Monday, August 14, 2017

Waking Gods - Sylvain Neuval



Waking Gods
The Themis Files, Book 2
Sylvain Neuvel
Del Rey

Science Fiction

NOTE:  If you haven’t read the first book in this series (SLEEPING GIANTS) this review contains some pretty serious plot spoilers.  And you have missed a terrific read.  So, go back, read the first book, then continue here.  It’s ok; I’ll wait.


The events of the first book (SLEEPING GIANTS) are ten years in the past.  Despite all of our worst fears and best hopes, nothing much has happened with regard to Themis in that decade.  That sense of security shatters in an instant when a huge, metallic figure appears in London’s Regent’s Park.  It didn’t land; it simply appeared.  This one looks to be male, and is slightly larger than Themis.  Is it friend, or foe?  It stands, unmoving, for weeks.  There’s no radio contact, no movement, no smoke signals, nothing.  The most exciting (or terrifying) part is that there must be drivers inside.  At least two.  Two aliens in a giant metal robot, just standing, immobile, in the middle of London.

No one should be surprised to find that the giant metal figure piloted by aliens comes equipped with some kind of invisible, electronic shield.  Nothing touches it.  Suddenly, it moves.  It raises an arm, emitting a blast of energy that utterly destroys a good portion of London.  There’s no rubble; there are no bodies; no smoking ruins.  Everything and everyone in the path of the energy weapon is simply, gone.  Empty space, right down to the dirt.  Shortly after, more robots appear, in cities all over the world.  The excitement is gone, largely replaced by terror and dread.

Kara and Vince are back, of course, as the only people who are able to pilot Themis.  They’ve continued studying her, and have made some advances.  Just not enough to repel dozens of robots just like her.  Judging by the abilities of the newly-arrived robots, they’ve got some catching up to do.  Dr. Rose Franklin is back, and having a few issues of her own.  We find out how that’s possible, and more about where the robots and their pilots come from in this installment.

Like the previous book, the story is told here in the form of broadcast transcripts, field reports, interviews, and diaries.  I’m still surprised by how much immediacy this format gives the story.  We get multiple points of view, and multiple opinions about these events.  Each new take on things propels the story forward in a very natural, organic way.  There are bumps in the road; some of them are fatal.  These setbacks force the characters to soldier on, despite hardships, giving each character added depth and realism.  This one ends with a cliffhanger.  Usually, I dislike that method of storytelling, but I’m so involved with the storyline that I’ve embraced it here.  I’m more than anxious for the next novel.


Rating: 9
April 2017

ISBN# 978-1-101-88672-4 (hardcover)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One Of Us Is Lying - Karen M. McManus



One Of Us Is Lying
Karen M. McManus
Delacorte Press

Young Adult

It begins like every clichéd teen movie does: in detention.  All the ‘types’ are there.  Bronwyn, the genius with all the extracirriculars, pointed straight at Yale; Addy, the pretty princess with no thoughts of her own;  Cooper, the star pitcher, whose biggest problem seems to be whether to take a college scholarship, or go straight to baseball after graduation; and Nate, the outlier, the bad boy with a juvenile record for dealing drugs.  Also serving detention today is Simon, the guy who runs an app that reports all the (remarkably accurate) gossip at Bayview High.  During detention, Simon takes a drink of water and falls to the floor, convulsing.  He’s dead practically before he gets to the hospital.

The police quickly determine that the cup Simon was drinking from (he couldn’t find his ever-present water bottle) was laced with peanut oil.  Pretty much everyone in school knows that Simon has a deadly peanut allergy.  All four students and the teacher running detention are questioned at length.  Although everyone is in shock, no one has anything much to tell the police.  Interestingly, along with Simon’s water bottle, his EpiPen was mysteriously missing.  And so was every EpiPen in the nurse’s office.  That looks like premeditation to the cops.  And then there are posts that keep appearing, written by someone who claims to be the killer. 

Bronwyn tries to interest them in the fact that everyone was in detention in the first place for bringing phones to class.  Everyone knows better than that, and everyone can produce the phones they left in their lockers.  The confiscated phones don’t belong to them.  Not that the teacher cared, of course.  But shouldn’t that be a clue that they were all framed for detention?  It’s pretty clear that the cops are convinced it’s one (or maybe all) of them.  While parents arrange for lawyers and tell them to stay away from each other, the students try to ride out the notoriety that comes with being accused of murder.  Of course, hoping for an end to it is the same as hoping that one of your classmates committed a murder in front of you.

While the story begins like every teen movie, it quickly moves in different and fascinating directions.  There are sections narrated by each of the four witnesses.  The Bayview Four (as they become known in the media) didn’t have much in common before that day, but they now feel bound together by that afternoon’s events.  It’s clear that they’re the only suspects.  Separately, and then as a group, they come to the conclusion that, by working together, they might have a shot at figuring out what really happened.  In the meantime, each one has to life his/her life.  Or try to, anyway.  Not easy when news vans are following you around several times a week.   

