Saturday, April 30, 2016

Otherworld Secrets by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Otherworld Secrets: An Anthology (Women of the Otherworld Series), Author: Kelley Armstrong  Otherworld Secrets is an anthology containing five stories related to the Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series.

Life After Theft stars Hope and Karl. Hope is a tabloid journalist, a half-demon that feeds off of chaos, and the daughter of Lucifer. Karl is a werewolf and a master jewel thief. (I can't help but think of the 1955 film To Catch a Thief when I think of Karl.) A thief in a building full of valuable artifacts; a chaos craving half-demon surrounded by objects with dark pasts - what could go wrong?

Forbidden focuses on the werewolves, specifically on how Morgan came to join the pack. It was also published as a stand alone novella, which I reviewed previously.

Eve and Kristof are two minor characters who have since died and moved on to the afterlife. In almost no one's idea of heaven, people still have to work. Kristof  does legal work as he did in life. Eve works part-time as an avenging angel for the Fates, or something like that. I've forgotten the precise details of her arrangement with the Fates. Angelic revolves around one of Eve's missions. Eve is a fun character. She has always been the bad good girl. In life she was a witch who embraced dark magic and sorcery. (In the Otherworld series, witches who are always women and sorcerers who are always men have been engaged in a long standing feud over whose magic is better.) In the afterlife Eve is the angel who doesn't always play by the rules.

I actually read The Ungrateful Dead, which focuses on Jaime, a while ago and don't remember all the details. (I'm reading the Otherworld series in chronological order which means skipping around in the anthologies.) In any case, I love any story involving Jaime and Jeremy. I wish there were more of them.

Zen and the Art of Vampirism focuses on Zoe, a minor character in the series. It was a quick, funny read about a couple of vampires who make the mistake of trying to take over Zoe's territory.

Counterfeit Magic stars Paige and Lucas, along with Page's ward Savannah (although she is an adult now so I'm not sure if she would still be considered ward), and friend Adam. Of all the Otherworld couples Paige and Lucas are the most ordinary. He's a lawyer and she, if memory serves, did something like build websites and otherwise help people with computing issues. Paige is also a witch, as is Savannah, and Lucas is a sorcerer. Adam is a half-demon. Several books, novellas, and short stories in to the series, and Paige and Lucas have now been married for eight years and they're struggling a bit under the strain of all their ventures and commitments: their investigative business, their work with the Cortez family cabal, and their work interracial council (for dealing with issues among the various supernatural races), plus the added work of being married and staying married. I liked this story. It started out about one thing and ended up somewhere else.

I love this series and am almost done with it. It will be sad when I reach the end. Luckily, Kelley Armstrong has several other series waiting for me to read.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club by Gregory E. Pence

Title: What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black, Author: Gregory E. Pence  I saw the cover of this book and the words "Clone Club" and immediately knew that I had to read What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club by Gregory E. Pence. I love the show Orphan Black. It's fun. It's intriguing. It makes me think. What could be better than a book about one of my favorite shows! Thankfully, the book did not disappoint.

For anyone not familiar with the show, it starts with a woman named Sarah Manning who sees a woman jump in front of a train. It's hard to know which is more disturbing: that a woman just committed suicide in front of Sarah, or that the woman looked exactly like her. Sarah soon learns that there are several other women who look exactly like her, excepting personal style in dress and hair and the like. It turns out Sarah is a clone.

I was hooked the moment I saw a preview of the show. I watched it and pretty much just accepted the science fiction aspect of it and didn't think too much about it. Pence's book made me think about the real world possibilities and ethical issues surrounding cloning. While human cloning seems unlikely to become a viable possibility anytime soon, it raises lots of interesting issues about assisted reproduction; expectations of children based on ancestry, culture, family, and other factors; individual and group identity, nature versus nurture, and more.

