Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Trail of the Dead


Lozen and her family are traveling the Trail of the Dead, or that's how she thinks of it, anyway. They have managed to escape the terribly misnamed Haven and are searching for a safe place to settle down and rebuild their lives. As they journey across the desolate landscape, fighting off attacks by gemods (genetically modified creatures that have escaped from collections once maintained by the rich and powerful), they encounter other escapees from Haven. The slightly larger band of refugees must defend themselves against trolls, flying monkeys (I'm not kidding), and other mutations, as well as avoiding any of the despotic overlords who have established enclaves like the one they left behind. 

But lack of food, water, and safety aren't the only problems they face. The lords of Haven have reached out to others of their kind and asked for help in tracking down Lozen's group. The tracker is also genetically modified, although he began as a human. He has increased endurance, strength, sensory perception and a soulless love of killing and torturing. The trickster figure of Native American legends, Coyote, has also taken an interest in Lozen, but one can never be sure of Coyote's intentions. And on top of all that, Lozen is suffering from PTSD, or "enemy sickness," as her people call it. 

In the midst of a world still trying to recover from the crash of all electronics, with the surviving humans huddled together under the rule of (at best) half-crazed members of the old ruling class, where can safety be found? Is there any possible way to defeat a mercenary rumored to have already been killed 4 times? And will Lozen be able to find healing for the darkness growing within her? You will have to read to find out.

For those with a little knowledge of Native American history and their treatment by colonists, settlers, and the US government, there are obvious parallels in this futuristic tale. But the resilience and determination so many of those tribes displayed and continue to display is also there. It is encouraging to see the surviving Chiricahuas and Lakotas band together in this series, but also include others like Hussein and Guy. If they are ever going to restore some sort of order to the world and to nature, that sort of acceptance may play a key role.

Bruchac has crafted an heroine with appeal for any reader who enjoys strong female protagonists, as well creating a post-apocalyptic world full of wonders and terrors. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Black Widow: Forever Red


Anyone who is a fan of the Avengers (whatever the media type), will love this YA novel featuring Natasha Romanoff. It begins with a flashback to a mission 8 years ago in the Ukraine. The Black Widow is closing in on the man who stole her childhood and trained her to be an operative, Ivan Somodorov. S.H.I.E.L.D. has tracked him to a dockside warehouse and Natasha is going in after him. But things are never quite that simple in the life of the Black Widow, and she winds up rescuing an eight-year-old girl that night, a girl who was also going to be trained as a Red Room operative. Now, in the present, that girl is in the U.S. and their paths cross again, along with a teenage boy who gets caught up in the action. Russian mercenaries are in Philadelphia, but who are they after - Natasha, the girl, or the boy? 

With scenes in Odessa, Philly, Moscow, Istanbul, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Triskeleon, this story covers a lot of ground in more ways than one. Watching Natasha try to deal with two teenagers reveals a lot about her past. How can she cope with normal teens when she never had the chance to be one? What does she actually know about children or how to talk to them? Of course she does have Tony Stark to help and, as he tells her, he never actually grew up. And Agent Coulson seems like a normal enough person, so he probably knows a bit about what normal teens do. 

With plenty of action, some humor worked in, maybe even a little romance, and lots of multi-layered plots to keep you guessing, Forever Red is a quick read - because once you start, you won't be able to put it down. If the other YA novels Disney has planned for the Marvel Universe are this good, they had better print large runs of each one for publication.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Nirvana (Nirvana Series #1)


This is a rather short book that combines mystery and suspense, science fiction, and a bit of romance. It is the first of a trilogy dealing with a time in the near future when the extinction of bees has led to the death of most food crops. Humans are living in guarded enclaves and existing on engineered foods. The protagonist, Larissa, was a musician and accompanied her researcher husband Andrew to the Barracks. He worked for the Hexagon (an entity that controlled several enclaves), and his unit all disappeared on a mission. But Larissa refuses to believe he is dead and even believes he is communicating with her while she is inside Nirvana, a virtual reality that humans visit to remember the world of the past or to live out fantasies.

The deeper into the story you read, the more you come to question everything that Larissa and the others have been told. What really caused the Extinction? Is the Annihilation threat that the Hexagon claims to be protecting everyone from even real? Why have all books and papers been taken away and digitized, then locked up from anyone's access? What were Andrew and the others researching and why was it so dangerous? Where do all the people that the Tribunals accuse of crimes disappear to? And of course, is Andrew still alive?

Readers who enjoy psychological thrillers where the characters are in the dark about the truth of what they see and feel, and where the very nature of reality itself is questioned will probably enjoy this series. Physics theory, virtual reality, species extinction, corporate greed, and martial law all mix together for a chilling vision of a possible future.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Reading Wonder Woman Vol.7: War Torn (The New 52)

Part of DC's New 52, "War Torn" shows Dianna struggling for balance amid all her responsibilities. She is now the god of war. She rules as Queen in Themyscira. She is a member of the Justice League. The Stymphalian birds that Ares kept as pets are now attacking Paradise Island. A challenger for the throne has arisen and many of the Amazons are tempted to follow this new leader. In other parts of the world, entire villages are disappearing and the Justice League is trying to find the cause - and the missing villagers. How much can even an Amazon take before crumbling under the forces pulling at her? 