This is a mystery, but also a story of how a huge event can change lives in ways both good and bad.  None of them come out of the experience as the same people they were that day at detention.  For each person, that means something different.  Since they each get to narrate their own stories, we get to see exactly how they’re each affected and how it changes them.  I was turning the pages as much to solve the mystery as to find out what happened to each character.  Be prepared to be surprised.  Maybe it’s true that you don’t really know someone until you walk in their shoes. 

Rating: 8
June 2017

ISBN# 978-1-5247-1468-0 (hardcover)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Twice Bitten - Chloe Neill



Twice Bitten
Chicagoland Vampires
Chloe Neill
Roc

Paranormal

Note: If you haven’t read the first books in this series {SOME GIRLS BITE and FRIDAY NIGHT BITES) this review contains unavoidable plot spoilers.

It’s only been a couple of months since Merit became a vampire under unusual circumstances.  Due to the unusual nature of her change (it was without her consent, to save her life) she only truly completed the transformation a few weeks before the events detailed here.  Still, Ethan Sullivan, the Master of Cadogan House saw the skills and potential in Merit and appointed her the Sentinel of the House.  That puts her in charge of the security and safety of the House and everyone who belongs to it.  Her loyalty must be to her House.

All the Houses in Chicago are going to need security.  Celina, the former Master of another House, once the very public face of every ‘vampires live among you, and it’s ok,’ press conference has gone pretty seriously over the line.  She’s gone so far as to attack Merit in the street,.  All the efforts of the vampires to show that they’ve assimilated into the general population (synthetic blood, etc) and wish to co-exist with humans may have been for nothing.  Many vampires are now concerned that, as these public acts of violence continue, there may be some kind of war coming with the humans.  That will also concern the shapeshifters, who are still very much in the shadows. 

Gabriel Keene, the Apex of the North American shifters (the Alpha of alphas) is in Chicago.  He’s there to meet with the packs, to have a vote.  Some pack members feel it would be better to retreat to their northern stronghold to ride out any violence between humans and vampires.  Others want to retain the lives they’ve built, and fight if necessary.  Most, though, are united in their dislike of all vampires.  Most vampires feel the same way.  Gabriel and Ethan hope to broker a truce between their peoples.  To do so, they’ll have to overcome centuries of distrust and outright hatred.   

The first three books have taken place over a period of only a few months.  Merit has been through huge changes over this time.  But, since the time is so compressed, the story can’t focus solely on Merit’s change, or on Merit and Ethan’s will-they-or-won’t-they relationship.  Honestly, I find their relationship to be the least compelling aspect of these novels.  To that end, the shifters are a compelling addition to this world.  Gabriel, his family, and the extended family of the packs offer some great avenues for future stories. 

For characters only recently introduced, the shifters each seem like real individuals, with realistic concerns. No matter which side they’re on in the dispute, no one is entirely right or wrong.  The author does a great job filling in a bit of the packs’ history, and more of the history of the vampires.  Everyone has good reason for their thoughts and feelings about the issue at hand.  None of this bogs down the action, though.  This is probably the best book in the series, so far. 


Rating: 8.5
December 2014

ISBN# 978-0-451-47005-8 (paperback)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Every Deadly Kiss - Steven James



Every Deadly Kiss
The Bowers Files
Steven James
Berkley

Thriller

Full disclosure:  this is the first installment of The Bowers Files that I have read.  Serious question:  how have I missed this series until now??


Patrick Bowers is an agent for the FBI.  He’s a specialist in the cutting-edge field of geoprofiling in serial cases.   He assesses a crime scene based on factors like timing of offenses, and the environments of crime scenes.  This specialty keeps him in demand all over the U.S.  In Detroit, the FBI is investigating four murders. Each of the victims is a different age, race, sex and from different walks of life.  In each case, a letter was carved into the victim’s forehead; each body was found in an abandoned house; and, most tellingly, each body was discovered after an anonymous tip, pointing the police in the right direction.  Clearly, someone is trying to make a statement. 

While in Detroit, Patrick will be partnered with FBI agent Sharyn Weist.  The two went through the FBI academy together, and parted just before graduation.  It’s been nearly eight years since they’ve seen each other.  Sharyn is divorced with a child.  Patrick is involved with a woman who has a teenaged daughter.  After an awkward moment or two, working together seems natural.  What neither one of them knows is that there’s a stalker on the prowl.  He’s dangerous, intent on tracking his target, and will not hesitate to kill to find his target.  Soon enough, Sharyn is caught up in his search.

