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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Devil's Alphabet

TITLE: The Devil's Alphabet
AUTHOR: Daryl Gregory

From the cover face with the upside down eyes, to the not quite ending, this book is a mystery, more conjecture and theory than hard facts. Thirteen years ago, the town of Switchcreek, Tennessee was struck by a terrible and confounding disease that killed a third of the population, mutating most of the survivors into one of three physical anomalies: those who experienced enormous growth to unprecedented heights, those who lost all their hair and became seal-like, and those who became abnormally obese. Paxton, a young teen when the "Changes" hit, was a "skip," one of the few not physically affected. His mother died, however, and his father became one of the obese "charlies," and after the quarantine on the town was lifted, Pax was sent away to live with relatives. Now an adult, living a dull, unambitious life in Chicago, Pax returns to Switchcreek for the funeral of one of his two best friends. Jo Lynn, who had become a seal-like beta, had been found hanging from a tree in her yard, a supposed suicide. But Pax and Deke, his other best friend and now a grotesquely tall argo, have their doubts. Back home after so many years away, Pax quickly discovers how much he's missed as more and more effects of the Changes manifested themselves.

This isn't the story of what happened in Switchcreek or why, although those questions are posed. Rather, it's the story of coping with such profound changes, how outsiders react to people who suddenly don't look human, how far people will go to live normal lives when normal doesn't mean what it once did, and the age-old question of what it means to be human. It's also the story of Pax trying to find his place in a world when he hasn't felt comfortable in his own skin since everything changed.

And it's the sort of book that makes me want a sequel. I want to spend more time with Pax and the people of Switchcreek. Gregory made me care about all of them.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Some cool book journal ideas. I don't know if I would do anything like these, but some look adaptable.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Dark Voyage

TITLE: Dark Voyage
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

Usually, in a World War II espionage spy novel by Furst, the reader spends time with only the protagonist throughout the story; perhaps a secondary character or two also stick around for most of the book. But this time, the action focuses on Capt. Eric DeHaan of the Dutch freighter Noordendam and the ship's crew, a group that covers a number of nationalities and languages. The time is spring of 1941, and DeHaan and the Noordendam are enlisted to aid the war effort against Germany by having the ship pose as a Spanish freighter in order to engage in top secret missions, smugglers saboteurs and arms. DeHaan is a typical Furst hero, an ordinary man who, due to circumstances, finds himself in extraordinary situations, needing to rely on his intelligence and instinct for survival to complete his missions. He also needs to rely on his crew, and by the end of the book, I had grown quite fond of all of them. I don't consider Furst's novels to be pageturners, but they are compelling thanks to the realism, a product of the author's extensive research. This one is no exception.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Broken Monsters

TITLE: Broken Monsters
AUTHOR: Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes continues to fascinate me with her books as each one is better than the one before. Broken Monsters starts as a conventional suspense/mystery, with a murder and a detective, Gabi Versado, in charge of the investigation. The story is told from alternating povs, including that of Gabi's daughter, Layla, as well as the killer, himself. The killer seems to be a typical haunted psychopath who quickly escalates into serial killer-hood. But is the dream that compels him just that, or something more?

The title takes on many meanings in this book that skates the line between reality and fantasy, defying an easy label, which is how I prefer it. My favorite books often blend elements of multiple genres. Mystery? Fantasy? Horror? Thriller? This book covers all those and adds in a decent amount of social commentary about how the internet, especially social media has come to impact and even control our lives, becoming a place where people derive meaning, validation, confirmation. The supporting cast are characters who all matter, coming from varied walks of life, to all play a role as the killer's obsession grows. That obsession crosses into the art world and the need for an audience. Even more than with her other novels, Broken Monsters has a lot to say beyond telling a compelling story. And I can't wait for her next book.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ancillary Mercy

TITLE: Ancillary Mercy
AUTHOR: Ann Leckie

The third book in the Imperial Radch trilogy picks up where the second left off. Reviewing a book that continues a story works only if people reading the review have read the earlier books, in my opinion, so I won't go deeply into the plot. Leckie's universe centers on the Radch and their leader who have built an empire through conquering other planets and bringing alien humans into the fold by any means necessary. Which usually means killing a lot of them until compliance is reached and the realm back, more or less, in balance. Citizens of conquered planets have been taken captive and turned into slave labor by having their minds replaced with implants to connect them to a ship's AI. Thus, the ancillaries of the books' titles: Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and now, Ancillary Mercy. Even Anaander Mianaai, the Radch ruler, is spread out across Radch space in thousands of ancillaries. They should all be the same mind, but something happened, a schism, that has one part of her deciding ancillaries are wrong and should no longer be created and another part of her thinking ancillaries are fine.  Basically, the Lord of the Radch is at war with herself, and the destroyed ship Justice of Toren, now confined to a single ancillary and captain of the Mercy of Kalr, is stuck in the middle, sent by one Anaander to protect a space station and its nearby planet, and under imminent attack by an opposing Anaander.  Which somehow, isn't as complicated or convoluted as it sounds.

By time I started this book, I was in love with Breq, as Justice of Toren is calling herself, and her officers and crew. This isn't a big battle in space type story, though there is some action. There's more twists and turns and political machinations and spycraft and it all adds up to a fast-paced story and I was sorry to say goodbye to Breq and all the others. I hope Leckie writes more books in this universe she's constructed, a realm where most places, no one pays any mind to gender and "she" and "her" are simply default pronouns. A realm where AIs seem as human as the humans they protect and serve. It's an interesting place I hope I get to visit again.