Showing that Dianna is able to make mistakes and have doubts and moments of weakness gives her character emotional depth, but also makes it easier to identify with her and her struggles. The weight she is trying to balance may be epic in proportion, but we all have commitments that pull us in different directions and make us worry that we are not giving our best. Snapping at her fellow League members or crying over the loss of her mother doesn't lessen her ability to fight the battles that need to be fought.

For readers new to the DC universe, this may cause a desire to go back and read previous issues in the series to find out more of the back story for these characters and their motivations. For regular fans, this will carry Dianna forward as she sets the tone for her reign as Queen of the Amazons. Everyone will be treated to the first-rate artwork that brings the story to life.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories


I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan since I read my first Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story. Over the years I have read several collections of stories by other authors, including Sherlock Homes in Orbitand A Study in Sherlock. But this anthology edited by Otto Penzler certainly deserves the name, The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes. The title is fitting not only due to the size (800 pages of Holmesian reading pleasure), but also because of the variety of authors included. From stories by Doyle himself, contemporaries like James M. Barrie, Americans such as Bret Harte, SciFi writers such as Poul Anderson, and current writers like Neil Gaiman, Laurie King, and Stephen King (no relation) - we are treated to adventures in London, the U.S., and even on Mars. 

Our hero faces adversaries such as smugglers, murderers, thieves, and even greedy authors who refuse to share "the swag" they have earned writing about Holmes. Some of the stories are deliberate parodies that feature caricatures of Holmes and Watson floundering in the face of sensational journalists, while the next may be such a clever pastiche that Doyle himself could not have written a more convincing tale. One of the more humorous aspects is the astounding variety of names these pseudo-Holmes are given: Herlock Shomes, Sheerluck Combs, Hemlock Jones, Shamrock Jolnes, Solar Pons, Mr. Mycroft, Sherlaw Kombs, among others. And Watson has his own aliases - Whatson, Plotsam, Flotsam, Hotsam, Silchester, Parker... 

At times Holmes shares the story with other notable characters (fictional or real), such as Raffles the gentleman jewel thief or Arthur Conan Doyle. The Devil tries to tempt him, Jehovah wants his help in tracking down missing patriarchs in the afterlife, and he even solves the case of the Mary Celeste. Whatever may happen in each story, Mr. Penzler sets the scene by giving the credentials and the time period of the author, other works published, and what the author was/is particularly noted for in his/her career. Some contributors were scholars, editors, authors, humorists, actors, professors, and representatives of other careers, but they all have Holmes in common. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed the stories and pitting myself against the great detective in trying to solve each mystery. That enjoyment has been augmented by marveling at the array of tales and their creators from the first appearance of Holmes until now. This is a must read for any Holmes fan and will be taking up a large chunk of shelf space in many collections.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery

I've said to friends that I would not have done well in earlier time periods, because I am too outspoken and the whole issue of women's rights and their place in society would have made me very frustrated. The character of Mary Handley would agree with me and probably offer to swap places with me, so that she could be a police detective here in the twenty-first century. Beginning with the suspicious death of a man on a train when she was 12, Mary has always been an intrigued by the art of detection. Despite her mother's limited views on what is proper for a young lady, Mary longs to do something more than find the right man and settle down to have children. At the beginning of the story, she is working in a New York sweatshop making hats. But the murder of a neighbor's fiance brings her to the attention of the Chief of Police just as pressure is coming from City Hall to do something to appease the female protesters lobbying for women's rights and equal treatment.

So, Mary is hired as the first female detective to work a case involving the New York City Police. Despite the cold shoulder treatment from the policemen, her mother's disapproval, and even attempts on her life, Mary takes the case and doggedly pursues it. Her investigation has her mixing with tycoons like JP Morgan; inventors like Tesla, Edison, and Pemberton (the inventor of Coca-Cola); and former Pinkerton agents turned private security. She has to borrow a gown from her friend Sarah to attend an event at the Mayor's home, but she also follows clues into the Bowery and unlikely places such as the fish market and various taverns. Doing everything from commandeering a horse-drawn trolley, to using jujitsu on an assassin, Mary proves she has just as much courage and intelligence as any of the detectives on the force. 

The historical details about tenements, women's fashions, and even popular wines of the time all bring the period to life, sometimes in gruesome detail. Viewers of today's detective shows will marvel at how investigators of the late 19th century managed to follow leads and confirm alibis without the use of cell phones, the Internet, or email and databases. The casual use of cocaine and morphine during that time are also in contrast to today's more controlled access to the substances. 

Mary is a likable protagonist, with strengths and faults that show her as human, rather than an idealized caricature. Her occasional use of profanity betrays her temper, but she also has a soft side for her friends. The innate loyalty that is one of her traits is shown repeatedly, and so is her stubbornness. I hope that the author creates more adventures for Mary very soon. Fans of characters such as Mary Russell (Laurie King) and Irene Adler (Carole Nelson Douglas) may have a new heroine to add to their "to be read" piles.

You can find biographical details about the author on the publisher's website. And here is information  from the publisher about the book itself.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Oh, my! Here is the cover for Mary's next outing, scheduled for a January 2016 release.

Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy