Saturday, June 27, 2015

Summer Reads #2

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The newest book by the author of the hugely popular The Windup Girl,  Bacigalupi's novel is a shocking look into our future as it pertains to the issue of water.  Hmmm...water, a fairly innocuous entity, right?  However, look at every media report lately about this entity and you will see articles on water restrictions in California, the historical drought in the Southwest, not seen since the 1200's, and the farmers fighting for their water rights.  Bacigalupi takes this idea and twists it into his view of the future of California, Nevada, and Arizona as the aquifers built in the last ice age shrink into ever smaller stores. His story follows three main characters, each with their own agenda:  Angel, the title character of the book and the right-hand assassin for the megalomaniac who 'owns' Lake Mead and controls Las Vegas; Lucy, the reporter who lives in Phoenix and becomes a part of the dying city as she reports on the blood and murder found there; and last is Maria, a Texas refugee (Texas has lost all their water rights and has been virtually made extinct) who has no family and few friends, but gets pulled into a water war that will soon encompass them all.  I found this book to be very complex, especially at the beginning, needing great concentration to figure out exactly what is going on.  Water rights - who has them, who gets to keep them, and who is involved in stealing them - is rather complicated.  However, I am thankful I plowed through as the story begins to gel after the first third and I became engrossed in the saga of survival.  It is a pretty scary look at a more-than-possible future.

Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen AND  Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
Sometimes, after a scary futuristic dystopic novel, one just needs to fly off to Never Land, or perhaps the Land of Oz, right? Except of course when those two places have been distorted, satirized, and 'magicked' into something else.  However, these two books were still a rollicking bit of fun, particularly if you were fans of the childhood books.  Jensen takes the original J.M. Barrie story of idyllic childhood and the boy who 'won't grow up', and turns him into a murderous, sadistic, hateful pre-teen.  Captain Hook, of course, is a misunderstood pirate - yet, not entirely sympathetic.  The story splits its setting between the 'now' of NeverLand and the past history of young James Hookbridge.  He was a spoilt, arrogant, wealthy young man, cursed to the fairy country and now a young woman has arrived to turn his world upside down.  Jensen does a solid job of using tidbits from the original story and the reader for Audible is spot-on with Hook's indolent, piratical, British accent.  For you Oz fans, Danielle Paige really nails this one.  For those ignorant of Oz (shame on you - they were my favorite childhood books), L. Frank Baum wrote a dozen books, chronicling the tales not only of Dorothy, but of Ozma, the real ruler of Oz, and the numerous sidekicks along the way.  In Paige's new version of the story, a young modern-day Kansas girl, Amy Gumm, is whisked to Oz in a twister, of course, and comes to find all the magic gone.  Dorothy actually returned to Oz, after realizing what a dump Kansas was, and has pretty much trashed the place with her obsession for magic and power.  The 'wicked' witches are now the 'good' witches, thus the story commences to rid the land of the terrible influences of Dorothy and her three henchmen,  the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Woodman.  Paige is masterful at using all the characters from the Baum books, and I admittedly got a big kick out of that.  You will love this book if you once lived in Oz as a child like I did - if not, probably not so much.

Syndrome E and Bred to Kill by Franck Thilliez
If you are in the mood for a fabulous new detective/murder mystery series, in the style of Jo Nesbo and his character Harry Hole, I would say that Franck Thilliez is the latest great author.  First, he has created two complex characters whom you both love, and want to strangle occasionally.  Franck Sharko is an older detective, a schizophrenic who obsesses over toy railroads and talks to his imaginary friend, Eugenie, in the most inappropriate public places.  Scharko battles his superiors, goes about his business in a completely unorthodox way, and sees the smallest clues to solve the mysteries.  In the first book, Syndrome E, five dead bodies and a shocking snuff film come together to lead Sharko to Lille, Paris, and even Montreal.  Luci Henibelle, a young detective with twin daughters and an obsessive curiosity, becomes his de-facto partner as they unravel the idea of 'syndrome e.'  In the sequel, Bred to Kill, the two reluctantly pair up again, as tragedy has struck them both, and find a trail of blood, murder, and insanity that leads them to the jungles of Brazil.  Thilliez weaves in mysterious and undetectable trails that lead the reader to draw incorrect conclusions, and then shows them the way out.  These mysteries are incredibly well written, taut, psychologically thrilling, and just darn good stories - I highly recommend them both and look forward to the third in the series finally being translated from the original French.

Freedom's Child by Jax Miller
This book is a getting quite a bit of buzz out their on the book blogosphere, and I would wholeheartedly agree that it is a solid thriller.  It is a fast read, with some intriguing characters.  Freedom Oliver, the main character, has been in the witness protection program for many years, hanging in podunk Oregon, running a bar, and getting blackout drunk most evenings.  Unfortunately for her, the main who spent 17 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, has now been released...and knows where she is.  Once this scene is set, the story flips back and forth between the present day as Freedom makes her way back 'home' to find her daughter, and the long ago days of being a wife to a Boston bad-boy.  While it is not the most complex story, it is a great beach read and definitely a page-turner.  I would not recommend it for a book club, as I don't think it has enough 'meat on the bone' for discussion; it is more pure entertainment.

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
This book had all the pieces needed for me to want to borrow it:  Coney Island tent show with illusionists, contortionists, and other tortured souls; turn-of-the-century New York City; an insane asylum; and a mysterious newborn baby found in the muck.  Parry pops back and forth amongst the characters, as we see Alphie, a young married woman imprisoned unlawfully in the asylum, stuck on an island in full view of the city, waiting for her handsome husband to find out the 'real' truth from his mother and rescue her.  Odile Church is another voice, as she searches for her sister Belle after a terrifying tent fire on Coney Island takes away not only their mother, but the only home and family they have ever known.  The last voice of Sylvan, the Irish muckraker who finds the babe, is the voice of reason who eventually pulls all the strings of the varied stories together.  Parry puts some nice twists and turns in during the final chapters, consequences I never saw coming, so I was rather impressed.  This was a solid debut novel, and one that could bring up interesting conversation for a book club.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
This is a difficult review for me to write, as I am unsure exactly where I stand on this particular book.  Normally, I am a huge fan of Chris Bohjalian; Sandcastle Girls, a novel of the Armenia holocaust, was one of the most powerful books of the past decade for me.  This latest book is a dystopic novel, looking at the East coast of America and the consequences of a nuclear power plant meltdown.  Admittedly, one of the main problems for me was the narrator on Audible.  Talk about a buzz dog could have done a better job, or a computer-activated voice, which is what she sounded like.  Monotone, completely devoid of emotion, and slow as molasses, this is a definite 'do not recommend' as far as listening goes.  However, I was not a huge fan of the writing style either.  Bohjalian creates an intriguing and complex main character in Emily Shepherd, the daughter of the head engineer at the nuclear plant that implodes.  Yet as the story moves all over the place, both in time and space, it can occasionally be confusing, as Emily writes in her journal, telling us of her past, dropping in tidbits on Emily Dickinson (those I enjoyed), and her relationships with a variety of people.  Emily seems to be suffering not only from guilt and separation from her parents and the life she knew, but also from some mental illness that was evident prior to the meltdown. However, Bohjalian never directly addresses that nor does he look at the larger consequences. For me, the singular voice of Emily was a detriment to the unraveling of the story.

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