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Aunt Marge and the kids read in 2016

Club Read 2016

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Edited: Feb 2, 2016, 9:11pm Top

I'm back with various nieces and nephews for 2016. They love the challenge among themselves and check in regularly to see standings and to send me titles and ratings for books read. We range in age from 15 to 67 and have been doing Club Read together for several years. Last year I also began keeping track of the books I read by year of original publication and it was pretty interesting, so I'll be doing that again.

Our 2015 Club Read thread
Our 2014 Club Read thread
Our 2013 Club Read thread
Our 2012 Club Read thread
Our 2011 Club Read thread
Our 2010 Club Read thread

Chronological Breakdown of 2015 Reading

1800s - 4
1910s - 3
1920s - 1
1940s - 1
1950s - 1
1960s - 4
1970s - 8
1980s - 3
1990s - 3
2000s - 7
2010s - 70

Edited: Dec 28, 2016, 10:16pm Top

1. Avenue of Miracles by John Irving **** 1/5/16
2. Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon **** 1/7/16
3. Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina ***½
4. The Other Side of the Stars by Katherine King ****
5. Bound in Time by D. F. Jones ****
6. On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light by Cordelia Strube ****
7. The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel ****
8. A Cast of Falcons: A Birder Murder Mystery by Steve Burrows **
9. This Moment Is Full of Wonders: The Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh by Thich Nhat Hanh ***
10. Tumbled Graves: A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery by Brenda Chapman ***½
11. I'm Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork *****
12. Cold Girl by R. M. Greenaway ***
13. The Last Witness by K. J. Erickson *****
14. Fourth Planet from the Sun: Tales of Mars from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. by Gordon Van Gelder *****
15. Alone at Night (Mars Bahr Mysteries) by Kj Erickson ***
16. Morning Star by Pierce Brown *****
17. Snow on Mars by Branden Frankel ****½
18. Wool (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey *****
19. Shift (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey ****
20. Dust (Silo Series) by Hugh Howey ****½
21. The Ruins of Mars by Dylan James Quarles ****
22. The Ruins of Mars: Waking Titan by Dylan James Quarles ****
23. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard *****
24. The Ruins of Mars: Eye of the Apocalypse by Dylan James Quarles ***½
25. End Game by Jeffrey Round **½
26. The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson ****
27. Hurricane Moon by Alexis Glynn Latner ****½
28. Downfall Tide by Alexis Glynn Latner ****½
29. My Last Continent by Midge Raymond *****
30. Third Person Singular by Kj Erickson ***½
31. City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett *****
32. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff ****½
33. The Dead Survivors by Kj Erickson ****
34. A World Between by Robert Herzog ***
35. Creepy Capital: Ghost Stories of Ottawa and the National Capital Region by Mark Leslie ***
36. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli *****
37. I Am Crying All Inside: And Other Stories (The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford Simak), Vol 1 ****½
38. Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger ****
39. Grotto of the Dancing Deer: And Other Stories (The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford Simak), Vol. 4 ***
40. Extreme Prey by John Sandford ****
41. Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham *****
42. The Messenger by Stephen Miller ****
43. The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine's Lost Correspondence by Nick Bantock ****
44. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten edited by Jonathan Strahan ****
45. Landfall by John McWilliams ****
46. The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker ****
47. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva *****
48. The Communication Room by Adam Aresty ****
49. Redemption Road by John Hart ****
50. Everland by Rebecca Hunt ***½
51. Nordenholt's Million by J. J. Connington ****
52. To Swim Beneath the Earth by Ginger Bensman ****
53. The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough *****
54. The Turning Place: Stories of a Future Past by Jean E. Karl
55. The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood ****
56. Star Crossing by Alexis Glynn Latner ***
57. Drowned Worlds ed. by Jonathan Strahan ****
58. The Time Travel Chronicles (The Future Chronicles) ed. by Crystal Watanabe *****
59. The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee ****
60. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan ****
61. Lexicon by Max Barry ****½
62. Magic, Machines and the Awakening of Danny Searle by John McWilliams **
63. Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta ****
64. Crime Machine by Giles Blunt ****
65. C Is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book by Jason Ciaramella *****
66. Bramard's Case by Davide Longo **½
67. The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross ****
68. The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak *****
69. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón ****½
70. The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak ****
71. The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian ***½
72. The Tourist by Robert Dickinson ****½
73. Wolf Road by Beth Lewis ****½
74. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison *****
75. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows *****
76. After James by Michael Helm ****
77. White Horse by Alix Adams ****
78. The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo ****½
79. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh ****½
80. In the Valley, Where Belladonna Grows by Tim Lebbon ****
81. As Good As Gone by Larry Watson ***
82. The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo ****
83. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad **
84. Lily's House by Cassandra Perkin ****½
85. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo ****
86. The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks ***½
87. Phantom by Jo Nesbo ****
88. The Tale-Teller by Susan Glickman ****
89. Grave Predictions: Tales of Mankind’s Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian and Disastrous Destiny ***
90. Setting Free the Kites by Alex George ****
91. Police by Jo Nesbo ****½
92. His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet ***½
93. White by Tim Lebbon ****
94. The Trespasser by Tana French *****
95. The Ballad of Elva and Chester: Or, Mostly Their Fault by Adrian Archangelo ***
96. The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello ***
97. Ashes by Steven Manchester **
98. The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace *****
99. RIME by Tim Lebbon ****
100. Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar *****
101. Martian Dawn by Robert James ***½
102. Journey Back to Mars: a sci-fi collection by Hugo Huesca ***½
103. The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin ***½
104. Me and You by Niccolò Ammaniti ****
105. The Martian Race by Gregory Benford ****
106. The Sunborn by Gregory Benford ****
107. The Last Machine in the Solar System by Matthew Isaac Sobin ****
108. Polar Crossing by Tony Talbot ***
109. Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky *****
110. Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt ***½
111. You Can Have a Dog When I'm Dead: Essays on Life at an Angle by Paul Benedetti ***½
112. Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction ***½
113. South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby ****
114. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey ****
115. The God of Second Chances by Dan Berne **½

1. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen ***
2. The Revenge of Seven by Pittacus Lore ****
3. The Murder Artist by John Case ***
4. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom **
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling *****
6. The Fate of Ten by Pittacus Lore *****
7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee ***½
8. Sloppy Firsts by Megan Mccafferty ***
9. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider ***
10. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen ****
11. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald *****
12. The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen ***
13. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys ****
14. United as One by Pitticus Lore *****
15. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher ****
16. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling *****
17. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh ****
18. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows *****
19. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ***

1. The Triple Agent by Joby Warrick ****
2. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff ****½
3. The Death Cure by James Dashner ****½

1. Attack on Titan vol.1 by Hajime Isayama ****
2. Red Rising by Pierce Brown *****
3. Golden Son by Pierce Brown *****
4. Morning Star by Pierce Brown *****
5. How to Fight a Dragon's Fury by Cressida Cowell ****
6. Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray ****
7. Zero Hour by Pittacus Lore ***1\2
8. United as One by Pittacus Lore ****
9. The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher ****
10. Archmage by R.A. Salvatore ****
11. Maestro by R.A Salvatore ****
12. Illidan by William King ***½

1. Shattered by Kevin Hearne ****½
2. Red Rising by Pierce Brown ****½
3. Golden Son by Pierce Brown *****
4. Morning Star by Pierce Brown ****
5. How to Fight a Dragon's Fury by Cressida Crowell *****


Margaret's 2016 Reading by Original Year of Publication:

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad ***

Nordenholt's Million by J. J. Connington ****

Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon **** 1/7/16

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard *****

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky *****

The Turning Place: Stories of a Future Past by Jean E. Karl

Bound in Time by D. F. Jones ****

Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt ***½

White by Tim Lebbon ****
The Martian Race by Gregory Benford ****

Third Person Singular by Kj Erickson ***½
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón ****½

The Dead Survivors by Kj Erickson ****

The Last Witness by Kj Erickson *****
The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo ****½

Fourth Planet from the Sun: Tales of Mars from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. by Gordon Van Gelder *****
Alone at Night (Mars Bahr Mysteries) by Kj Erickson ***
Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta ****
The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo ****
The Sunborn by Gregory Benford ****

Hurricane Moon by Alexis Glynn Latner ****½
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo ****

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows *****

Crime Machine by Giles Blunt ****
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin ***½
Me and You by Niccolò Ammaniti ****

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak *****
Phantom by Jo Nesbo ****
Polar Crossing by Tony Talbot ***

The Messenger by Stephen Miller ****
White Horse by Alix Adams ****
The Tale-Teller by Susan Glickman ****

Wool (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey *****
Shift (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey ****
Dust (Silo Series) by Hugh Howey ****½
The Ruins of Mars by Dylan James Quarles ****
The Ruins of Mars: Waking Titan by Dylan James Quarles ****
The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian ***½
Police by Jo Nesbo ****½

The Ruins of Mars: Eye of the Apocalypse by Dylan James Quarles ***½
The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson ****
13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff ****½
Lexicon by Max Barry ****½
Magic, Machines and the Awakening of Danny Searle by John McWilliams **
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison *****
The God of Second Chances by Dan Berne **½

Avenue of Miracles by John Irving ****
Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina ***½
The Other Side of the Stars by Katherine King ****
This Moment Is Full of Wonders: The Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh by Thich Nhat Hanh ***
Snow on Mars by Branden Frankel ****½
Downfall Tide by Alexis Glynn Latner ****½
I Am Crying All Inside: And Other Stories (The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford Simak), Vol 1 ****½
Landfall by John McWilliams ****
Everland by Rebecca Hunt ***½
To Swim Beneath the Earth by Ginger Bensman ****
The Time Travel Chronicles (The Future Chronicles) ed. by Crystal Watanabe *****
C Is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book by Jason Ciaramella *****
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Martian Dawn by Robert James ***½

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light by Cordelia Strube ****
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel ****
A Cast of Falcons: A Birder Murder Mystery by Steve Burrows **
Tumbled Graves: A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery by Brenda Chapman ***½
I'm Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork *****
Cold Girl by R. M. Greenaway ***
Morning Star by Pierce Brown *****
End Game by Jeffrey Round **½
My Last Continent by Midge Raymond *****
City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett *****
A World Between by Robert Herzog ***
Creepy Capital: Ghost Stories of Ottawa and the National Capital Region by Mark Leslie ***
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli *****
Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger ****
Grotto of the Dancing Deer: And Other Stories (The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford Simak), Vol. 4 ***
Extreme Prey by John Sandford ****
Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham *****
The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine's Lost Correspondence by Nick Bantock ****
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten edited by Jonathan Strahan ****
The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker ****
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva *****
The Communication Room ****
Redemption Road by John Hart ****
The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough *****
The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood ****
Star Crossing by Alexis Glynn Latner ***
Drowned Worlds ed. by Jonathan Strahan ****
The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee ****
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan ****
Bramard's Case by Davide Longo **½
The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross ****
The Tourist by Robert Dickinson ****½
Wolf Road by Beth Lewis ****½
After James by Michael Helm ****
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh ****½
In the Valley, Where Belladonna Grows by Tim Lebbon ****
As Good As Gone by Larry Watson ***
Lily's House by Cassandra Perkin ****½
The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks ***½
Grave Predictions: Tales of Mankind’s Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian and Disastrous Destiny ***
The Trespasser by Tana French *****
The Ballad of Elva and Chester: Or, Mostly Their Fault by Adrian Archangelo ***
The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello ***
RIME by Tim Lebbon ****
Journey Back to Mars: a sci-fi collection by Hugo Huesca ***½

The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak ****
Setting Free the Kites by Alex George ****
Ashes by Steven Manchester **
The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace *****
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar *****
The Last Machine in the Solar System by Matthew Isaac Sobin ****
You Can Have a Dog When I'm Dead: Essays on Life at an Angle by Paul Benedetti ***½
Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction ***½
South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby ****
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey ****

Edited: Jan 20, 2016, 6:31pm Top

Avenue of Miracles by John Irving **** 1/5/16

Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon **** 1/7/16

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina ***½ 1/10/16

The Other Side of the Stars by Katherine King **** 1/12/16

Bound in Time by D. F. Jones **** 1/19/16

Edited: Jan 30, 2016, 1:26pm Top

Two novels beautifully describe relationships between brothers and sisters and how they affect our lives.

On the Shores of Darkness There is Light by Cordelia Strube **** 1/22/16

Eleven-year old Harriet is saving up to run away to Algonquin Park, near Ottawa. Her life is intolerable. Little brother Irwin, who idolizes Harriet but has hydrocephalus, takes all the time, attention, and caring her mother and her live-in boyfriend Gennady have to give. Her best friend shoplifts and wants to teach her to. Her father is too busy with his new wife's efforts to conceive to have time for Harriet and Irwin. Harriet loves to dumpster dive and make art out of her finds, but the adults in her life think the art is ugly, and they belittle her efforts. The oldsters living in her low-income apartment building pay her to run errands for them, but income is slow to trickle in, and they get angry when she raises her rates. At the same time, they're some of her best friends. As Harriet gets more and more desperate, she takes a step which leads to disaster.

The story is picked up several years later by Irwin, who has difficulty learning but is otherwise a nice kid who is avoided by just about everyone because of his head size. His best friends are also the people who live in the apartment building. Told from Irwin's point of view, many of the observations made by Harriet show surprising alternate interpretations. Like her, he is looking for a way to make his life bearable.

These two children, each affecting the other's life so profoundly, are two wonderful characters who leave a lasting impression. Harriet is very funny: bitter, sarcastic, and observant, her story drives the action. The tragedy which mars her life also affects the reader strongly, but by the end of the novel the reader finally gets some relief from the tension and some (welcome) tears. Highly recommended.

(Made available by Netgalley.com)

Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel **** 1/27/16

Reina Castillo, whose family emigrated to Miami from Columbia, is a newborn when her father finds out his wife has been unfaithful and throws their 3-year son Carlito off the Rickenbacker Bridge at Biscayne Bay. The son is rescued; the father kills himself in prison. Years later, a teen-aged Reina, fearing her brother will leave her for his girlfriend, tells him (untruthfully) that the girlfriend is cheating on him, and Carlito takes the girlfriend's small daughter and throws her off the same bridge. The child dies, and Carlito goes to death row. The story opens during the seven years of his death row stay, with Reina, wracked with guilt, spending all her money and free time visiting him and taking his phone calls. After his death, she moves alone to the Keys and tries to find a way to survive her grief and regret. She meets a Cuban refugee, a lovely, gentle man who works tirelessly to bring his children out of Cuba. Together these two slowly fall into a relationship which supports them both while they work out how to go on with their lives.

This is a gentle tale, full of details of immigrant life, Cuban culture, and the hopes and memories of the displaced. Spanish phrases intermingle with Cuban spiritualism, with the details of dolphin "refuges", free-diving, and life in this very southern part of Florida, where starving refugees in half-wrecked boats turn up near shore regularly in an attempt to reach land and escape their desperate lives. Lyrical, poetic, moving. A real find.

(Made available by Netgalley.com)

Edited: Jun 5, 2016, 7:16pm Top

A Cast of Falcons: A Birder Murder Mystery by Steve Burrows ** 1/29/16

This book was a great disappointment, and I read only a quarter of it before deciding I have only so many hours to give a book that was so irritating and unrewarding. The story is disjointed, and any rhythm or suspense achieved is repeatedly disrupted by either unnecessary details about the characters' bird watching habits or belly-button gazing as characters rehash each bit of minutiae they observe in the behavior of suspects and co-workers alike. For suspense, this book was a loser.

(Made available by Netgalley.com)

This Moment Is Full of Wonders: The Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh by Thich Nhat Hanh *** 1/30/16

I don't remember requesting this book from Early Reviewers, but perhaps I did, since I'm interested in Buddhism and the author's name is familiar to me. But I'm clearly not the audience for whom the book was intended, which will be his devotees and others who are interested in this type of simple presentation of aphorisms.

There is a short introduction in which the author explains his technique for producing the drawings, which includes breathing, stopping thoughts, drinking team, and adding some of the tea to his ink. He states that the ink, and the cloud which it once was, and his breathing, will all be visible to the viewer. The balance of the book consists of simple statements, each handwritten and surrounded by a hand-drawn circle and meant to be a "bell of mindfulness", to bring the reader back to the present and away from wherever the mind has been wandering. The cover illustration is a sample of what can be expected from the rest of the book.

Jan 30, 2016, 5:50pm Top

Wow, two book bullets in one message! On the Shores of Darkness There is Light and The Veins of the Ocean both sound great, so I'll add them to my wish list.

Feb 1, 2016, 2:42pm Top

>6 kidzdoc:, >7 detailmuse: Glad I could help make your to-be-read list longer :)

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:20am Top

Tumbled Graves: A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery by Brenda Chapman ***½ 2/2/16

This is the first I've read in this series and it was pretty decent police suspense. The duo here are based in Kingston, ON, and I especially loved reading about some of haunts of the past, such as Brockville and Ottawa. The action is believable, the characters interesting, and the mystery intriguing.

The book does have a couple of drawbacks, however. As in many novels in the genre, the author couldn't resist adding a somewhat stupid and certainly out-shined cop who feels put-upon, jealous, and vindictive, self-righteously sabotaging colleagues to feel smart. In this case, he disrupts a very delicate balance in the lives of one of the cops and destroys a budding home life for a needy young person, an outcome I found unnecessary and which ruined the end of the book for me.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

I'm Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork ***** 2/4/16

Superb police suspense.

A special homicide unit in Oslo is reconvened to tackle a killer who is kidnapping and murdering 6-year old girls and leaving them hanging from trees. The main character is a young female cop with an uncanny ability to identify viable avenues to investigate from even odd bits of evidence. Brought back to her unit from a secluded island where she has been planning her suicide, she and other members of the team, including the equally-legendary unit head, whose beloved granddaughter is the same age as the victims, and a likable young computer genius new to police work, begin working 24-hours days as the victims pile up.

Even the minor characters are well drawn. There's lots of building tension and enough red herrings to completely throw the reader off the trail until the author is good and ready to reveal the killer. Wonderful!

(Provided by Netgalley.com)

Cold Girl by R. M. Greenaway *** 2/6/16

A disjointed and too-long mystery with two main characters and several plots, none of which gel.

A talented Vancouver detective, brain-damaged in the collision which killed his partner, returns to duty as a constable in a small town in the northern part of the province where he hopes to have the chance to recover and prove himself capable of returning to his old post. He gets pulled into a serial kidnapping and murder case as a temp and proceeds to irritate everyone around him, none of whom understand his situation (the commanding officer neglected to read the fine print accompanying his transfer). The person most angered by his inability to concentrate is the man running the search for the serial killer, and he's a pretty unpleasant fellow. These are the characters from whose points of view the story is primarily told.

The problem is, the reader can't really relate to either of them, and the frequent misunderstandings detract from the suspense. The story has no clear arc, with numerous points at which the story seems to be ready to climax and then backs away, wallowing towards the next likely conclusion. Exhausting. This seems like it is set to begin a series with these two characters, but I can't say I'll watch for the next installment.

(Provided by Netgalley.com)

Feb 12, 2016, 6:12pm Top

Fourth Planet from the Sun: Tales of Mars from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. by Gordon Van Gelder ***** 2/12/16

A wonderfully entertaining collection of short stories dealing with humanity's efforts to explore and/or colonize Mars. One or two of the stories aren't quite top-notch, but most are original and either very funny or powerfully thoughtful. The first story, by Bradbury, about two women preparing to join 5000 others to travel to Mars to join (or find) their husbands, is a lovely meditation on the frontier experiences of women. It's so beautifully written I had to read it twice. Other stories will have readers laughing out loud by the end. A varied grouping which will tickle Mars enthusiasts no end.

Edited: Feb 14, 2016, 9:25am Top

These are the final two books in a mystery series but are the only two I've read. The first was just about perfect. The second, which takes place after the main characters voluntarily transfer from a homicide unit to a Cold Case Unit (yawn) is, indeed, pretty boring. I not sure why the author thought such a change would maintain the series, but it's now been over 10 years since there's been an addition, so maybe she found out the same thing.

The Last Witness by K. J. Erickson ***** 2/8/16

Alone at Night by K. J. Erickson *** 2/13/16

Feb 15, 2016, 8:19pm Top

Morning Star by Pierce Brown ***** 2/15/16

Excellent finish to this solid 5-star trilogy (the first two books are Red Rising and Golden Son). Superior space opera centering on Mars and the uprising of a caste of humans long held in ignorance of the wealth their work produces for the rest of humankind. The series must be read in order.

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:23am Top

Snowfall on Mars by Branden Frankel ****½ 2/17/15 (Hyperlinks not working)

The story opens twenty years after Earth has all-out nuclear war and the only humans alive are stranded in a small Martian colony. The population has been winnowed to about 500 through violence and suicide, and the few who go on are consolidated in the same complex but live in two groups: those who just want to keep on going, and those who follow a cult leader determined to bring down all that's left of the race.

Adler, the narrator, is in his mid-30s and remembers life on Earth, from which he emigrated with his family when he was 7. Some colonists are older, and some are younger, born on Mars and with no feelings for Earth one way or the other. Mars was meant to be terraformed, but not long before Earth became uninhabitable the terraforming process poisoned the rain and snow that falls, so life is rather desperate, confined to the indoors or to the use of space suits. The sole substance available to provide nutrition is a reside of a fungal process which is made into "sustainability bars". It's also the stuff made into coffee and cigarettes. In other words, everything takes and smells the same and is pretty awful, but it's what they have.

Now someone has murdered one of the few engineers still living, reducing the odds of human survival still further. Adler starts looking into it, more out of a sense of need than any ability or training.

In addition to being a rewarding story (Mars, post-apocalypse, and mystery combined!), Adler's observations and thoughts on life produce a thoroughly believable sense of what such a situation would feel like. How does one go on living in a hopeless situation with no rescue possible and the population falling each year. Just how does someone find enough meaning to go on living?

Highly recommended for anyone with a love of Martian or post-apocalyptic fiction.

Feb 19, 2016, 2:49pm Top

>13 auntmarge64: i know, I'm not a mystery reader, but this was a really fun review. Thinking about your question.

Edited: Feb 26, 2016, 10:05am Top

Wool: Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey ***** 2/21/16

Shift (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey **** 2/24/16

Dust (Silo Series) by Hugh Howey ****½ 2/25/16

Mar 1, 2016, 10:27am Top

The Ruins of Mars by Dylan James Quarles **** 2/29/16

Martian fiction that is, all-in-all, well worth the read. A bit of editing would have helped here and there, especially in some unnecessary repetitions of explanations and the occasional grammatical error, but the characters and story are interesting and pull the reader along.

Twin AIs, sent in orbiting probes to scan Mars for water, discover there are hidden buildings deep beneath Mars' sand. The plan for a human expedition is expedited and an archaeologist added to the crew. This book, the first in a trilogy, details the flight to Mars, the construction of a temporary base, and the archaeologist's discovery of a cave system under the ruins which will allow easier access to the city. Meanwhile, the twin AIs have gone silent after tracking down a signal from one of Mars' moons, and while the humans wonder if the AIs have died, the twins themselves are investigating Mars' history from another perspective.

The AIs are particularly intriguing characters, and there are quite a few of them. For instance, NASA has one, the Mars spaceship and colony has one, and the CIA has its own (and this one is pretty scary). Each has its own personality and quirks. Their omnipresence in the lives of humans is one plot development I spent some time considering.

So now I'm off to read volume 2. You know the book is a success when you care enough to continue with the series.

Mar 1, 2016, 11:24am Top

>13 auntmarge64: Thank you for making me aware of this! I appreciate your review as I am a fan of 'station' oriented SF thrillers. Although you said the story was rewarding, you also touch on the hopelessness of the situation. I'll look into it further.

>15 auntmarge64: I also loved WOOL, was not interested in SHIFT, and have yet to res DUST.

Mar 2, 2016, 9:52am Top

>17 brodiew2: I was dismayed with SHIFT, too, but in the end it explained a lot about DUST, because some of the same characters show up and interact with those from WOOL, and how that's possible and what they do are integral to what happens to the folks in the silo.

Edited: Jun 2, 2016, 9:54am Top

The Ruins of Mars: Waking Titan by Dylan James Quarles **** 3/2/16

This is the first time in quite a while I've read the second book of a trilogy and not been let down a bit, what with no final answers or finale. The action in this series is so consistently interesting and surprising it just kept me glued to the page. As in the first book, there are some grammatical errors and several words used incorrectly, but given that this is self-published and without professional editing, it can easily be overlooked. The book is available on Kindle Unlimited for free or for purchase on Kindle or in paperback. I've already started Book 3.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard ***** 3/4/16

One of my favorite films, and now a favorite play to read after watching Benedict Cumberbatch play Rosencrantz in a scene for the National Theatre's 50th celebration. Anyone who hasn't seen it should check out youtube - how I wish I could see the entire play with those two actors in the title roles!

The Ruins of Mars: Eye of the Apocalypse by Dylan James Quarles ***½ 3/6/16

The third in a trilogy which must be read in order. The various threads of the previous two books come together as astronauts on Mars, governments on Earth, ancient Martians, a mysterious race of interstellar travelers, and a race of AIs contend with solar pulses which have killed millions and threaten to destroy life on Earth as they once did on Mars.

Like the previous novels, the book has interesting characters and action, but here things went on too long. A subplot about a Chinese killbot and details of government officials trying to save their families were unnecessary, and without them the plot would have been much tighter. There were also continuing grammatical and word-usage errors which were strange. The author can clearly write and has a grasp of plot and characterization, so some of the errors were puzzling: "on mass" instead of "en masse", for instance.

For the enthusiast of Martian fiction, an enjoyable series.

Edited: Mar 11, 2016, 7:37am Top

Endgame by Jeffrey Round **½ 3/9/16

The aging members of a punk band come with various hangers-on to an isolated island estate off the coast of Seattle. There they hope to mend the rift that tore the group apart and relaunch their careers. Soon they are stuck on the island during a tremendous storm, and people there for the reunion start dying. Is the killer one of them, or someone hiding on the island?

The writing is really quite good, but that comes with a down side: this nasty group is so well portrayed I couldn't believe I didn't give up on them within a few pages. I didn't because I like this publisher and try to read one or two books a month they put on Netgalley, but I'm rather sorry I didn't just admit defeat. The characters, their history, and this story are sordid; there isn't one person on the island who isn't guilty of multiple crimes and wholly dislikable, except possibly the killer, who, of course, is a mass murderer by the conclusion. This may appeal to some readers, as might the punk rock atmosphere. For me, not so much.

The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson **** 3/10/16

Edited: Mar 19, 2016, 10:02am Top

Hurricane Moon by Alexis Glynn Latner ****½ 3/15/16

On a near-future Earth on which climatic damage and war have convinced many that human life may be doomed, a starship is sent out in hopes of colonizing a distant Earth-like planet/moon combination. The tale begins with preparations for the trip and then resumes when the main crew is brought out of cryostasis at the appointed planet. A couple of hundred years have passed, but the ship is still within range of occasional transmissions from Earth and familiar constellations. However, the planet is unsuitable, and the decision is made to go back into statis and search for another home, with the result that the colony arrives in a part of the galaxy so far distant from Earth that nothing is recognizable. Over 1000 years of years of ship time and 3000 of Earth time have passed. The ship has brought them to twin worlds: Green, a planted planet with only low-level biological life, and Blue, covered almost entirely with water and huge, violent hurricanes. Everything on Green is unfamiliar to human biology, so there is a constant struggle with negative biological and psychological effects, compounded by insidious genetic damage from the extended stasis. Whether human life is sustainable is highly questionable. A few hundred of the thousands of colonists are awakened to set up the basis for the colony, hoping to find ways to grow food, repair genetic abnormalities to make possible a new generation, and adjust to a planet to which the human body is completely unattuned.

This is really effective story-telling: we relate to the main characters, feel their excitement, uncertainty and alienation, and imagine ourselves in such a situation. There are some surprises on both planets, of course, but the attention stays on the main characters and their responses. I'm not one for analyzing the science in science fiction so can't comment on that. Instead I just suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride. And enjoy this I did, enough that I bought the second in the series (3 and 4 are expected out soon) and am deep into it already.

(Courtesy of Netgalley, on which the publisher is making this earlier book available to increase interest in the new volumes.)

Downfall Tide by Alexis Glynn Latner ****½ 3/18/16

This sequel to Hurricane Moon is just as satisfying in its storytelling and takes place a couple of decades after landfall. Although perhaps a thousand colonists have been brought out of stasis, most are still stored on the ship because of how surprisingly difficult humans have found the beautiful planet Green to be adaptable to their biology. Most local vegetation is inedible by humans, and there is almost no biological life, with the only large lifeforms being a semi-intelligent seal-like species. Small animal species put into statis have not survived being revived; a few individual larger animals have been successfully revived, but with food so scarce, most have been left in stasis for the time being. This verdant planet, seemingly a paradise, seems instead almost sterile, having no birds or land animals and few insects.

The focus here, as in the previous book, is on the group of scientists trying to find ways to produce food, make power, and correct the damage done by extended stasis to human DNA, which has resulted in illness, death, and difficulty producing offspring. Without solutions, the human colony won't survive. In the midst of this, a small spacecraft arrives in orbit, bringing a new challenge and threat.

This series is compulsively readable. The characters are interesting, and certainly not perfect. The ongoing effort to understand the planet yields many surprises, keeping the tension (and the reader's attention) raised on several levels. In fact, the planet itself is a major character. I think this is going to be one of those series I'll think about over the years because of the very thoughtful questions it raises about colonization and the chances of humans successfully surviving away from their native habitat.

Volumes 3 and 4 will be published later in 2016.

Edited: Jun 5, 2016, 7:22pm Top

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond ***** 3/21/16

This paean to our most mysterious continent uses the relationship between two researchers and the sinking of a passenger liner in the Antarctic ice to frame a tale in which the beauty and danger of life in the far south is made indelible for the reader. Although told in the first person, the main character here is most definitely Antarctica.

Deb Gardner, a penguin specialist and college professor, pays for her research trips by working as a tour guide and naturalist on the Cormorant, a smallish tour boat plying Antarctica waters during the summer season. Several years before the shipwreck in question she meets Keller Sullivan, a grieving man who is going to McMurdo to do scut work, but he becomes so entranced by the birds and Antarctica itself that he signs on to overwinter. Their relationship continues from there in fits and starts, with them spending time together on research trips but on opposite coasts doing other jobs the rest of the year. It's unclear even to them if it's each other or Antarctica they love more. In the year of the shipwreck, Deb learns that Keller is working on the Australis, a large cruise ship, not built to withstand ice, which is making a rogue run into the uncertain waters near the coast. When the call comes that the cruise ship is going down, the Cormorant attempts a rescue. Keller's fate is uncertain.

The story moves back and forth across time, with each jump to the present bringing the story closer to the shipwreck. This is a bit distracting sometimes, especially as the shipwreck gets closer, but in the end it turns our to have been an effective tool. Great attention is paid to the destruction of penguin life and colonies by climate change and the human presence and, in fact, the reason Keller is on the Australis this year is because he caused such a ruckus with an uneducated tourist the previous year that he was not rehired for the Cormorant's current season. The rescue effort carried out by Cormorant staff, none of whom are trained for this type of thing, is beautifully and terrifyingly wrought.

If you love Antarctica or penguins, this gently-told novel is for you.

(Review copy courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Third Person Singular by Kj Erickson ***½ 3/24/16

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett ***** 3/30/16

13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff ****½ 3/30/16

The Dead Survivors by Kj Erickson **** 4/2/16

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:27am Top

A World Between by Robert Herzog *** 4/5/16

This sci fi novel is based on a really interesting idea buried in runaway detail. Dense sentence structure and pages of incidental fact combine with long musings on philosophy, quantum physics and fractal theory, altogether providing a frustrating story which takes forever to get anywhere.

Several small areas around the world, mostly wild and sparsely inhabited, are found to have disappeared. The few who witness this are not believed or have no one to tell. One spot, however, is in a popular New York City beach area and is several hundred feet long. (More about this later). When a few strands of the story make their way to the US government, the problem is dumped on the UN, where a young employee who has witnessed the phenomenon in Africa is called on to find a physicist to find a solution. The fellow she enlists is somewhat out of the mainstream, and she sets him up in a lab in a dilapidated apartment house near the UN. She, the scientist and a scientist friend of his move in and begin work. I'm not exactly sure why she has to live there, but she does. So far so good - except this takes about a quarter of the book, interspersed with long back stories, run-on philosophizing and theorizing, and very awkward breaks in the story line, which jumps ahead now and then with no sense of time having passed. Other scientists get distantly involved, no one agrees on what the phenomenon is, and the only original thinking is being done in that apartment. The scientist and the UN employee fall in love. They try experiments, they make leaps of thought. Things slowly move along until a disaster at the beach (no spoilers), at which point even the long-suffering reader starts to wonder WTF? Oddly, though, this bizarre ongoing "nothing" at a New York City beach raises little interest from the public and none from the press. Anyhow, the scientists keeps getting closer to solving the "why" and possibly the "how to fix", and at this point the reader really does need to stick around because it is, after all, a rather interesting problem.

My suggestion to anyone other than physics majors is to read the "action" parts, browse the physics as necessary to get an understanding of what's being considered, skim the philosophizing, and skip some of the back stories if you find them beside the point. That's how I managed to finish the book, and it worked very well. I will say the end was not what I expected, and I can't tell yet how I feel about it, but it was equally dense and somewhat indecipherable.

(Read courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Creepy Capital: Ghost Stories of Ottawa and the National Capital Region by Mark Leslie *** 4/6/16

An entertaining collection of ghost stories which take place in and around Ottawa. Some were written by the author, some reprinted from various old new sources. Since my mother was born and raised in Ottawa and I spent many summer vacations there, it was with interest that I revisited places like the Ottawa Normal School and Lisgar Collegiate, both of which my mother attended, as well as the Parliament library, the Chateau Laurier, and some lesser-known sites. The author has an easy way about his storytelling, providing locations and individuals with entertaining background as well as supernatural tales.

(Read courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Edited: Apr 8, 2016, 7:56pm Top

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli ***** 4/7/16

This is a lovely little book which, in a few brief chapters, lays out the basics of modern physics and then goes on to summarize current thought on time, the human mind, and the definition of "I". The examples used to explain complex theories were very effective. In the last chapter, the author waxes philosophical about the past and future of the human species, a summary which mirrored my own thoughts but expressed them more gently and succinctly than I could. I believe that our species will not last long. It does not seem to be made of the stuff that has allowed the turtle, for example, to continue to exist more or less unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, for hundreds of times longer, that is, than we have even been in existence. We belong to a short-lived genus of species. All of our cousins are already extinct. What's more, we do damage. The brutal climate and environmental changes that we have triggered are unlikely to spare us.

I have to say I'm very grateful for this book and will probably purchase a copy for myself, something I do very rarely, for reference on the scientific theories and for the poetry of the last chapter. The translators have done a wonderful job of making Dr. Rovelli's prose so effectively available to English speakers.

Apr 8, 2016, 12:47pm Top

>24 auntmarge64: This is on my wishlist and I loved reading your review of it.

Edited: Apr 12, 2016, 5:08pm Top

I Am Crying All Inside: And Other Stories (The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford Simak), Volume 1 ****½ 4/8/16

Grotto of the Dancing Deer: And Other Stories (The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford Simak), Volume 4 *** 4/12/16

Simak wrote science fiction during the same era as John Wyndham, one of my favorite authors, and this set of volumes has a similar feel. I've previously read Volume 1, which I thought was a better collection, but there are still some very entertaining stories here. The only caveat is the inclusion of western stories, present in both volumes. I do think most people read Simak for the genre in which they're interested, and in my case that's sci fi, so I skipped the westerns.

When reading mid-century sci fi the readers needs to accept that scientific fact is not necessarily going to be adhered to (for me that's part of the fun). Simak was no different, and it's a matter of whether a reader likes what is really rather pleasant but light-weight science fiction. It's nice to have SImak's stories all together, but perhaps the western stories might have fared better in a volume of their own.

Apr 11, 2016, 7:54pm Top

>24 auntmarge64: I have a copy of this somewhere, must dig it out.

Edited: Apr 11, 2016, 10:33pm Top

>25 detailmuse: >27 wandering_star:

I hope you like it as much as I did. I loved the tone.

Edited: Apr 11, 2016, 10:41pm Top

Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger **** 4/11/16

Germain, a 45-year old man living in a small French town, was abused mentally and physically by his angry single-mother, taunted by teachers, and bullied most of his life. He considers himself a self-made man, perhaps not too bright but with friends, a girlfriend, and jobs enough to keep him in beer and necessities. His vocabulary is limited, but he thinks deep thoughts, using curse words to fill in when he doesn't know the words to use. A rather sad case, although, as he says, he's made a satisfactory life for himself.

Then he meets Margueritte, a little old lady who sits on the town park benches, just as he often does. They get talking about the pigeons they both regularly count, and she's genuinely interested in what he has to say, unlike anyone he's ever met. They begin meeting regularly, and eventually she interests him in listening to her read and even, to his dismay, giving him a dictionary, with which he becomes fascinated. One thing leads to another: an interest in reading, a wider vocabulary, a thirst for learning, and finally, a dawning love for this attentive grandmother he never had.

Well, how this plays out is just delightful, and even the reader sees the changes is Germain. In return for her attention, he reveals to Margueritte some of himself, parts he's never offered anyone else out of fear of rejection. It is, in the end, a story of two lonely people giving of themselves to a new friend they've come to love, and the ways it changes the future for both of them. Charming.

This book was originally published in 2008 in French ("La Tête en Friche") and there is a French film with Gerard Depardieu available on Amazon (Free for Prime members). I see what I'll be doing tomorrow evening, now that I've finished Season 4 of "House of Cards".

Edited: Apr 18, 2016, 7:38pm Top

Extreme Prey by John Sandford **** 4/13/16

Lucas Davenport is always fun to read. As I recall, this is the second book in which Lucas gets involved with a presidential campaign. These aren't as interesting as the pure crime novels, IMHO, and in this case Davenport doesn't even have the usual favorite members of his support team in place. Still, I wouldn't miss one book in the series.

Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham ***** 4/18/16

The Joe O'Laughlin series just keeps getting better and better.

Edited: Apr 19, 2016, 10:44pm Top

The Messenger by Stephen Miller **** 4/19/16

This is an affecting look at two sides of a terrorist attack. The main character is a young Muslim woman who has promised her life to jihad and volunteers to be sacrificed. Although expecting to die as a suicide bomber, she is instead educated abroad and given an Italian identity, then both immunized against and infected with a weaponized version of smallpox and told how to inflict maximum damage. Her several weeks in the US yield terrifying results for the country but also surprises for herself, as she makes emotional connections with some of the people she meets and potentially infects. The secondary main character is a once-disgraced government scientist who worked on US bacterial warfare preparedness and is brought back as a consultant in the effort to find the party or parties responsible for the attack and blunt the effects of the smallpox.

The terrorist's journey is by far the most interesting part of the plot, as she is increasingly alone in deciding how to proceed, vacillating between despising her victims and worrying about the damage she's doing to potential friends. The scientist's story is much more scattered and difficult to follow. Still, the conclusion, in which the scientist is desperate to capture her alive because of her supply of immunized blood, while she is ready to die, is thoughtful and memorable. There are no easy solutions.

Edited: Apr 20, 2016, 2:36pm Top

The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine's Lost Correspondence by Nick Bantock **** 4/20/16

Seemingly the conclusion to the Griffin and Sabine series, this "sort of" wraps things up, but the ending is pretty nebulous so don't expect a definitive finish. As always the art and correspondence are a treat, but the only question we get answered is whether the two will ever meet. The series as a whole is satisfying artistically but, to me, disappointing dramatically.

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:28am Top

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten edited by Jonathan Strahan **** 4/25/16

Twenty-seven stories, some fairly lengthy. While published as a best-of selection, there are a few I'd have left out, but there are also some which I thought were among the most entertaining reading I've done in the field.

Probably my favorites were "The Lily and the Horn" by Catherynne M. Valente, and "The Empress in her Glory" by Robert Reed. "Lily" describes the preparations for a war: lords and kings have all married mistresses of either the art of poisoning or that of counteracting poisons. The two antagonists meet at a banquet at which food is prepared by the poisoner and antidotes by her counterpart. In this story, the two women are best friends, trained together as girls but no longer allowed to talk lest they betray their arts accidentally (although they have their ways of communicating). Beautifully portrayed, and what a way to wage war: none of the 99% dies.

In "The Empress in her Glory", an alien race secretly guiding humankind chooses a middle-aged take-no-prisoners office worker and feeds her information for her to use in her blog to push humanity to the next level.

Other stories to check out include "A Murmuration" by Alastair Reynolds; "Capitalism in the 22nd Century, or A.I.R." by Geoff Ryman, "Emergence" by Gwyneth Jones; "The Machine Starts" by Greg Bear; "Blood, Ash, Braids" by Genevieve Valentine; and "Oral Argument" by one of my favorite authors, Kim Stanley Robinson.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Apr 27, 2016, 9:13am Top

Landfall by John McWilliams **** 4/26/16

A very interesting premise and decent storytelling combine to make this an above average tale of the possibilities for sending messages backwards through time.

The story opens as a space capsule is discovered in the Canadian Rockies. It appears to contain parts of a reverse messaging experiment that had been on an orbiting space station blown up 30 years in the past (our present) by the scientist doing the experiment. All of the major militaries want the technology because of the huge advantage it would provide - if it works. The capsule is retrieved by two rather deadly FBI agents, who suspect that the time experiment is still being run and nearing its conclusion. In alternating chapters the reader is given the events leading up to the explosion.

There's little character development here, but this isn't the kind of story that needs it. The action's the thing, and both narratives move the story forward quickly to give the novel its tension and to explain the theories involved so that the conclusion, which fits perfectly, makes sense. A very enjoyable quick read.

Edited: May 6, 2016, 1:39pm Top

The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker **** 5/4/16

Like Ramakrishna himself, this book is exasperating, insightful, funny, and crazy, all-in-all an enjoyable feast for anyone who is a fan of the master, Eastern religions, or experimental fiction. The author actually does a good job of describing her work: "a painstakingly constructed, slightly mischievous, and occasionally provocative/chaotic mosaic of many other people's thought, memories, and experiences." That being said, the two main narratives are that of Ramakrishna's long-suffering cousin and caregiver, Hriday (or was it Ramakrishna who was long-suffering?), and that of a modern filmmaker (I think). The novel swings wildly between time periods, so there is little continuity, but that kind of works here, for some reason. There are also bits of haiku and verses by King Solomon, and a very nice annotated bibliography.

So - unorthodox storytelling, to say the least, but the whole thing makes sense in the long run, given the main subject's life. Brava!

Edited to add: Ramakrishna was a Hindu saint (some say incarnation) of the late 19th century.

May 6, 2016, 11:05am Top

Ooh - is that a new Nicola Barker? Thanks for letting me know! I still have The Yips on the TBR but good to have something else lined up for after that.

May 6, 2016, 1:38pm Top

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva ***** 5/6/16

Terrific suspense in a very unusual setting: a "Survivor"-type TV contestant runs into what may or may not be a pandemic occurring in the real world. The question is, is it part of the show or real?

I'm not a fan of this kind of reality show, but I do love apocalyptic plots so thought I'd give it a try. Well! I'm so glad I did, because this is non-stop suspense, with riveting characters and a believable plot guaranteed to keep you up late turning pages. There is no mystery as to whether something wrong really is going on: the first page makes that clear. The question for the reader is whether it's major or minor, and even knowing some people have died, the reader is left wondering until near the end of the book whether there has been a local, national or international crisis. Chapters alternate between the opening weeks of the competition and a time a few weeks later when the main character, nicknamed Zoo for the program, is trying to find the next clues in her solo competition. Instead she keeps finding small deserted towns and what appear to be dead bodies. Are they real bodies or well-done dummies, with cameras picking up her every reaction?

Looking for a wonderful novel that will keep you up late? Look no further!

May 6, 2016, 2:35pm Top

>37 auntmarge64: Cool review. I'm glad you liked it. I will have to check it out. Perhaps, on audio.

May 7, 2016, 2:58am Top

>37 auntmarge64: Oooh, that sounds very cool. Onto my wishlist it goes!

May 8, 2016, 12:01pm Top

>38 brodiew2:, >39 bragan:

I was so surprised that even the chapters on the contest itself were interesting. I love finding an author whose first novel is so good.

Edited: Jun 5, 2016, 7:08pm Top

The Communication Room by Adam Aresty **** 5/7/16

A very neat Sci Fi novella about one of the last humans alive after a centuries-long alien invasion. Trapped in a lab with the aliens outside, he finds he has to complete an experiment in order to be able to get out. What he discovers in the experiment has driven another mad, but it's his only hope to possibly escape and, just maybe, give humanity a little longer to fight.

Redemption Road by John Hart **** 5/11/16

John Hart is one of my favorite suspense authors, and I enjoyed this, but I didn't think it was his best. Within 50 pages we know that a good cop has been wrongly convicted of a murder and that the murderer is going to stage an identical murder on the day the cop is paroled. Meanwhile, the warden and some bad guards are following the cop with evil intentions. There are several other major plot lines, but just the ones I've mentioned made me unenthusiastic because it's such a predictable scenario in many ways. Of course, Hart can spin a good story with just about any material, but usually his plots are more original.

Everland by Rebecca Hunt ***½ 5/17/16

Edited: Jun 5, 2016, 7:11pm Top

Nordenholt's Million by J. J. Connington **** 5/24/16

A surprisingly modern story from 1923 about the choices made to save at least some humans in the face of global mass starvation.

A natural disaster kills the bacteria in the world's soil, causing the loss of all plant-life on Earth. Whatever stores of food are in place are all there will be. With humanity only a few months from extinction, the extremely wealthy and rather mysterious Englishman Nordenholt puts into play an audacious scheme to save a few million by barricading them in an industrial area of Scotland while a means of replenishing the world's soil is found. All other humans and animals in the British Isles are left with what food stores won't be needed by the colony: in effect, to die.

Told by one of Nordenholt's assistants, the story is related at an emotional distance, with the emotional implications being presented almost entirely by the single female character, so there is some of the early 20th century's condescension towards women. The racism, though, is rather nasty, although it appeared in only one chapter, in which the only two black characters in the book, both nameless and only briefly present, are described as huge and violent Negroes, with one use of the word "nigger".

The plot, however, is pretty interesting. Nordenholt, who seems a thoughtful and decent sort, sets up a dictatorship, seeing it as the only means of accomplishing the goal of rejuvenating the soil in time for the next planting. Without a crop, there will be no more food for anyone, and all remaining humans will die of starvation. The dictatorship actually makes a lot of sense in this context, and Nordenholt's whole fortune and massive intellect is put to this use as well. There are, of course, problems along the way, including an apocalyptic preacher who instigates destruction of essential parts of the plan. Nordenholt has a backup plan, though, and the question is whether it will work in time.

All-in-all, a good read, even at almost the 100-year mark.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com and of Dover Publications, which is publishing a new edition.)

Edited: May 27, 2016, 6:46pm Top

To Swim Beneath the Earth by Ginger Bensman **** 5/27/16

Meghan, a young doctor, has received an unusual birthday gift from her dad: plane tickets to an archaeological conference in South America, where they are to meet an expert on Incan artifacts and history. It seems that the language Meghan has been speaking occasionally since childhood, as well as the drawings and string art she's made, are all remnants of Incan culture. She's also had occasional visions, which she's related to her father, some of events about to happen and sometimes of another time and place. Meghan's mother has spent years trying to have her "fixed" by the family priest or a psychiatrist she's hired. Her father, a much gentler soul, has instead tried to identify what's happened to Meghan, and thus the birthday present. Before the conference, Meghan's father dies, but she goes ahead with his plans for her.

The first third of the book covers the plot described above. The rest of the book describes Meghan's trip, where she meets some people who think she's really connected somehow to the ancient Inca and some who want to know what her con is. Meghan doesn't really care what they think: she just wants to get to the village who's name she's always had on the top of her tongue, because the closer she gets, the more hallucinatory her inner life is becoming.

The first third of the book takes its time, and Meghan's description of her inner life and how it has affected her outer one gives a clear underpinning to why she's taking the trip. But the really interesting and suspenseful last two-thirds is where the reader will sit up and try to stay up until she's finished. Although I found Meghan a bit naive at times, she's an interesting character with an interesting problem, and it was wonderful fun to see what she would find and what she'd do with that knowledge and with the rest of her life.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

May 29, 2016, 10:55am Top

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough ***** 5/28/16

A beautiful little novel about living through the last few days of a dying parent.

The "almost-forty" narrator, the middle of five dysfunctional children, lives in the family home she purchased from her father and in which she now nurses him. As her siblings arrive to say their goodbyes, she addresses her thoughts to her father, ruminating about their family life and the directions each child has taken: the eldest, who tries his hand at one thing after another, never succeeding for long; the older sister, full of glow but never quite finding what she wants; and the youngest brothers, twins, one a schizophrenic and the other an addict. In the end, though, the narrator is left alone once again with her father, facing her own demons.

