She never heard the front door as the knob was tried from outside. The deadbolt held and after three attempts, the door went quiet."

If things like this flow over you unnoticed, you're in for a great read.

 

If not, enjoy the plot and read faster.

"Three Seasons" or "Ba Mùa" by Tony Bui a beautiful movie about unpleasant things

3seasons

For my birthday, my wife gave me a box with a book cover from Jules Vernes' "Around The World In Eighty Days". Inside was a ticket to travel the world through the eyes of film directors from Vietnam, China, Sweden, Patagonia and Japan.

gift

It was the perfect gift. It took me out of myself and invited me to experience far away places through the eyes of the people who live there.

 

Today, I'm going to review the film that made the biggest impact on me, Tony Bui's "Three Seasons"

 

When it was made in 1999, "Three Seasons" was the first American film made in Vietnam, in Vietnamese, after Clinton lifted the embargo. It made a big splash at Sundance that year, becoming the  first filmto receive both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award.

 

Set mostly in Ho Chi Min Cit, in the early days of the Đổi mới (which roughly translate as the Renovation) it tells interlocking tales of people trying to find their ways to a better future.

 

"Three Seasons" is visually seductive. The camera leads the eye to beauty in the midst of ruin and squalor and fills the mind with colour and light and hope. Yet the situations of the people the stories centre contrast starkly with the visual mood of the film: a prostitute, selling herself to men in luxury hotels, who dreams of a single night's sleep in air-conditioned bliss. A very young street peddler who searches relentlessly for the case he sells his wares from, which has been stolen from him. A young woman working in the growing and selling flowers for a cult run by a master who has been badly damaged. An ex-GI returing to try and find the daughter he abandoned at the end of the war.

 

These are tales rooted in poverty, exploitation, and dishonour.

 

Why then are they displayed with such beauty?

 

I've seen the arguement made that "Three Seasons" uses its cinematography to romanticise poverty and struggle and turn it into an acceptable myth.

That's not what I saw this movie do.

 

I believe the cinematography helped me see what the people themselves could see: that in the midst of struggle and deprivation, there is still beauty, there is still compassion and sometimes, even love. These tales are rooted in unpleasant things but the blossom they produce, like the flowers the young woman sells, represent the hope that will luck and kindness, things can get better.

 

This was a movie that I drank in first with the eye. The images are still with me and so are the people.

 

I have never been to Vietnam and the Ho Chi Min City of this movie is long gone, yet I feel that something has been shared with me that is alien and familiar and fundamentally redemptive.

Review
3 Stars
“Breeds” by Keith C Blackmore
Breeds - Keith C. Blackmore

The main thing I enjoyed about “Breeds” is Keith Blackmore’s muscular writing style. He gets you up close and personal to the action. You feel fully present even when things get bloody, which they often do. Yet there’s nothing gratuitous or exploitative here. There’s just a situation that has consequences and things that have to get done.

 

The situation is set up to be tense and tightly focused. An old, disillusioned werewolf, living on a remote Newfoundland island, goes rogue and starts to draw attention to himself. He knows this will bring the wrath of the werewolf Wardens on him and prepares a surprise for them that threatens everyone on the island.

 

The story is told from multiple points of view: the rogue werewolf, one of the wardens sent to put him down, an islander caught up in the action and even the unwilling participants in the rogue’s surprise.

 

The story takes place mostly within a single day and night in the midst of fierce snowstorm. Blackmore summons up the sense of isolation and vulnerability of the inhabitants of the Newfoundland island and uses it to raise tension without making the islanders seem weak or stupid.

 

Although there is action on almost every page and a blockbuster/video game scale body-count, Blackmore manages to generate some empathy for everybody involved from rogue, through warden, through predators and prey. I found myself being swept along by the powerful narrative thrust of the tale and enjoying myself much more than I thought I would.

 

This is great entertainment for blowing cobwebs away. I’ve already ordered the next book in the series, even though it’s called “Breeds 2” – I wonder how long it took to arrive at that title?

Reblogged
Is there a problem with the log on to BL

I'm suddenly getting a message saying the BL's log on is not secure and that logon data, including passwords, could be compromised.

 

Does anyone know anything about this?

Reblogged from Audio Book Junkie

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Murder With Peacocks - Donna Andrews
The Girl Of Ink And Stars - Kiran Millwood Hargrave