Ammonite

Ammonite

180270 “Ammonite” by Nicola Griffith

Synopsis: Change or die. These are the only options available on the planet Jeep. Centuries earlier, a deadly virus shattered the original colony, killing the men and forever altering the few surviving women. Now, generations after the colony has lost touch with the rest of humanity, a company arrives to exploit Jeep–and its forces find themselves fighting for their lives. Terrified of spreading the virus, the company abandons its employees, leaving them afraid and isolated from the natives. In the face of this crisis, anthropologist Marghe Taishan arrives to test a new vaccine. As she risks death to uncover the women’s biological secret, she finds that she, too, is changing–and realizes that not only has she found a home on Jeep, but that she alone carries the seeds of its destruction. . . .

*******

4 out of 5 stars

I am rapidly becoming a big fan of Nicola Griffith. Her Aud Torvington series will always be my favorite, but I’m finding that I really enjoy her other works as well.

This is a beautifully written book, and a fresh twist on a sci-fi novel. Our main character, Marghe, has signed up to be the first person to be experimentally vaccinated and sent to the planet Jeep which has suffered a plague virus that killed off all the men on the planet and changed the DNA of all the women.

We follow her as she arrives on the planet and begins her journey to explore the world and learn about the people living there. While she does interact with the other scientists and employees stationed there, most of her story is made up of her living with the native people, all women. The book is an exploration of the concepts of a one-gendered society and the challenges that may face.

I liked this book very much although I had a few issues with it.

Marghe takes off into the wilderness almost immediately upon arriving on Jeep. Not the smartest move as she knows next to nothing about how to survive and finds herself in extreme conditions. I found that Marge held herself apart from almost everything that happens to her – that things happen to her, not that she is a part of the happening. She comes across as passive most of the time and her escape from one situation was not at all thought out.

I found that the story line that did not involve Marge dragged on and on. The base camp for the interplanetary explorers and their story just didn’t connect with me. I understand that Marge could not have been dropped off on a strange planet and left but I skipped several passages that focused on the base camp.

I did enjoy this book though, all in all. It was very different and I really liked all the well thought out subcultures and people Marge meets in her journey. I do recommend this if you are looking for a sci-fi book with a feminist twist.

The cover is lovely.

3am

3am

19292922 “3am (Henry Bins #1) by Nick Pirog

Synopsis: The average person is awake for sixteen hours a day.
Henry Bins is awake for one.
He wakes up each day at 3 a.m. then falls asleep at 4 a.m.
Life is simple.
Until he hears the woman scream.
And sees the man leave the house across the street.
But not just any man.
The President of the United States.

*******

5 out of 5 stars.

Have you read the Henry Bins series yet?

WHY NOT???

I have spent the last few days reading all seven books in this series and they are fantastic. Each book is about 100 pages long and packs a whole lot of story into a little bitty book.

Let me back up a little to tell you about the story. Henry Bins has a condition so rare that it’s named after him – Henry Bins has Henry Bins. He is awake for only one hour a day; waking at 3am and falling asleep again at 4am. He measures his life out by each precious minute.

One day as it’s nearing 4am, he hears a woman scream and looks out the window to see a man walking out the door of the house across the street. That man is the President, the last thing Henry thinks as he falls asleep. To solve this crime he only has one hour out of each day.

Along the way, Henry encounters a cat. He and the cat have long conversations and he soon becomes Henry’s sidekick. Henry names him Lassie and he’s instrumental in solving the case. The dialog between Henry and Lassie is so comical and quite realistic. I talk to my cats this way and only wish I understand their responses.

The writing is excellent. At times I’ve found that it’s hard for writers to build a complete world in such a short book but Pirog does an amazing job. It moves along at lighting speed and Henry Bins is a completely relatable character. It’s funny and smart and I don’t know when I have enjoyed a book so much. To be honest, I am not really a mystery fan but this was just so much fun to read!

I wholeheartedly recommend this book along with the rest of the series.

The cover …  what is that supposed to be? Anyone know?