This book did have more science that I was expecting. As someone who was hopelessly confused by chemistry class, I was a little worried but Pence did a great job of explaining things. I would even say I learned something about genetics. If you're a fan of Orphan Black this is definitely worth the read. It's a quick read. It's thought-proving, and it's a lot of fun.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Dewey Read-a-Thon

The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984The 24-hour Dewey Read-a-Thon is back. On Saturday, April 23, I along with many others will spend an entire day reading. Okay, not really an entire day. One must make time for walks, snacks, and on occasion, talking to other people. Also it starts at 5 AM for my location and as much as I love reading I don't see myself waking up that early on a Saturday just to read.

What exactly is a read-a-thon? The official website describes it as a sort of reading challenge, one that you can participate in without leaving your house. In some ways it is an excuse to spend the day on my couch with a book. To be honest, that's not something I need a lot of encouragement to do. Yet at same time it is a very social event with people cheering and encouraging each other across multiple social media platforms.

Title: Otherworld Nights: An Anthology (Women of the Otherworld Series), Author: Kelley ArmstrongThere are different ways to approach a read-a-thon. One year I decided to focus on finishing one book. That was challenging in that although I was enjoying what I was reading it was difficult to stay focused on one thing for such a long period of time. Another time I used the read-a-thon to get through a bunch of comic books that had accumulated in my unread pile. That worked out really well. Lots of variety equaled no boredom. This year my plan is to read a bit from three to four different books: a nonfiction collection of essays on the ethics of cloning, a collection of Peanuts comics, and short stories from the Otherworld series. That way I shouldn't get burned out on any one thing.

Title: Otherworld Secrets: An Anthology (Women of the Otherworld Series), Author: Kelley ArmstrongWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black   

So, 24 hours of reading, I can't wait! I love that people all over the country, perhaps even the world, will be reading together and celebrating the world of books.

Good luck to all those participating. Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

Title: World of Trouble (Last Policeman Series #3), Author: Ben H. Winters   I picked up this book with anticipation and dread. Anticipation because I have loved this series, and dread because once I finished World of Trouble it would be over. Oh, the problems of readers and great books.

World of Trouble is the third and final book in Ben H. Winters's Last Policeman series. The world is ending, really ending. An asteroid is scheduled to crash into the planet in early October and most of the life on Earth is expected to go the way of the dinosaurs. Henry "Hank" Palace is promoted to detective as other officers resign to go fulfill their bucket list dreams before the world ends. In a way Hank is doing his bucket list - being a detective was always his dream job and he's not about to let a little thing like the end of the world stop him. In the first book Hank persists in solving a murder that appears to be a suicide. In the second he takes on a missing person case. In this last book the case is more personal: he's looking for his little sister Nico.

Title: The Last Policeman (Last Policeman Series #1), Author: Ben H. WintersHank last saw Nico when she rescued him after he was shot. Saving Hank was a pit stop on her way to saving the world. There was a scientist who worked out a way to do it by blasting a nuke into space and altering the course of the object hurdling towards the planet. Nico and others were working to get the scientist to where he needed to be to make it all happen. Hank listened in disbelief as Nico explained the plan to him. He tried to make his sister understand that there was nothing to be done, but Nico wouldn't accept that. She had hope. The two siblings parted, each thinking the other was blind to the truth. Now with just two weeks before the asteroid is expected to alter the planet in a most severe way Hank realizes that he wants to spend what little time there is left with the last surviving member of his family. And so Hank, with his dog Houdini and a not entirely trustworthy companion he met on his last case, leaves the woods of New England and sets off for Ohio where Nico was last headed.

Title: Countdown City (Last Policeman Series #2), Author: Ben H. WintersHank is single-minded in a way that is almost certifiable. When he's on a case he doesn't stop even when personal safety or common sense suggest that he should (or at least that he should take a step back and try a different tactic). He is a person who must know the truth, who must solve the puzzle. Under normal circumstances this would probably make him a great cop, the guy you want on your side because you know he will stop at nothing to find the truth and bring the perpetrator to justice. Under world ending circumstances he's still a great cop, a great man even, but he's also arguably a little crazy. Nico was in denial about the impending the end of the world. In a way Hank's insistence on discovering the truth and ferreting out wrongdoers in world where the big truth is that life is about to end is its own form of denial.

