"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Big Sky

TITLE: Big Sky
AUTHOR: Kate Atkinson

Much as I love Kate Atkinson's literary novels, I 'm enormously happy when she has an idea for a Jackson Brodie novel. Despite Jackson being a private investigator, these books really aren't mysteries, not in the traditional sense. Yes, there is a crime or a multitude of crimes, and yes, Jackson usually ends up in the middle of things, but these novels don't depend on him to figure everything out. He's just a middle-aged guy trying to live his life, with all its messiness, which includes trying to be a father to his seemingly indifferent teenage son. As always in these books, we learn as much about the other characters as we do about Jackson.

The unlawful activities this time focus on the sex trafficking of girls, told through the perspective of police, survivors, and perpetrators. Secrets from the past collide with secrets in the present, and as is the pattern for this series, seemingly unrelated plots come together in a satisfying way. I hope Atkinson finds a worthy story for him sooner, rather than later next time.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Under Occupation

TITLE: Under Occupation
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

While I've never found a novel by Alan Furst impossible to put down, I've always found them to be immensely readable. This one was a quick read for me, fairly short with less description than his earlier books, as if he expects that his regular readers are, by now, familiar with the situation in France during fall of 1942 and early 1943. The main character, Paul Ricard, is a writer of popular detective novels. When a man is shot in front of him by the police and slips Ricard a drawn schematic of a torpedo detonator before he dies, Ricard -- a French patriot -- endeavors to get the drawing to the right people.

The book takes a familiar direction, that of a civilian drawn into the realm of espionage, in this case, doing jobs for the French Resistance. Ricard is aided by a Polish ex-patriot named Kasia, who works in a bookshop and is a thief on the side. Kasia is a bit of a surprise, in that her sexual partners of choice are female, which eliminates her as a lover for Ricard. In a change of pace, there are fewer scenes of lovemaking than usually are found in Furst's novels. His more recent WWII spy novels follow an episodic formula and, in a way, fill in gaps of a giant jigsaw puzzle, all connecting in some way to form a picture of what life in Europe was like as Hitler moved to conquer Europe.

I do wish Furst would turn his attention to the time around the Normandy invasion, but for now, I'm content with whatever he feels compelled to write. Given the current world situation, it's almost a comfort to be reminded of a time when right and wrong were clear.

Saturday, July 18, 2020


TITLE: Afterland
AUTHOR: Lauren Beukes

Disclaimer: I got an uncorrected, advanced review copy of this book, written by one of my favorite authors.

I love Beukes' writing and this is certainly well written, typos aside (I had to resist pulling out a red pen to make corrections!) The plot is simple. In the not-too-distant future, a virus has killed 90 per cent or so of Earth's male population. Cole's twelve-year-old son is one of the exceptions. Now, after three years stuck in an American facility where scientists are doing research on Miles and a few other surviving males, Cole and her son -- disguised as a girl -- are on the run, trying to get back home to South Africa, with the authorities and Cole's own sister, Billie, in pursuit. 

The science fiction elements are mostly downplayed, giving background and context to what is basically a feminist suspense/family drama story. Chapters alternate between Cole's, Miles', and Billie's point of views, while also alternating, early on, between the past and the present. Billie has made a deal with a devil as concerns her nephew, so the suspense comes mainly from wondering what will happen if/when Billie catches up with Cole and Miles. Filling out the story are the wide array of women they all come across on their journey across America, with a religious cult taking center stage in the back half of the book when Cole and Miles, using the name Mila, seek shelter with the Church of All Sorrows, which preaches that if women will repent and do God's work, God will bring back men.

I wanted to give this book more than three stars, but given the current pandemic -- a bit earlier and unexpected than Beukes bet on, I would imagine -- the backstory seems quaint and outdated. And while I always enjoy an exploration of an imagined future as it's experienced by individual characters, this is really about two sisters at odds and a mother dealing with a son hitting the trauma of the teenage years. In a way, the story feels too small for the premise; I enjoyed it, but I wanted it to be more.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer Weeding

One of the hardest, and usually necessary, things for a reader/book collector to do is weed the collection. As a librarian, I was pretty ruthless when it came to weeding. Shelves stuffed with books no one wants to read prevents people from finding the newer, more appealing ones. I find it a bit harder to weed my own collection.

The attraction for me in having a lot of unread books is that I have a variety from which to choose my next read. But the problem -- well, one of them -- is that I keep buying books, more than I can possibly read, and space for them runs out.

Today, I've been weeding my science fiction and fantasy books. I was reading science fiction nearly exclusively in the '80s and bought a LOT of science fiction and fantasy novels in the '80s and '90s, including series, one of which is six paperbacks of over 500 pages each. For me, that's at least a year of reading time.

I keep everything I read and liked and I'm keeping all the unread books that still sound appealing and have under 500 pages. It's a real slog. I feel like I'm saying goodbye to future friends I've let down. But new authors and new books are pushing them out. The shelves are looking a lot better already.

Wait until I get to the mysteries and general fiction.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Golden State

TITLE: Golden State
AUTHOR: Ben H. Winters

This book would have resonated with me at any time, but it is especially relevant now. Golden State is what California has become in this alternate reality of our world. After some sort of catastrophe, the Golden State was created as a refuge from lies. The worst thing anyone can do is commit the crime of lying, and to keep the populace truthful, there are cameras everywhere, recording all actions and transactions from varied angles. Citizens, including the enforcers and those in the governing bodies, maintain Day Books, which are journals they write all their daily transactions, then store safely for future reference. And everything goes into the permanent Record. 

Laszlo Ratesic has nearly two decades working in the Speculative Service, special truth enforcers who are capable of sensing lies. When a roofer falls to his death, it becomes Laszlo's job, along with his rookie partner on her first day, to seek out any anomalies. The death seems cut and dried, but a little investigating reveals a small anomaly that leads to another, and suddenly, the cut-and-dried case is leading the two Speculators down a dangerous path.

Winters is a clever writer who not only creates fascinating realities, but also almost painfully real characters and enough tension and plot twists that kept me reading. At its heart, the book (to me, anyway) asks "What is truth?" and "Do we want to live in a world where every moment in one's life is recorded and fiction is unknown?" And still, people lie and twist the truth. Can any irrefutable truth even exist and how much are we willing to give up for it to exist? In our reality, technology is already advanced enough for these questions to be considered, before it's too late.