The Cellar

The Cellar

25779048 “The Cellar” by Minette Walters

Synopsis: From the internationally bestselling, award-winning crime writer Minette Walters, The Cellar is a harrowing, compulsively readable novel about a family of African immigrants, the Songolis, and the dark secret they keep hidden in the depths of their seemingly respectable British home.
On the day Mr. and Mrs. Songoli’s young son fails to come home from school, fourteen-year-old Muna’s fortunes change for the better. Until then, her bedroom was a dank windowless cellar, her activities confined to cooking and cleaning. Over the years, she had grown used to being abused by the Songoli family—to being their slave.
Now that Scotland Yard has swarmed the Songoli house to investigate the disappearance of the son, Muna is given a real bedroom, real clothing, and treated, at least nominally, as a daughter. But her world remains confined. She is not allowed to go outside, doesn’t know how to read or write, and cannot speak English. At least that’s what the Songolis believe. Before long it becomes clear that young Muna is far cleverer—and her plans more terrifying—than the Songolis, or anyone else, can ever imagine.

*******

3 out of 5 stars

(Warning: Triggering for Child Abuse)

This novella had such promise but ultimately failed to deliver on what started out as a great premise.

This is the store of Muna, a child slave who lives in the Songoli household. Stolen from an orphanage when she was 8, she has lived with them and been systematically abused by them for six years. Muna is kept in the cellar where she draws comfort from the house as she hears it speaking to her.

A ray of hope appears to her when the youngest son goes missing and the family is investigated by the police. Suddenly she is called “daughter” and given proper clothes and a room of her own so the family can explain her existence. But Muna is much smarter and more calculating than the family knows and begins to take her revenge.

Reading about Muna’s complete disassociation from humanity was chilling. Her abuse has turned her into a complete sociopath. The story line did have some issues though.

Muna learns to speak English by listening through the door to the tutoring given to the Songoli sons. That is believable. Somehow she also learns to read and write later in the story which is not believable as it happens so suddenly and without any warning – she just does all of a sudden.

And the ending. We build the entire story to this ending which is a huge letdown. It just … ends. It feels like it’s in the middle of a sentence when it ends and I honestly thought it did.

I gave the story 3 stars, but feel it really deserves 2 and 1/2.

Love the cover though as the cellar features prominently throughout the book.

 

A Grave Talent

A Grave Talent

17883605 “A Grave Talent” by Laurie R. King

Synopsis: This gripping debut of the Kate Martinelli mystery series won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery, generating wide critical acclaim and moving Laurie R.King into the upper tier of the genre. As “A Grave Talent” begins, the unthinkable has happened in a small community outside of San Francisco. A string of shocking murders has occurred, each victim an innocent child. For Detective Kate Martinelli, just promoted to Homicide and paired with a seasoned cop who’s less than thrilled to be handed a green partner, it’s going to be difficult case. Then the detectives receive what appears to be a case-breaking lead: it seems that one of the residents of this odd, close-knit colony is Vaun Adams, arguably the century’s greatest painter of women, a man, as it turns out, with a sinister secret. For behind the brushes and canvases also stands a notorious felon once convicted of strangling a little girl. What really happened on that day of savage violence eighteen years ago? To bring a murderer to justice, Kate must delve into the artist’s dark past — even if she knows it means losing everything she holds dear.

*******

2 out of 5 stars

I didn’t like this very much at all.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I finished this book. I felt like I HAD to for some reason, as it features a lesbian main character. I felt that I needed to read something written about one of my people, you know?

Let’s begin with what I did like: The premise. It had a lot of promise. There is a serial killer of children outside of San Francisco and all leads seem to point to a reclusive painter that lives in an off the beaten path colony. The painter was convicted and served time for the killing of a child in her care and has since removed herself from society.

The two detectives assigned to the case are an older cop, with years of experience and a newly minted rookie detective with fresh eyes. That’s Martinelli. And, that’s it.

Now, the list of what I didn’t like: The language read as European to me. I kept getting confused and forgetting that the story was set in California as it didn’t read that way at all. The phrasing was off, or maybe just extremely condescending.

The story meandered for a while in the middle, which is one of the worst sins a writer can commit in my opinion. I need that hook in the beginning to grab me right away but then you have to keep my interest. I ended up reading another book in the middle of this one (which will not be reviewed here as it’s extremely taboo) just to break the tedium.