This is one of the best series I've read in awhile. Every book was strong. The characters, the details about society as it crumbles under the despair of impending doom - it all worked. I'm so sad the series is over.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Losing It & Finding It Novellas

Title: Keeping Her: A LOSING IT Novella, Author: Cora CarmackKeeping Her is a companion story to Cora Carmack's Losing It, a book I read awhile ago. I remember liking it enough but don't remember any of the specifics beyond the premise: a college senior decides it's time to lose her virginity. She meets some guy in a bar. They have sex. The next morning she goes to class and her new professor is the guy from the bar. It's a romance so there are a bunch of obstacles but eventually Bliss, the virgin, and Garrick, the bar guy, fall in love. They get engaged. Keeping Her has Bliss and Garrick off to London to meet Garrick's parents.

Title: Seeking Her: A FINDING IT Novella, Author: Cora CarmackI must have liked Losing It because it is the first in a series and I finished the series, but I didn't like this, at least not the first two-thirds. I get being nervous about meeting the in-laws but Bliss is so insecure and whiny she comes off more as a child than an adult who is about to take marriage vows. It is only when she grows a backbone and stands up for herself, or really for Garrick that she becomes bearable. The rest of the time she's a mess.

Seeking Her was less annoying but completely unnecessary. It is a prequel to Finding It, the third book in the Losing It series. In Finding It former marine Jackson Hunt is hired by Kelsey's father to follow Kelsey around and keep her safe and she parties her through Europe after graduating from college. Seeking Her is Jackson's story as he follows Kelsey around watching her get drunk and hook up with random guys. It wasn't terrible but it also wasn't much of a story on its own.

Overall I enjoyed the books in the original series - Losing It, Faking It and Finding It -  these two novellas not so much.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Title: Countdown City (Last Policeman Series #2), Author: Ben H. Winters  Sometimes while I am in the middle of something enjoyable, I get pulled out a little and find myself thinking how great the thing that is happening is. It's like I'm in the experience but at the same time I'm outside of the experience watching myself enjoy it, like I'm unintentionally (or maybe it is intentional) storing up the memory for future use. Such was the case while reading Countdown City by Ben H. Winters. I so enjoyed reading it and every so often I would find myself pausing and saying in my head (and occasionally out loud) something like, "This is so good!"

Countdown City is the second in a series, the prior book being The Last Policeman. It's a mystery in the middle of the pre-apocalypse. The world is going to end in 77 days. An asteroid nicknamed Maia is on course to crash into Earth and there is nothing to be done it. No way to divert or destroy it before it hits. Such a scenario raises the question, how would you spend your last days? That death is months instead of days away seems to make this question harder to answer and the whole situation harder to bear.

Some people opt to end their days sooner rather than later. Others "go bucket list." Many get real religious, presumably in an attempt to secure their position in the after life. Some refuse to accept their fate, insisting that there is some way to save the earth. Some keep on keepin' on. Detective Hank Palace falls into this last category. In The Last Policeman Palace set out to solve a suspicious death that by all accounts appears to be a suicide. By this time suicides have become commonplace and people have stopped asking why someone would kill themselves because everyone knows why: Maia. Palace persists anyway, convinced that the suicide is really a murder. Now with 77 days left till life as everyone knows it ends, the Concord police force is operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department and Palace is out of a job. Even if Palace were still a cop he wouldn't have been doing any detecting. At this point the police are not worried about solving crimes or even really preventing it, they're simply trying to keep people alive and relatively peaceful. Nevertheless when his childhood babysitter Martha asks him for help with finding her missing husband Brett, Palace takes on the case.