In another part of the country, a terrorist plot is unfolding.  This plot has been meticulously planned over a span of years.  There is a sort of suicide bomber on his way to Detroit.  This bomber isn’t wearing explosives strapped to his chest, but he is carrying a bioweapon that will kill millions.  And he’s carrying it in his own bloodstream.  The carrier is symptom-free for several days while he moves around in population centers.  The first symptoms look like the flu; by the time anyone realizes that there’s a deadly disease spreading, it will be too late.  One of the men involved in this plot – a fixer of sorts – may be having second thoughts about the scope of suffering that’s coming, and may take steps to try to avert the outbreak.

The way the author manages to bring these seemingly disparate plotlines is surprising and nearly seamless.  Watching the FBI agents conduct the investigation is fascinating, especially with the addition of the ‘geoprofiling,’ This specialty was unfamiliar to me, but it was clearly explained, and it was an interesting new way to approach an investigation.  Instead of looking for similarities to establish motive, Patrick looks for differences. The point-of-view does shift from investigator to terrorist to fixer to killer, but each shift is in its own chapter, so it’s quite easy to follow.  In fact, it gives a fuller understanding of everyone’s thoughts and motives.  Motives that, in this day and age, seem frighteningly realistic.

I made the silly mistake of reading the first chapter late in the evening.  I was instantly hooked.  I read far too late, looking for that elusive “good stopping place.”  In this novel, there just isn’t one.  When you’re ready to start this thrill-ride of a novel, make sure you’re in a comfy chair with a good chunk of time ahead of you.  Then do the same thing every time you sit down with this book!  My only real regret is that I’m only now discovering this author.  I’ll be looking for previous books in this series.  If you like thrillers, this one comes highly recommended.


Rating: 8
July 2017

ISBN# 978-1-101-99157-2  (paperback)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

After Atlas - Emma Newman




After Atlas
A Planetfall Novel
Emma Newman
Roc

Thriller/SciFi

Carlos Moreno has been famous since infancy.  His mother was one of the people (inspired or insane, depending on your view) who left on the ship called Atlas.  The ship was built in secret, by a well-funded cult, in an effort to find/follow God, at the behest of their charismatic leader.  Only so many people could travel on the ship, so most had to leave family members behind on Earth.  One of those was Carlos’ mother.  There was a famous documentary called “After Atlas” that detailed all of this.  Ever since, Carlos has been periodically approached by reporters of one kind or another for statements and follow-ups.  These encounters have been steadily escalating recently.  Atlas left behind a capsule that can only be opened in 40 years’ time.  That time is rapidly approaching, re-igniting interest in Atlas and those left behind.

Carlos has no use for journos.  His life, as it turned out, was not particularly happy.  But that’s no one else’s business.  He eventually found his way to a job as a gov-corp detective.  In this future Earth, governments and huge corporations have largely merged, to keep the money and the power consolidated.  He’s very good at what he does.  He never leaves a puzzle unsolved.  This case is different.  The murder victim is Alejandro Casales, the leader of the Circle cults.  Carlos spent some years in that cult with his father, and, at one time, looked up to Alejandro as a substitute father.  That all ended some years ago.  Now Carlos must put his personal feelings, good and bad, aside, and figure out exactly what happened here, and why.

On one level, this is a futuristic murder mystery.  The forensic and crime scene techniques are very advanced, but the detective work is familiar.  As a counterpoint to the new tech, the scene of the crime is a very upscale hotel.  It provides amenities like real food.  Food in this society is usually cheaply produced using organic substrates and printers.  Purchasing real food is a luxury only the rich can afford.  Carlos takes the job, in part, because he’ll be able to take meals at the hotel.  This is science fiction, but it’s very much character-driven.

It’s clear early on that Alejandro’s death is not exactly what it seems.  The obvious conclusion is suicide, but Carlos knows that self-harm contradicts all of Alejandro’s beliefs and teachings.  He’s being pressured to make the call, and, like all good detectives, that puts him on edge.  If he’s being pushed in one direction, he should probably look in another.  The single crime widens into a world-wide issue.  The characters presented are all three-dimensional and organic to the setting.  This author excels at scene-setting.  The world here is mostly like ours, but the differences are both surprising and understandable.  As the investigation widens, we’re introduced to some of the big players in gov-corps.  These people are absolutely believable, especially if you’ve been following current events at all. 

This is the second novel in this series.  If you haven’t yet read PLANETFALL, it’s not necessary for enjoying this novel.  If you have, it will give you a deeper understanding of some aspects of the story here.  I would recommend reading it for the sheer pleasure of it.  These two books are flip sides of a coin.  PLANETFALL tells the story (part of it) of those who left.  This one tells about those left on Earth.  I’m hoping there’s more to this series.  I know I’ll be following this author, wherever she decides to take me next.


Rating: 9
November 2018

ISBN# 978-0-425-28240-3 (trade paperback)

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Sleeping Giants - Sylvain Neuvel



Sleeping Giants
The Themis Files, Book 1
Sylvain Neuvel
Del Rey

Science Fiction

As a child, Rose Franklin fell into a hole… and landed in an enormous metal hand.  The powers-that-be unearthed and pored over the hand, determining only that it was buried several thousands of years ago; and that it is made of a metal or alloy unknown to modern science.  The hand was contained in a sort of chamber, with each wall made of the same unknown metal, and covered with unknown, glowing symbols.  To avoid mass panic, those same powers-that-be kept all of this as quiet as possible.

Many years later, Rose, now a physicist, is delighted to be a part of the project that is studying the hand and the symbols.  And she’s amazed to see that, all this time later, the symbols on the walls are still glowing, even though they have no visible energy source.  It stands to reason that a hand must need an arm.  An arm must need a body.  And, with some searching, the research group led by Rose is able to find several more pieces.  It’s fairly clear that, eventually, they will be able to assemble an entire humanoid figure that stands many stories tall and is made of some apparently indestructible stuff.

The obvious questions arise.  What is this thing?  Why was it constructed?  Why was it deconstructed?  Why were the pieces buried?  And, most interesting/frightening of all:  Who did all of this, several thousand years ago, when humans were essentially inventing the wheel?  The small, assembled study has only the best, most basic scientific goals in mind.  They want to put the thing together and figure out what it does.  And, someday, who made it.

You don’t have to be much of a cynic to realize that there are lots of other people who would have much less pure motives to possessing something like this.  Rose eventually realizes that it’s potentially a weapon, but that epiphany comes a bit too late.  The story unfolds in a series of reports and interviews with various participants in and around the study of the figure.  It seems like a clunky way to tell a story, but it works beautifully here.  Each character has ample opportunity to put forth his/her viewpoints, hopes, and fears.  Regardless of their overall aims, each person comes across as very, very human.

It shouldn’t be a spoiler to say that things don’t quite go as planned in the study.  But, by that time, there’s really no going back on this project.  As a reader, I found myself second-guessing what had gone before, in ‘if only’ terms.  Even if you don’t consider yourself a ‘scifi reader,’ give this book a try.  It is, above all else, a story about people and how they deal with advances and setbacks that most of us can’t imagine.  I’m already looking forward to getting my hands on the second book.  I have to know what happens next!

Rating: 9
May 2016

ISBN# 978-1-101-88671-7 (paperback)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Darkest Corners - Kara Thomas



The Darkest Corners
Kara Thomas
Ember

YA Thriller

Tessa and Callie were best friends who did everything together as children.  Then, one night, everything changed.  Callie’s college-aged cousin disappeared in the middle of the night while babysitting the two young girls.  Her body was later found in circumstances that led the police to believe that she’d been the most recent victim of a serial killer active in the area.  The two little girls were questioned by their parents, the police, and, eventually, lawyers.  They both knew that the bad man needed to go to jail.  He did, largely on the strength of their testimony.

Their lives diverged widely after that night.  They were kept apart, for reasons the adults never really explained to them.  Tessa ended up moving to Florida to live with her grandmother.  Callie stayed in their Pennsylvania hometown with her parents.  Ten years later, they’re both ready to graduate from high school.  Both have tried to put the trial behind them.  But now that’s impossible.  The convicted man still insists that he’s innocent, and is asking for a new trial based on new evidence.  Tessa returns to try to reconnect with Callie, and to put the ghosts of her past to rest.  The problem is that Callie doesn’t seem interested at all in reliving the past, or in reviving their friendship.

This story is fairly intense.  Tessa has some added family drama (since she left PA, she hasn’t seen or spoken to her mother at all) to add to the mix.  She wants to track down her mom and maybe even find the older sister who left the family soon after the murder.  She feels certain that it’s all connected; but how sure can you really be about your perceptions at age nine?  The same goes for what the girls did/didn’t witness of events leading up to the murder.  Could you recall every detail of your day today?  How about every single detail of the average Tuesday you had three weeks ago?  And how much more stressful to have your parents, the police, and lawyers asking the same questions over and over again.  The stakes get considerably higher when, not long after Tessa arrives back in town, one of her other childhood friends turns up dead.

There’s the story of the mystery, which is fascinating and very twisty.  There’s the mystery of what happened to Tessa’s family after the murder, and her attempts to track down clues and follow leads.  Then there’s the very human story of Tessa and Callie, who were once inseparable, but now feel like complete strangers to each other.  Both have put up some walls, and that makes sense.  Hoping for the walls to come down is only the beginning.  Finding out the truth is the only way the girls – and the rest of the town – are going to have peace about this.  The novel is so fast-paced that I read it in two sittings.  It’s almost impossible to put this one down once you’ve started it.


Rating: 8
May 2017

ISBN# 978-0-553-52148-1 (trade paperback)