Lastly, the attitudes of the characters. Martinelli is an EXTREMELY closeted lesbian. I mean extreme to the point that her work friends know her as Casey and her real life friends know her as Kate. And never the two shall meet. It’s odd. Even though the book is set in 1992, it’s also set in San Francisco. Kind of a LGBTQIA mecca, especially during the 90s. Martinelli says something to the effect of that she doesn’t want to be the representative of the Leather Dyke Brigade for the police force – I probably have the exact phrase wrong but it was odd to read a lesbian character who displayed such homophobia.

Also, there was one therapist who was just a creep. We found him in bed with his client, just sleeping, as part of the therapy and no one found anything wrong with that. Nope. So much no.

I finished it. That’s really all I can say about this book other than my overwhelming disappointment.

Cover – it’s a bridge. Seriously?

Always

Always

156930 “Always” by Nicola Griffith

Synopsis: Aud Torvingen is back — contemporary fiction’s toughest, most emotionally complicated noir hero returns to teach a new round of lessons in hard-hitting justice, and to confront new adversaries: her own vulnerability and desire.

The steely shell of Nicola Griffith’s seemingly indomitable protagonist Aud Torvingen appears to be cracking. The six-foot-tall fury (who proved in The Blue Place and Stay that she can kill you as easily as look at you) is shaken by the shocking consequences of the self-defense class she’s been teaching, and her investigation of what seems to be run-of-the-mill real-estate fraud is turning out to be more than she bargained for.

Always brilliantly intertwines the dramatic episodes of Aud’s class with the increasingly complicated investigation that introduces Aud to the limits of self-reliance, and to the scary and beautiful prospect of allowing oneself to depend on other people. What emerges is a thrilling, thoroughly engrossing novel that imbues Griffith’s “classic noir hero” (The New York Times Book Review) with an emotional complexity that far exceeds the boundaries of the genre, and will push Griffith to her well-deserved place at the front rank of new-wave literary crime writers.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

Nicola Griffith is still fairly new to me as an author and quite frankly, I have been missing out.

“Always” is the third book in the Aud Torvingen series and while it can stand as a read-alone book, it does help to read the first two. This is a very fast paced thriller set in Seattle, with an additional story line set in Atlanta.

Let me say, right up front, that I am more than a little in love with Aud. She’s completely self-contained to the point she’s mostly unaware of how people and emotions work. She’s a martial arts expert. She teaches self-defense to a group of women who desperately need it. And, at least in this book, she has to figure out how to be vulnerable.

There are so many parallels between Aud and the author, Nicola Griffith. Griffith lives in Seattle with her partner, taught self-defense classes, and is living with MS which also features prominently in this book. Aud is very real as a character because Griffith is able to draw on so many of her own real life experiences without having to just do research on the subject.

What I liked: Again, this can be read as a stand alone book. There are two separate story lines taking place – one in the present in Seattle and the other taking place in Atlanta just before Aud travels to Seattle. The plot switches between the two but there is never an interruption of the flow of the story.

Aud seems to be a bit of a sociopath at times because her responses are a little off the mark and she does not hesitate to do what she feels needs to be done. There were a few shocking moments in this book which I won’t ruin with a spoiler that speak directly to her personality. She’s extraordinarily pragmatic and sees the world in black and white, no grey areas. She’s also terribly damaged and I feel so protective of her, even though she could kill me with her bare hands.

In the Atlanta story line, she is teaching a group of  women self-defense. Aud knows by body language, and words left unsaid who in the group has been brutalized and why they are there. This was a fantastic plot for me and I would have enjoyed reading more about them. Griffith writes so powerfully about how women have been trained from a young age to be “nice” even when our gut instinct is to run. It really made me think.

The Seattle story line is the main plot in this book and that’s where we spend most of our time reading. Aud travels there to check on her real estate investments and ends up caught in her own mystery. There is a new relationship for Aud and I enjoyed reading how her her need for power in all things wars with her new found feelings.

What I did not like: There is a lot of real estate scamming going on that I have zero interest in and zero understanding of. I skimmed much of it.

I loved this book and loved the series. If you are looking for a mystery thriller that features a six-foot lesbian who knows ten different ways to kill you with her bare hands, this book is for you!