Repeatedly Palace is asked why he's doing this, why he's looking for this missing man. After all, lots of people are disappearing, usually of their own accord, usually to "go bucket list." There is nothing to suggest that Brett did not leave of his own accord. Still it is odd that he would just pick up and leave his wife. By all accounts Brett, a former state trooper, was a stand-up guy, the kind of man who sincerely and earnestly always strove to do the right thing, who took his responsibilities and promises seriously.

At first Palace has a hard time answering why he is helping Martha and looking for Brett. Martha isn't paying or giving him anything. All he can think of is how he sat across from Martha at her kitchen table and promised her. Eventually he comes up with an answer:

"Because a promise is a promise, Officer Cavatone, and civilization is just a bunch of promises, that's all it is. A mortgage, a wedding vow, a promise, a promise to obey the law, a pledge to enforce it. And now the world is falling apart, the whole rickety world, and every broken promise is a small rock tossed at the wooden side of its tumbling form."

I recently read Station Eleven. One of things that interests me about that book and this book and apocalyptic fiction in general is the precise and various ways society breaks down. Many, probably most, stop going to work. The worth of a paycheck and money quickly lose their value in the face of impending doom. Still I can't help but think it would be beneficial for all if some people kept working or if all people worked to make sure certain things kept working. Maybe we can live without cable and shopping malls but wouldn't it be nice to keep the water running, the lights on, and the hospitals open till the end days?

At the beginning of Countdown City society is still holding it together, but barely. Cracks are starting to show and it is only a matter of time. In all likelihood the world will come crashing down long before Maia does. Under the circumstances Palace's insistence on following through with his investigation might seem foolish, but I get it. It's like when you go on vacation and it's great but there comes a point when a part of you is eager to get home, sleep in your own bed, and get back to your regular routine. Three months till the world ends, that's a lot of time. Have to spend that time somehow. If you like what you do, why not keep doing it? Routines can keep a person sane. Also, I hope there are some Palaces left in the world, people who will keep trying to do the right thing even when there is no payoff in sight.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Title: Jasper Jones, Author: Craig Silvey Sometimes it is hardest of all to talk or write about a book I love. It is usually easier for me to point out things I don't like about a book but it can be difficult to explain what's great about it with any specificity. Maybe it is because all the parts work so well together it is hard to single out individual parts that make it so good. This is a long way of saying that I absolutely loved Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. I loved the writing. I loved the characters. I loved it all.

The story is set in a small Australian town in the mid to late 1960s. Jasper Jones of the title is a 14-year-old half-Aboriginal/half-White, town scapegoat for anything that goes wrong in the town. If a kid gets in trouble his or her parents ask, were you with Jasper Jones? If something is missing,  Jasper is assumed to be the thief. He is also the coolest kid in town and when he knocks on Charlie Bucktin's window in the middle of the night and ask for help, Charlie can't help but be flattered and intrigued. He is also more than a little terrified. Still Charlie crawls out his bedroom window and follows Jasper into the woods where Jasper shows him the gruesome discovery he had made.

Jasper Jones falls into the category of coming-of-age story. When I finished this the image of a caterpillar in a cocoon came to mind. Not because of the pretty butterfly that comes out in the end, but because of the insect goes in as one thing, transforms, and then has to fight its way out of the cocoon. At the beginning of this novel Charlie lives in his head and his books and is mostly oblivious to the problems of his town. By the end he is confronted with several adult problems: his parents' unhappy marriage, police brutality, racism, and generally adults doing bad things. It isn't a fun transformation. At several points Charlie wishes he could rewind the clock and forget all the secrets he has had to absorb. But it isn't all bad. Charlie also takes his first tentative steps at love.

Jasper is my favorite character in the  book. Jasper because he refuses to believe all the bad things other people try to tell him he is. For all the crap life has dealt him he's still a good kid trying to do the right thing and he has a plan to get out of the small minded town where he was born.

I just finished this book and already I want to re-read it.