The cover art is some of the worst I have ever seen. A fist. A purple fist. Purple maybe as an analogy for a bruise? The fist coming right at you? I like to think about what’s inside the book, not have to figure out what the cover might mean.

Ashley Bell

Ashley Bell

25241477 “Ashley Bell” by Dean Koontz

Synopsis: At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.

Unprecedented in scope, infinite in heart, Ashley Bell is a magnificent achievement that will capture lovers of dark psychological suspense, literary thrillers, and modern classics of mystery and adventure. Beautifully written, at once lyrical and as fast as a bullet, here is the most irresistible novel of the decade.

*******

3 out of 5 stars

I do like Dean Koontz. I like his writing in spite of the fact that for the last decade or so, all of his books have a religious bent and a golden retriever. That ever present golden retriever makes me feel like I read the same book over and over even when the plot is entirely different.

This book has such a great premise that, sadly, does not quite live up to my expectations. Bibi Blair is our main character and a spunky twenty-two year old surfer girl. She is diagnosed with inoperable, terminal brain cancer. Two days later, she is completely cured.

What I liked: Bibi’s story is interesting, and for the most part, original. She is sent on a quest to find the illusive “Ashley Bell” whose life she is destined to save. There are nefarious characters who are hell-bent on stopping her along the way. Bibi is a likable character and she has a rich inner monologue that this book depends a great deal on.

I really liked, and would have loved to learn more about, her relationship with her Grandfather, the Captain. There were things hinted at and alluded to that I really needed spelled out, but the relationship felt real when reading about it.

Koontz is also, as always, very descriptive and does a great job of building this world, both internal and external.

What I didn’t like: There is a huge plot twist that I really needed earlier in the book for it to make more sense. I’m all about leaving the surprise till the end, but this particular twist needed an early reveal for a smoother plot. Bibi’s parents are also surfers and the book is littered with surfer lingo. Or, what Koontz perceives as surfer lingo. No surfer I have ever known, and I have known a few, has ever spoken like that. It did not translate well.

This is a giant of a book. I love my epic reads, but there was a lot of wasted space there in the middle. Lots of reading and not really going anywhere. 130 chapters.

Bibi’s fiance was essentially a non-character for me. I did not connect with him at all and honestly skipped many of his early chapters.

So, why did I give this book three stars? I did like it, I just was disappointed. I have been disappointed in most of the recent Koontz books I’ve read come to think of it. It was a good book but could have been so much better.

The cover … meh.

The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char

23363928 “The Library at Mount Char” by Scott Hawkins

Synopsis: Carolyn’s not so different from the other human beings around her. She’s sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.
After all, she was a normal American herself, once.
That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.
Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.
In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn’t gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient Pelapi customs. They’ve studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.
Sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.
But Carolyn can win. She’s sure of it. What she doesn’t realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she’s forgotten a great deal about being human.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

Well, crap. I haven’t the faintest idea of how to begin to review this book.

I don’t suppose I can leave it at, “It’s amazing, go read it immediately.”

I’m going to start with what I liked most about this book.

The world building is fantastic. To create an entire new world, new mythos, new philosophy in one book is hard and it’s exceptionally well done here. This falls into the fantasy genre quite simply because there is no where else to put it. Fantasy, sci-fi, historical, dystopian, horror, speculative – I think it fits all those genres.

Carolyn is our main character in this book but many of the other characters get equal play. Parts of the book are disturbing, parts are laugh out loud hilarious (remind me that in real life I can’t bitch-slap a lion). She goes through quite the metamorphosis through the story and it’s wonderful to read her development.

The character development is well thought out. There doesn’t seem to be much thought given to them at first, and then you find that you are incredibly invested in everyone in the book.

There is a lot of gore in this book. Descriptions of killing and of torture and of abuse. Somehow it makes sense that it’s here and necessary to the story. It’s violent but not gratuitous.

The one thing I didn’t like was that it took me a good 50 pages to really get hooked by this book. Normally I give up very quickly, but I am so glad I stuck with this one. I know I keep saying amazing but I don’t have any other words for this.

Again, I have no idea how to review “Library”. I don’t know where it fits, who should read it, and how to think about it. I just know I loved it and will definitely reread in the future.

The cover is …

… wait for it …

… amazing.