Readers who have not lived through the lingering death of someone close to them will find the writing lovely, but for those who have experienced this life-changing event there will be a frisson of recognition: the sorrow, the guilt, the moments of madness, and the love shared by those willing to be present to witness this final solitary struggle and the person they will miss so terribly.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

May 29, 2016, 2:04pm Top

>44 auntmarge64: sounds poignant and lovely. Is it truly horror and fantasy as tagged on the book's page?

May 30, 2016, 9:37am Top

>45 detailmuse: Gee, I didn't think so. Here's the publisher's blurb:

In this emotionally gripping, genre-defying novella from Sarah Pinborough, a woman sits at her father's bedside, watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters--she is the middle child of five--have all turned up over the past week to pay their last respects. Each is traumatized in his or her own way, and the bonds that unite them to each other are fragile--as fragile perhaps as the old man's health.

With her siblings all gone, back to their self-obsessed lives, she is now alone with the faltering wreck of her father's cancer-ridden body. It is always at times like this when it--the dark and nameless, the impossible, presence that lingers along the fringes of the dark fields beyond the house--comes calling.

As the clock ticks away in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her, a reunion she both dreads and aches for...

There is a little madness poking through here and there, and the end is definitely open to a couple of interpretations and is a bit horrible, but to call it horror is a bit much. It's definitely not fantasy.

Jun 1, 2016, 3:46pm Top

>46 auntmarge64: good to know! Your review makes it very interesting.

Jun 1, 2016, 5:46pm Top

The Turning Place: Stories of a Future Past by Jean E. Karl **** 6/1/16

Originally published in 1976, this collection of connected stories looks back at future Earth history long after a nervous galactic neighbor wipes out most of Earth-based life, bacterial and otherwise. Over many generations the few human survivors develop some interesting traits, and although overpopulation is never a problem again, they do eventually venture off-planet and farther. Each story is told untold generations after the last. All are told from the viewpoint of young young-adults, mostly girls. The neatest part is the "sources" section at the end, in which the future writer gives the basis for the ideas and tales in each story, some from folklore and oral history, some from more reliable historical sources.

I'd recommend the book to perhaps 6th-8th graders. There isn't much depth to the characters and there's no sex, violence, or language issues, so younger readers, rather than, say, mid-teenagers, will find the book rewarding. If a kid is already into lengthy series such as Harry Potter or the Lorien Legacies ("I Am Number Four", etc.) it might be a nice break for them. I certainly enjoyed it as a light read, and so should other adults with a bent towards post-apocalyptic and science fiction.

Jun 2, 2016, 12:49am Top

>29 auntmarge64: I watched the movie, "My Afternoons With Margueritte" yesterday afternoon. What a charming story. Well worth the time spent reading the subtitles! Would not have know about it if I hadn't stopped by here. Thanks for that!

Jun 2, 2016, 9:52am Top

>49 avidmom:

So glad you enjoyed it! It was pretty true to the book, not something you see all that much these days.

Edited: Jun 4, 2016, 10:20am Top

Jun 5, 2016, 11:00am Top

Somehow I've missed this thread entirely until now. Lots of really interesting sounding books here and I'm sure I'll be looking at reading some of them. I look forward to now being able to keep up with whatever comes next!

Jun 5, 2016, 7:13pm Top

>52 valkyrdeath: Hi, Gary. Hope you find a few things to whet your appetite. :)

Jun 15, 2016, 6:30pm Top

Star Crossing by Alexis Glynn Latner *** 6/12/16

I read the first two books in this series with great delight, but this one fell rather flat for me. The plot is moved forward in some interesting ways, but the writing just isn't on a par with books 1 and 2 and according to the author's webpage was written earlier, which reflects what I saw: that the plot development is much less polished. Here the risen members of the Aeon starship's hibernating crew finally find a possible home but meet scientifically advanced humans (Avendians), and neither side is sure if the other can be trusted. A diplomatic mission to the Avendian home planet is undertaken.

The most distracting problem for me was the main character's navel-gazing and his obsession with the physical attributes of the Avendian ambassador and whether a cyborg and his hologram might be rivals for her affection. To me, it would have been preferable (and sufficient) for the reader to be made aware that he found her attractive and was beginning to fall in love with her, and then leave it at that until she'd made her own interest obvious. The agony of young love is boring in an adventure story.

Second, as this is the story of a critical and delicate diplomatic mission, it is not believable that the second-in-command would be the angry, outspoken and sometimes violent Steed. In real life she would never have been considered, or, if she was a last resort, she'd have been controlled.

On a positive note, the cyborg is a wonderful character, and I look forward to reading more on the Starbirds, an alien race met along the way. And despite my lack of enthusiasm for this particular entry, I look forward to the next volume.

(Review copy supplied by the author)

Jun 15, 2016, 6:43pm Top

>42 auntmarge64: That sounds interesting.

Jun 15, 2016, 8:46pm Top

Drowned Worlds ed. by Jonathan Strahan ***½ 6/14/16

A selection of post-apocalyptic short stories set mostly on an Earth inundated with water. Some are very clever and a couple are quite funny, although a few end at rather odd points so the stories feel unfinished. All-in-all, though, a worthwhile read for the post-apocalyptic/dystopia crowd.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Edited: Jun 18, 2016, 9:01pm Top

The Time Travel Chronicles (The Future Chronicles) ed. by Crystal Watanabe ***** 6/18/16

A superior and varied collection of stories, all featuring time travel. Some are funny in sort of a twisted way, others are sweet or curious or just plain good tales. Not a loser in the bunch. Highly recommended.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Jun 20, 2016, 10:57am Top

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee **** 6/20/16

As Jessica and her father clean out her mother's belongings following her death, they find two dead bodies deep in the basement freezers. Jessica has a good idea who they are: sisters the family fostered 28 years earlier who disappeared and were presumed to have run away. Although the police briefly consider her father a suspect, it becomes clear the mother had to have been the culprit, and thus begins Jessica's exploration of the pasts of not only herself and her mother but of the girls and the people involved in their lives at the time.

This is not a mystery but a novel concerned with emotions and the things that can go wrong in families and in the social welfare system. Jessica is a social worker herself and is living with a rather milquetoast fellow who has been easier to live with than dump. The discovery of the bodies turns her life on its head and makes her question everything she knows about her mother and about her own decisions in life.

The backstories are very interesting and beautifully written, although I found Jessica's own grappling with her current situation (work, relationship) of much less interest. There isn't a huge amount of suspense, since it's clear no one else could have murdered and hidden the girls where they were undiscovered for so long. But if you're looking for a more gentle read, give this a shot.

Edited: Jul 6, 2016, 2:06pm Top

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan **** 6/22/16

Although technically an apocalyptic novel, more than anything this is a character study of several people who struggle to survive in a coastal town in Scotland that is about to plunge into an Arctic winter the likes of which hasn't been seen since the last ice age. Melting polar ice is desalinating the seas and ocean currents are failing, and most of the world is about to enter an unknowable period of arctic temperatures and, possibly, glaciation. While this is approaching, a London man whose only family, his mother and grandmother, have just died, takes possession of a Scottish caravan his mother secretly bought for him the previous year. There he meets a 12-year old girl (until the previous year a boy) and her mother, and other odd types who live in the area. He instantly falls in love with the nature of the place and then the woman, even as the whole town (and most of the world) prepare for a future they cannot really estimate.

A lovely story of friendships made and families formed, of a community facing an enemy for which they have no lasting defenses.

Lexicon by Max Barry ****½ 6/25/16

Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta **** 7/2/16

Crime Machine by Giles Blunt **** 7/9/16

Jul 9, 2016, 9:59am Top

C Is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book by Jason Ciaramella ***** 7/1/16

Colorful, bright images sure to engage a child (or adult). The images are sort of scary, but kids will probably love that, even if they know nothing about Lovecraft's characters.

Jul 9, 2016, 11:31am Top

This is the second mention of Jenni Fagan I've seen in as many days. Very interesting review.

Jul 9, 2016, 1:51pm Top

The Conjoined sounds good. I'll keep an eye out for a copy.

Edited: Jul 17, 2016, 1:35pm Top

Bramard's Case by Davide Longo **½ 7/16/16

The sparest, most minimalist and impressionist book I've ever read, and a mystery to boot.

Years after his young daughter disappeared and his wife was murdered by a serial killer he'd been chasing, retired police commissioner Bramard is still receiving an annual message from the killer, but this year is different: included in the envelope is a strand of hair. This opens up a whole new line of investigation, and Bramard is allowed to reopen the case unofficially but with the help of a young detective who specializes in searches, computer and otherwise.

The mystery itself is pretty interesting, but the extreme dearth of detail makes this a difficult read, for all its brevity. Insight into any of the characters, even Bramard, is doled out sparingly, and for the most part, readers are left to fill in the details for themselves. Even the denouement is left largely undescribed, with what could have been several interesting emotional decisions not only not described but not revealed at all. The translation seems to be fine, so this seems to be how the author wanted it. Unsatisfying for any reader who can't read the author's mind.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Jul 18, 2016, 3:23pm Top

>63 auntmarge64: Though not necessarily my thing, this is a well written review. I'm sorry it disappointed.

Jul 20, 2016, 11:47pm Top

The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross **** 7/20/16

A very unusual setting for a mystery: a fictitious Caribbean island in the vicinity of Grenada. All dialogue is in the local dialect.

Digger, a young man who excelled at school but who has no prospects of further education or an interesting job, is rudely recruited into the local police and trained as a forensics specialist. His own mother was killed by police when he was young, and his boss, the founder of this group being built into a CID unit, is retiring but is still dragged down emotionally by an unsolved missing person case. As Digger matures as a detective, he begins to find clues to both crimes.

The exotic locale and local customs are fascinating to read about, and the mysteries are very rewarding. The dialect makes reading slow and deliberate, so this is a book to savor slowly, while letting the language be spoken in your head. Hopefully there will be a series here.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Jul 21, 2016, 10:12am Top

>63 auntmarge64: I have a fondness for minimalism. I might give this one a try. Good review!

Jul 21, 2016, 11:22am Top

>66 RidgewayGirl: I'll be very interested in your take on it!

Edited: Jul 26, 2016, 2:22pm Top

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak ***** 7/23/16

An engrossing and moving story of a young man's life through his military service in WWI. Born in the US but taken to his father's native Austria-Hungary as an infant, Jozef and his adopted brother Zlee grow up a shepherds and hunters and, as young men, leave their father and village to join the Emperor's army as a spotter/sniper team. Their experiences are somewhat different than the average foot soldier's, as they roam the hills looking for officers, gunners and other important targets in the Italian army. After the war, following a stint in an Italian concentration camp, Jozef struggles to return to his father and to find a path for his own future.

I read this now because Netgalley has loaned me a copy of a new book about this family, The Signal Flame, which takes place during the Vietnam War era just after Jozef has died.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón ****½ 7/25/16

Jul 28, 2016, 8:53pm Top

The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak **** 7/27/16

A quiet, beautifully written novel of a Pennsylvania family burying the family patriarch (Jozev) while awaiting news of a son missing in action in Vietnam.

This is the second novel by Krivak. The first, "The Sojourn" (see previous post), related Jozev's early life in Austria-Hungary before and during WWI. In "The Signal Flame", we learn of his life in America and about his family, now in its third generation. His daughter Hannah and grandson Bo handle their mill and the 2000 acres of rural land they own. Grandson Sam, MIA for several months, has left behind a pregnant girlfriend, the daughter of the man who accidentally killed Bo and Sam's father. Sam's fate, the family's relationship with this girl, and the flood of 1972 in the Susquehanna River area form the nucleus of the story's action.

More than anything, this book reminded me of Willa Cather as it examined the everyday people living their daily lives while striving to make their way in work, relationships, and small town life. Lovely.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com. To be published in January, 2017.)

Jul 29, 2016, 7:46am Top

Never heard of Krivak. These sound good. Nice reviews ( and preview for The Signal Flame)

So, you liked The Shadows of the Wind?

Edited: Jul 29, 2016, 9:57am Top

Jul 29, 2016, 10:09am Top

Yeah. I liked it a lot. Silly in ways, but also fun and it captured me quite a bit.

Edited: Jul 29, 2016, 10:16am Top

>72 dchaikin:

Good storytelling, a bit too drawn out, IMO, but wonderful details. Have you read the others in the series?

Edited: Jul 29, 2016, 1:04pm Top

I read the second one. It was ok. i didn't mind it, but I won't read any more.

Jul 29, 2016, 4:49pm Top

>74 dchaikin:

Yeah, I read reviews for the others and they weren't encouraging.

Aug 2, 2016, 6:30pm Top

The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian ***½ 8/2/16

A dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel that had a pretty interesting storyline but was too YA for me. The premise has a similar feel to Hugh Howey's Silo series, of a group of post-apocalyptic survivors, several hundred years into their isolation, living in an enclosed structure to wait out the cleansing (whether atmospheric or human) of the "outside" before they can be free of their restricted lives. Howey's story is much more nuanced, with multiple points of view and and a lengthier format which gives more of a chance for character development and story expansion. The Office of Mercy is told primarily from the point of view of a naive young woman who begins to doubt the purposes for which her group's home and rules are maintained.

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:41am Top

The Tourist by Robert Dickinson ****½ 8/5/16

A wild roller coaster ride as characters' stories intertwine over centuries of back-and-forth time-travel.

There are two narratives which alternate. A first-person voice tells the story of Spens, a travel agent for 23rd century travel to the 21st, who loses a client on an outing and gets drawn into a convoluted search. The client (whose story is in second person singular), goes by various names and is, of course, not a client but is in the 21st on a mission. She proves elusive to both Spens and several agencies who have been tracking her back and forth for sabotage. One big question is whether the past can be changed to stop the damage she's already done in the 21st and which caused massive problems in the 23rd.

Hold on to your hat and pay close attention!

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Aug 8, 2016, 5:40pm Top

>77 auntmarge64: You've got me interested in this one. I love a good time travel story.

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:44am Top

Wolf Road by Beth Lewis ****½ 8/9/16

A post-apocalyptic novel with the most unusual and mesmerizing character I've run across.

Several decades after what appears to have been a nuclear exchange, frontier living has become the norm for the people of British Columbia. Many parts of the area are unusable, poisoned by misdirected bombs meant for the U.S. Weather has changed drastically, causing massive, powerful storms which appear to be a cross between hurricanes and tornadoes and sometimes go on for days. During one of these, seven-year old Elka is caught up and deposited far from her grandmother's cabin, and she is taken in by a trapper and taught how to live in the wild but given no other education or training. 10 years later, when she ventures into a nearby town, she sees wanted posters for the trapper and told that he's a serial killer. She realizes she believes this and runs north, hoping to find her long-missing parents, who staked a gold claim years ago and never returned. But the trapper, and a Magistrate whose son was murdered, both hunt her.

This is one bloody book, so be forewarned. I just skipped over those parts as best I could. The dialect, sort of a backwoods Appalachian, is a bit off-putting first, but it doesn't take more than a few pages to get past that because of the interesting characters and happenings. A few of the events which befall Elka seem a bit much, especially when she says herself she has a bad feeling. But who's to know what a woman raised in such isolation and ignorance by such a man would understand about human interaction?

Give this a try for Elka's character alone. The rest is gravy if you like suspense or post-apocalyptic tales.

Aug 9, 2016, 9:56pm Top

>79 auntmarge64: Well, not for me, but interesting setting and fun review.

Aug 10, 2016, 5:10pm Top

Beyond Ice by Helene Levey Zemel * 8/10/16

I rarely finish a book I don't like, which is why my reviews average in the 3.5-5 star range. I didn't finish this one, either, so I'm not counting it towards my total for the year, but I have to give a short review here to warn others who might be tempted. This feedback also went to the publisher via Netgalley.com. To be brutal and blunt:

Just awful. Obvious dialogue, descriptions of even the most boring everyday minutiae: in short, this could have been written by a bored high school sophomore for a writing assignment. (Sorry, sophomores)

Aug 11, 2016, 6:09pm Top

>77 auntmarge64: Thank you for your review of The Tourist. This looks like fun.

Have you ever read The Man Who Folded Himself? It's a quirky time travel read.

Aug 11, 2016, 8:57pm Top

>82 brodiew2: Huh, never did. I'll add it to my list. Thanks!

Edited: Aug 16, 2016, 5:42pm Top

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison ***** 8/14/16

In modern-day San Francisco, a midwife finds herself surrounded by people dying of a new infection, especially newborns and their mothers, all of whom die. She falls sick and is one of the very, very few women who survive, and they soon become members of a hunted species. Men travel in gangs, enslaving women who duly die when they become impregnated. The midwife, who takes different names with each situation she encounters, stocks up on birth control supplies, hoping to stave off some deaths, and heads north to avoid the majority of survivors, who are traveling south. She disguises herself as a man, practices the walk, talk and attitudes of the men she's known, and stays alive and free by arming herself and avoiding humans as much as possible. Occasionally she does find someone with whom she can spend a few days or weeks, but otherwise she slowly deteriorates with despair and loneliness. A few months after she leaves San Francisco she runs into a group of Mormon survivors in Utah and becomes an uneasy neighbor for the winter. I'm not going to go on about the plot, because the rest really is a wonderful unfolding of human caring, hope, stupidity, and cruelty, but the reader should find this out individually. The first third is pretty much "woman on 'The Road' ", but then a few changes occur which give her more of a purpose in continuing.

Most of the book is told as a writing exercise for a small group of boys who are copying from originals of the midwife's diaries, so the reader is made aware from the beginning that there is at least some future for humanity. At that point the midwife is legend. Her diaries intertwine with those of another survivor and with the voice of a narrator. At first I thought the narrator was a way for the author to change the tone but paraphrase the diaries themselves. After about the midway point, however, the narrator takes several detours out of the story line to fill in what's happened to some of the earlier characters and around the world in general. This seemed to be a mistake when I first encountered it, but it was interesting to hear a few other stories mixed in, and I got used to it quickly. But it would have been just equally effective to leave the action confined to the situation in the Midwest and the plot line with the midwife. There is some nasty violence, and the portrayal of men in general was scary and unflattering, but I'm not sure it was far off. Mob behavior is always ugly, and when sex is involved it gets out of control.

Very, very effective post-apocalyptic fiction, being republished this year and with a sequel planned for 2017 (and already ordered for my Kindle).

(Courtesy of netgalle.com)

Edited: Aug 25, 2016, 9:16pm Top

After James by Michael Helm **** 8/24/16

Three novellas, each of which is related to the others through threads of dreams or foreshadowing. The plots all explore the nature of reality, viewed through lenses of madness, near-death, hallucinogens, flickers of recognition from strangers, or writing which seems to capture one's own history. The threads weave back and forth within and sometimes between the stories, and even the title of the book and the order of the stories seem designed to help construct the web.

The first story concerns a scientist who has designed a creativity drug which led to the death of a trial participant named James. She has quit the company and moved away to rent a home from a couple she's never met. The wife has left her notes about a neighbor who may have killed his wife. That is, if she hasn't hallucinated the whole thing in her mental illness. On the brink of historic flooding, the scientist tries the drug herself and while under its influence is rescued by this same neighbor. How can she decide if he is someone to fear?

In the second novella, which was most satisfying of the three, a poet named James becomes involved with a poetry web site which every viewer thinks is about him or her. Are the poems in code? Can they be manipulated to form direct links to the mysteries of people's lives? Who is the poet? And is the hallucinogen One Two, which James ingests, the creativity drug or is this a parallel reality to the first story?

The third story tells of a virologist (who has just lost a child she thinks of as "James") and her paleontologist-turned-mystic father. They have a relationship with a German artist who makes moving art based on the virologist's life but also reflects events from the first story. In the course of a visit together, the father and daughter explore a cave in which they almost die, and there are questions about whether the events which follow actually occur or are the dreams of the dead.

Brilliant plotting, frustrating at times, and requiring close attention. I'm sure I've missed many clues and connections, and the book probably needs to be read more than once or twice to fully appreciate the complexity of the design.

(Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.com)

Aug 25, 2016, 2:04pm Top

>86 auntmarge64: After James sounds intriguing. I might have to keep an eye out for when it's released. Sounds like it has some interesting themes and I like books with linked stories.

Aug 25, 2016, 9:20pm Top

>87 valkyrdeath: - I wish someone else would read this and review it! It's one of those books you finish and think, "did I even get the point?"

Edited: Sep 1, 2016, 3:36pm Top

White Horse by Alix Adams **** 8/26/16

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo ****½ 9/1/16

Edited: Sep 3, 2016, 10:07pm Top

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh ****½ 9/3/16

Now THIS is a knock-your-socks-off thriller. Rarely do I read a book I can't put down, and I had no expectations this would be any more than a well-reviewed genre entry. It was on my list to read, having been recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy (http://modernmrsdarcy.com/), but then the Kindle version came up for $1.99 at Amazon, so what's a girl to do? How about put her life on hold?

A young single mother let's go of her 5 year old son's hand as they near their home, and he's killed by a hit-and-run driver. The police have no clues, the case goes cold, and the mother disappears, settling in an isolated part of Wales to try to recover. Just as you're thinking something's got to give, the book stands on its head and takes off with such a shocking revelation you can only hold on and say goodbye to the rest of your day's plans.


And now back to Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, which I'm loving.

Edited: Sep 7, 2016, 9:54pm Top

OK, I got caught up in something else.

In the Valley, Where Belladonna Grows by Tim Lebbon **** 9/6/16

A novella which is technically horror, I think, although it's psychological.

Mary has lived alone in an isolated valley for 16 years, after being banished there by her husband, who rules a nearby city. She has built a good life for herself, with a comfortable cabin, lovely gardens, and crops and livestock which provide for her survival needs. She is content. One day a visitor arrives to tell her her husband has decreed that she is free and should leave the valley, something she doesn't want to do. But the visit begins to erode the peace of the valley. More visitors come, with tales of horrors in the city. Each succeeding visitor is more and more afflicted by whatever evil has taken hold in the city, and several die while in the valley. Monstrous dogs appear and begin to threaten Mary and the visitors. Mary has to consider leaving the valley to find out what is happening.

The ending is a surprise, which I loved. Well-written, engrossing, and recommended. Available for free for Kindle Unlimited, and at this writing is being offered by Netgalley.com.

Sep 7, 2016, 9:54pm Top

As Good As Gone by Larry Watson *** 9/7/16

I was surprised by how little this book held my interest. The premise was kind of interesting, although it didn't really make much sense: a man needs someone to stay with his teenage kids while he is with his wife in a distant town for her surgery, and he talks his father into doing it. The problem? The father walked out on his own kids years earlier and there's been almost no contact since. Who would think that's the most appropriate person to ask? The story never came together and ended rather flatly. Strange, because Watson has a good rep.

Sep 7, 2016, 10:03pm Top

>92 auntmarge64: Nope, premise makes no sense. Sorry it didn't really work.

Edited: Sep 19, 2016, 10:05pm Top

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo **** 9/13/16

Sep 15, 2016, 9:17pm Top

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad ** 9/15/16

Good lord, this book is boring. At it's core is a wonderful tale of youth, cowardice, courage and redemption, but this is brutally buried by the narrator's need to philosophize and expound on his own feelings at each twist and turn of the story, for all that he isn't even present for most of it. Conrad may have succeeded here in single-handedly popularizing the "enough about me, what do you think of me?" trope.

I loved Heart of Darkness and began this with anticipation, but after dragging myself halfway through I gave up in disgust. I have only so many hours to live and read, after all.

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:46am Top

Lily's House by Cassandra Parkin ****½ 9/19/16

A gorgeously written story of a woman reconnecting with her memories of a beloved but long-estranged grandmother, and finding the strength to face the truths about the problems in her own present.

Jen, deaf since childhood, spent many summers with her grandmother Lily at her home at the English shore. They were idyllic times, when Jen could feel safe and relaxed after months in the tense home made by her parents. But shortly after Jen's marriage Lily did something which upset Jen so much she refused to see her again. Lily has left her estate to Jen, though, so she reluctantly leaves behind her insecure, unemployed musician husband and travels with her 12-year old daughter to settle Lily's affairs. Jen always thought her grandmother was something of a witch, seeming to have a second site into coming events, and she is dreading returning to this place of such happy memories. Given a cool reception by Lily's friends upon her arrival, she struggles to finish her business and get back home, but each day finds her less and less inclined to do so, and she begins having disturbing conversations in her head with her grandmother as well as dreams which point to huge upcoming changes for herself and her family.

The characters are carefully drawn, with the flow of signed, lip-read, and spoken language interwoven effectively to give a sense of the isolation and survival tactics of a deaf person. The language is fresh and evocative:

Here is the key with the loop of plaited string that surely, surely cannot be the one I made for her, decades ago.

All I wanted was to try on Lily's things. First the jewelry, which - jackdaw that I am - still calls to me with a siren song.

Maybe by the time I'm old, I'll reminisce fondly about the days when everyone sat around in couch-potato silence and stared with their mouths open at the 'same program'. (This one made me laugh out loud.)

The plot, filled with Jen's texts to and from her increasingly desperate husband, and alternating chapters filling in the past, pull the reader along to ever more layers of Jen's and Lily's pasts, with a wonderfully unexpected but perfect ending. So highly recommended!

(Courtesy of NetGalley. To be published in Oct 2016.)

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo **** 9/20/16

Edited: Sep 28, 2016, 10:09pm Top

The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks ***½ 9/22/16

A charming and funny post-apocalypse story of a robot transported across the world with a newborn in order to save the human race.

Humanity lives in a single large geographic area, walled in and provided for by the all-seeing CORE. They've been gathered there for their own "safety", and towards that end CORE makes all their decisions, such as occupation, marriage partner, and childbearing times. Humans yearn to escape, but from birth they are implanted with permanent location beacons. They are served by various types of robots, who do most of the work. Hey-oo (not his proper name, but what he's called by the humans he serves) likes his humans and finds them amusing. He's a good-natured sort, tends to think a lot and has deeper and deeper feelings as the years go by. The one sense he doesn't have is taste, which he covets. One day he is sent to CORE for a minor repair and comes back online to find in the room with him an identical unit: the one which has been smuggled in by rebels to be transported somewhere else on earth with a pre-implant child in order to find the mysterious ICEMAN, who will free humanity. In the confusion, Hey-oo is sent instead. Hey-oo is nothing if not philosophical, although terrified at this point, and he does he best to follow the half map thrust at him in the transporter chamber. And so years go by, as the child grows and the two walk into the unknown, determined to free humananity.

Charming, funny, and hopeful, as the two find a long-wrecked world and despair of fulfilling their mission. Told mostly in first person by Hey-oo, a synthetic being more human than many of us, and his unique insights and his upbringing of Wah (this is the child's name, since he cried so much as an infant) is delightful. Probably not for young YAs because of some fairly explicit answers to Wah's questions of where he came from. But older teens and certainly adults will enjoy this immensely.

(Courtesy of NetGalley but also available on Kindle Unlimited)

Phantom by Jo Nesbo **** 9/28/16>/b>

Oct 2, 2016, 10:08pm Top

The Tale-Teller by Susan Glickman **** 10/2/16

A delightful story based on an historical incident in early 18th century New France (Quebec).

A young man travels to the New World aboard a ship where he entrances listener's with his stories and makes himself well-liked by everyone for his interest in their lives and experiences. On his arrival, he is discovered to be a disguised girl, Esther, who is immediately arrested and housed in the home of one of the town officials while an inquiry is made in France. During the year that follows, as her fate continues to be uncertain, she spends time in several homes and for a while in a nunnery, after it is discovered that she is Jewish and will be expelled for that reason alone unless she converts. But this is not why she came to New France, where she was hoping to find a measure of liberation from sexually-determined fate, anti-Jewish hate, and an enforced marriage. Throughout the year she enchants her listeners with her tales, giving many of them hope for themselves and a new perspective on the strictures society has placed on them.

While Esther's fate provides the suspense, her anecdotes, whether real or imagined, are where the real interest lies. There is even some question for the charmed reader about whether she might possibly be telling her own history, as outlandish as it is. The characters are well-drawn but don't enchant the reader nearly as much as those tales Esther weaves.

Oct 3, 2016, 3:20pm Top

Grave Predictions: Tales of Mankind’s Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian and Disastrous Destiny *** 10/3/16

Really, more horror than what I would usually define as post-apocalyptic or even dystopian. The biggest surprise was the opening story - by W.E.B. DeBois, no less! I've read many of his essays, but post-apocalyptic fiction? Who knew? I've read the Stephen King before and enjoyed reading it again, and there were a couple of others that were very entertaining. But the longest of them were uninteresting for someone looking for somewhat traditional fiction along these lines. All in all I felt at least half the book could have been jettisoned.

(Courtesy of NetGalley)

Edited: Oct 7, 2016, 10:22am Top

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George **** 10/6/16

A beautifully-rendered tale of teenage friendship amid family tragedy.

Robert Carter, raised on coastal Maine, looks back at the eventful time in his early teens when he met his best friend, Nathan Tilly, recently arrived from Texas. Robert's family owns a small theme-park, the town's main draw during the critical tourist season. His family life is centered around his beloved older brother Liam, who is very ill with muscular dystrophy and fading. Nathan is a natural risk taker. He's in love with life and has a wonderful imagination for the possibilities he finds in his new surroundings. His father makes and flies kites and loves to climb on the family's home to fly them, and his mother is a reclusive chain-smoker who spends her days with a typewriter in a closed-off room. When Nathan interrupts one of the long series of beatings Robert has received from the school bully, the two become inseparable, and over the next two years have numerous adventures and help each other through tragedies in both families.

A book I wished wouldn't end.

(Available Feb 2017, review copy courtesy of NetGalley.com)

Oct 8, 2016, 6:54am Top

Nice review of Setting Free the Kites; I'll keep my eye out for it next year.

Oct 9, 2016, 10:03pm Top

Police by Jo Nesbo ****½ 10/9/16

One of the best in a really great suspense series (you can safely skip the first couple, though - something even Nesbo has said). Best of all, Harry has found a way to have some lasting and positive peace in his life. Hurray!!!

Edited: Oct 17, 2016, 9:41pm Top

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet ***½ 10/10/16

Possibly the bleakest tale I've ever read.

In 19th century Scotland, teenager Roderick Macrae faces murder charges for killing a neighbor and two of his children. Told through Roderick's written account, a reporter's notes on the trial, and reports and testimony submitted by various experts, the evidence for insanity and blame are examined from many sides. Roderick is from an extremely poor group of crofter cottages along the shore of Scotland. The manor's lord has a factor (property manager) who forces the cottages to elect a "constable" to keep themselves in line, a job they all detest having to fulfill. All but one, that is. In this year, crofter Lachlan Mackenzie has bullied his way to the job and used it to take vengeance against the Macrae family, apparently just because he can. Having just lost the mother of the family, the Macraes are in a terrible way to start, and being the poorest of the crofter families, they are only a few steps from being evicted. Mackenzie's goal is to torment them further and force them out. There's really no hope for this family or for Roderick himself. They see no future, they have no recourse against Mackenzie, and when the eviction is finally served, Roderick feels he has no choice but to try to protect his family. The court must decide if there is a case for temporary insanity, but it is clear that the norms of the society in question do not allow much pity for the lowest-of-the-low who rebel against abuse by their betters.

The hopelessness here, especially the complete lack of power this family has to protect itself, is almost unbearable. I was drawn to the book because of the format (journals, reports, etc.), but had I known how unrelentingly depressing it was, I wouldn't have read it. Yes, it's good to face the existence of evil and tragedy in the world, but for my part, this tale of inevitable and total degradation and destruction was more than I could stand. Unfortunately, though, I think I'll remember the book for a long time.

(Courtesy of NetGalley.com)

Edited: Oct 13, 2016, 10:43pm Top

White by Tim Lebbon **** 10/13/16

Gripping post-apocalyptic horror.

The world is ending for humans. Widespread nuclear war in South America and global climate change have resulted in mass death from war and disease, and now England is being buried under unending snow. There is no more power, transportation, or even animal life. A small group stranded in a manor house on the Cornish coast begins to be killed off, being torn to pieces by something that is as white as the snow and can be seen only rarely. As each person dies, it becomes clearer and clearer to the survivors what they are facing, ratcheting up their fear ever higher.

A novella that you'll be glued to and read in one sitting - preferably not just before bedtime.

(Courtesy of NetGalley, and currently available for free with Kindle Unlimited.)

Oct 17, 2016, 9:19pm Top

The Trespasser by Tana French ***** 10/17/16

Another complex, character-rich, and atmospheric entry in French's stories about the Dublin Murder Squad. Each book centers on a different detective, this one a very tough woman who has been harassed mercilessly by just about everyone on the squad and is thinking of leaving to take a security job. She and her partner are assigned a run-of-the-mill domestic murder which seems more-or-less simple to solve, except the two of them keep finding one more piece of evidence to check out, until they begin to realize they're being played. But by whom?

Excels as both suspense and literature. What more can you ask?

Edited: Oct 19, 2016, 8:17pm Top

The Ballad of Elva and Chester: Or, Mostly Their Fault by Adrian Archangelo *** 10/19/16

An amusing take on 900 years a pair of bumbling aliens spends on Earth trying to encourage humanity to become more empathetic before a decision is made whether to introduce them to the rest of the galaxy's cultures or send them back to the stone-age (which has already been done numerous times).

All past efforts to alter dominant Earth lifeforms before they take to the stars have failed. This has resulted in the destruction of self-aware dinosaurs (the asteroid) and the end of Atlantis. The reason Earth hasn't been just wiped out is that there is a Galactic Problem (never defined) which needs new input to solve, and hope springs eternal that humanity might have the characteristics to make a contribution. But only if they give up their destructive ways. Yeah, good luck with that.

Anyway, it's cute, but the gag gets bogged down in too much detail after a while. It would probably be more appreciated by a younger audience.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Oct 20, 2016, 7:33pm Top

I had to laugh when I saw that you'd read two books in a row whose covers featured bloody fingerprints.

And my copy of The Trespasser is not due to arrive until the end of the month. It is very hard to wait.

Oct 20, 2016, 8:23pm Top

>107 RidgewayGirl: - LOL, I hadn't seen that. Yup, love that dark suspense. You are going to LOVE the French book. I need to find something decent to read. The two I've read since that were pretty much time-wasters, as witness:

The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello *** 10/20/16

A journal kept by Robert Louis Stevenson, along with a story of a modern-day scientist who finds the journal, alternate to tell Stevenson's version of what inspired his tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and, to boot, how those events connected to Jack the Ripper.

The scientist comes upon a steamer trunk which holds the journal as well as a bottle of a liquid which brought about the actual Jekyll/Hyde transformation: in Stevenson. Sounds like an interesting take, but I just couldn't stay attentive. The stories seemed to cycle back and forth too quickly, and by the time I was halfway though the book I didn't care any more what the result would be of finding these items in the present.

Edited: Oct 22, 2016, 2:00pm Top

Ashes by Steven Manchester ** 10/22/16

An irritating book about two angry middle-aged brothers, long-estranged, who are forced to take a road trip together if they want to see the contents of an envelope their hated father has left for them.

I found the basic plot device unbelievable, although a friend I described it to disagreed. Be that as it may, the brothers are disagreeable and no fun to read about, and their "adventures" as they cross the country are pretty boring, as are their internal monologues. And then there's the ending, which kind of fizzles out. And then, as though it hadn't been bad enough, you turn the page and the author just has to provide "witness" to his religious beliefs.

Don't waste your time.

Edited: Oct 27, 2016, 9:20am Top

The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace ***** 10/26/16

A gorgeously-written novel reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson's best work (Gilead, etc.)

A teenage woman, her infant son, and a man who ignores them both arrive in a small town in coastal New England and encamp at a summer cabin resort which is soon closing for the winter. After a few days, the man disappears. The resort owner, a middle-age widow trying to recover from her husband's sudden death, decides to help the young woman, who rarely speaks and makes no demands on anyone. Another townsperson, a recluse suffering from her own marriage (long-ago ended but never forgiven), is recruited to reluctantly house the mother and child for the winter. Other people in town get involved.

Each chapter focuses on a different character (with some duplicates), so that all the major story participants are made accessible to the reader as the story progresses. Love, loss, and redemption are explored in moving and sometimes haunting ways. Just about all these people will leave the reader wanting to know them personally, and certainly the reader will wish the book wouldn't end.

Highly, highly recommended.

(To be published in 2017. Review copy courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Oct 27, 2016, 1:54pm Top

Hello auntmarge64! I just wanted you to know that I love checking in on your thread. It is always a treat to see that you are reading. there is such a wide variety. I look forward to what comes next, especially the indie sf. :-)

Edited: Oct 27, 2016, 2:24pm Top

>111 brodiew2: - Thanks for the feedback! Between Netgalley and Kindle Unlimited I've frequently found interesting under-the-radar things to read. (And a lot of crummy ones, too, although I've gotten comfortable with stopping quickly if the book is terrible).

Here's another short tale from Lebbon:

RIME by Tim Lebbon **** 10/27/16

A young man finds himself on a strange planet, accused of killing millions of humans. His two questioners let him tell them his story of a generational spaceship destroyed, and his part in causing it, as they prepare for his trial. As with all of Lebbon's science fiction, a well-told story with interesting twists. In fact, Lebbon is fast becoming one of my favorites. This is just really good human-centered storytelling, as you'd find in Wyndham or Howey.

Edited: Oct 27, 2016, 3:21pm Top

>112 auntmarge64: Very cool. I have actually been researching, trying to find a good generational ship story. This sounds a good one to whet the appetite.

I'm still considering >13 auntmarge64: and >77 auntmarge64: among others...

Edited: Oct 27, 2016, 10:23pm Top

>113 brodiew2: Have you read Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson? I gave it 4 stars:

Robinson will probably never surpass The Mars Trilogy in its sheer weight of ideas and memorability, but "Aurora" offers some big new ideas on human interstellar travel which will burnish Robinson's reputation further. He's never developed a talent for characterization, and he can go on (and on) in developing his theories and the rationale behind them, but they are so worthy that the shortcomings sometimes seemed planned in order to focus the reader's attention on the points he's trying to make.

Here we have a multi-generational spaceship approaching its destination after 160 years of traveling at one-tenth the speed of light. Supplies are running low as mutations and devolution alter the ability of the ship to maintain a healthy balance between all the species producing and/or absorbing various by-products of other species. The slowing of the ship and changes in gravitational pulls from the looming star system they intend to colonize further stress all things living and mechanical. Still, the colonists are able to land a small party on the moon they intend to inhabit before matters turn more deadly.

The main character turns out to be the ship itself, whose quantum computer is trained to think and write a narrative of the voyage by a latter-day engineer just as the group arrives at its destination. As the years pass, ship does gradually take on a personality, and its own ruminations are fascinating to watch.

I'll say no more on plot but mention one of the ideas Robinson explores: the question of whether any species, having evolved within a certain set of factors in one solar system, can transfer to another system where they have no outside support or natural affinity. For instance, if the colonized planet or moon is dead (completely void of lifeforms), can it be developed quickly enough to support the colony before reduced supplies and, again, devolution, being about their demise? Or, if the planet or moon does have life, even at a cellular or viral scale, can the incoming species ever develop immunity quickly enough to avoid being killed off? These are the kind of questions Robinson is so good at illustrating and making the reader remember and think about long after finishing the book.


You might also enjoy the first two in Alexis Glynn Latner's series Aeon's Legacy, reviewed in #21 above. (The third in the series was very disappointing, but these two are well worth reading.)

PS - #112 above is a novella and available on Amazon. So a quick read.

Edited: Nov 7, 2016, 7:43am Top

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar ***** 10/30/16

A searing examination of one man's soul as he struggles to atone for his father's war crimes and garner acclaim for his family's name.

Jakub Procházka, orphaned after the Velvet Revolution in which Vaclav Havel became the leader of Czechoslovakia, finds out young that his father tortured political prisoners for the Communists when he and his beloved grandparents, by whom he is being raised, are driven from their village. In Prague, Jakub studies hard to make his grandparents proud, and he becomes a renowned expert on cosmic dust. He is eventually recruited to be his country's first astronaut in order to study the particles in a cloud which has formed between Venus and Earth. He leaves his wife to embark on the eight-month round-trip, mesmerized at first but then slowly deteriorating after his wife stops communicating with him and disappears. Soon thereafter he finds another being on the ship, but whether it's real or a hallucination remains to be seen. He and the creature develop a friendship as they discuss the meaning of life, especially in the context of Jakub's memories, which the creature can access at will. In those memories the history of modern Czechoslovakia and of life under its various regimes is laid bare for the reader. As the ship approaches the cloud, Jakub finds himself not wanting to leave his friend, but events within the cloud take the situation out of his control.

A brilliant banquet of description, not least of the storms a human can weather within himself as he learns new truths. At first I thought the descriptions would drive me mad myself, but they only add to the reader's depth of knowledge of this thoughtful man who, in the end, discovers he wants only to return to his beginnings and be anonymous. Funny and suspenseful at times, this book had me wishing for more of Jakub's life - and for that of his friend.

(To be published March 7, 2017. Galley courtesy of Netgalley.)

Edited: Nov 7, 2016, 7:46am Top

Martian Dawn by Robert James ***½ 11/4/16

The first manned ship to Mars crashes. Although evidence quickly surfaces that one person survived, everyone who knows is rounded up and put in secret prisons. A few civilians have independently figured out what's going on but are also being pursued. Meanwhile on Mars, the surviving astronaut, unable to make contact with Earth, begins exploring nearby caves and finds a door. Some entertaining ideas but way too much for one book.

(Available for Kindle and free for Kindle unlimited.)

Journey Back to Mars: a sci-fi collection by Hugo Huesca ***½ 11/6/16

A mixed bag of short stories from a newcomer. Several have wonderful surprise endings and make finding a copy to read well worthwhile. The final story, though, is more a children's tale and doesn't really have the magic of the earlier stories (it also has quite a few typos). I think this will be an author to watch.

(Available for Kindle and free for Kindle Unlimited.)

Nov 8, 2016, 2:18am Top

>115 auntmarge64: That sounds really interesting. Maybe inspired by Solaris? Do you think you need to know a bit about modern Czech history to get the most out of it?

Nov 8, 2016, 11:40am Top

>117 wandering_star: I don't think so. I certainly don't know much, just remember Havel and there being a revolution.

Edited: Nov 13, 2016, 10:42pm Top

The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin ***½ 11/11/16

This is a fairly strange book: a combination of magical realism, satire, and fantasy (none of which is normally my thing) that still grabbed me right away, probably because I'm intrigued by all things snow (especially Antarctica, but one can't always be choosy).

A doctor in Russia, at a time when Stalin is almost a myth, must find a way to deliver a vaccine to a small village in the middle of a blizzard. The vaccine is against a type of zombie illness, but the zombie thing is very secondary to the story. First he finds a man with a 50 HP sled - 50 HP as in 50 tiny horses each the size of a figurine, and they're off. Every few hours something untoward occurs, usually involving strange beings or machines. As I say, not really my thing, but for some reason intriguing.

I didn't like the ending, which seemed unnecessarily opaque and off on a tangent that didn't seem to fit, but it was an entertaining story nevertheless.

Edited: Nov 20, 2016, 8:49am Top

Me and You by Niccolò Ammaniti **** 11/13/16

14-year-old Lorenzo has always been an outsider, despite his parents' efforts to goad him into having friends and fitting in. When he tries to make points with his mother by telling her he's been invited on a ski trip with a popular group at school, she's so thrilled he can't bring himself to tell her the truth. Instead, he holes up in the basement of their apartment building for a week of uninterrupted "Lorenzo" time, free from adults and peer pressure. Instead, he's interrupted by a half-sister he barely knows, and he experiences changes which will forever alter his picture of himself in the world.

Told between the bookends of Lorenzo's life at 24, the story's importance is shown in the final few pages, when he finally goes to see his sister again. Sweet, funny, and sad, all in one.

Nov 18, 2016, 5:49pm Top

The Martian Race by Gregory Benford **** 11/18/16

Fiction about Mars is one of my favorite sub-genres. This example can be a little slow-moving at times, but the description of life found on Mars more than makes up for any other shortcomings. However, this is not your typical alien life and first contact story.

Two private consortiums vie to become the first to send a mission to Mars and have it return with in-depth scientific reports along with samples of rocks and any other interesting artifacts. The winning group receives a prize of $30 billion, most of which will be needed to reimburse expenses incurred. But the winner will also have ownership of the science, the all-important prize.

The main character is a biologist, Julia, whose husband is the pilot of the first team to leave Earth. There is also a geologist and an engineer on board. They land safely but face the immediate problem that the vehicle in which they are to return in a year and a half has been damaged. While they all spend time helping the engineer with that, the geologist and biologist work on their assigned experiments. Meanwhile, the second team leaves Earth using a different propulsion system and arrives while repairs are still being made on the first group's return vehicle. So, let's just say some organizational rivalry and not very pleasant backroom dealing go on, on both Earth and Mars.

But while this is going on, the two scientists have made an astounding discovery: anaerobic life (i.e., life that is not dependent on oxygen) living in still-active volcanic vents. This ups the stakes for the two consortiums, but the big plus for the reader is the analysis of why it's there, how far it extends, and how it's survived as it has (some of the lifeforms even have eyes, or, at least, light receptors, so for some reason they haven't lost the need for them over the millions of years since there was surface water and life on the surface was possible.

I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in Mars or in the variety if life possible in the universe. The scientific explanations for what's found, and the ethical questions raised, make this a refreshing and thought-provoking novel for a species that dreams of leaving its home planet.

Nov 18, 2016, 7:27pm Top

Hello auntmarge64! The name Gregory Benford inspires both awe and apprehension. I have never done well with hard sf. I tend to get bogged down in the minutiae of the science. I was how ever intrigued by his Asimov Foundation novel he wrote a few years back. Have a great weekend!

Edited: Nov 18, 2016, 8:52pm Top

>122 brodiew2: Hi Brodie - I think The Martian Race could be read without paying much attention to the science. Give it a try. I just ordered a couple more of his. One is a sequel to The Martian Race, so if you like it there's more!

Edited: Nov 27, 2016, 5:36pm Top

The Sunborn by Gregory Benford **** 11/26/16

A sequel to The Martian Race (see #121 above), in which two of the original researchers continue their work on Mars until called to go to Pluto, where lifeforms have been found. But this discovery, as much as it strains our understanding of life, is only the beginning, as the explorers join forces to go farther out, past the Bow Shock (where the solar winds of the heliosphere push against interstellar pressures), from where there seem to be messages being sent to the beings on Pluto. Again, fascinating theorizing on the forms life could take and the forces which would bring them about and support them.

Edited: Nov 27, 2016, 5:47pm Top

The Last Machine in the Solar System by Matthew Isaac Sobin **** 11/27/16

A self-aware robot named Jonathan muses on his several billion years of existence as he welcomes the end of his mission: to witness the death of our sun and to leave a record of humanity for anyone who might someday investigate the the dead solar system. Thoughtful, and just the perfect length at about 80 pages. By the end I was rather mourning Jonathan as he reminisced about his creator and contemplated (not sadly, I might add) spending his last years on the cold body of the sun, unable to leave because of the gravitational pull.

(Courtesy of Netgalley; to be published in 2017)

Edited: Nov 29, 2016, 10:38am Top

Polar Crossing by Tony Talbot *** 11/28/16

A short story which takes place about 100 years in the future, following a great war that has left Antarctica unexplored for decades. Four researchers, the only humans on the continent, begin seeing apparitions: footsteps which end abruptly, and then dying men in old-style winter clothing with wooden sledges. They try to intervene to help them but are unable to make physical contact.

Well-written but with several avoidable errors: the storyteller initially claims his team consists of five, but then says (and shows) only four; a description of glaciers is meant to refer to crevasses; and there are several editing errors. I'm a sucker for anything on Antarctica, so I enjoyed it, but it needs to be tidied up a bit. On the other hand, I'll try more from this writer.

(Available free for Kindle Unlimited)

Edited: Nov 29, 2016, 8:17pm Top

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky ***** 11/29/16

"Zones" have been found around the world which are presumed to have been locations of alien visitations. At least, that's the closest anyone's been able to describe what is thought to have caused the sudden appearance of areas of phenomena for which there are no explanations: corpses rising from the dead, tiny areas of extreme gravity, deadly substances which come out of nowhere and kill or eat parts of humans or animals who get too close, and artifacts humanity is beginning to be able to use but unable to replicate. One scientist thinks the zones are the remains of alien "roadside picnics". The zones are cordoned off and access granted only to researchers, but there is a lively trade in illegally obtained items stolen by "stalkers", who risk their freedom and lives in the hope of eluding innumerable traps, first in the zone itself and then from the police awaiting the stalkers - when they manage to get out. Most have died. Those who survive have deformed children who sometimes don't look human.

The main character is a stalker named Red, a rough-and-tumble sort who's made numerous trips into the zone near his home. He's seen acquaintances disappear or die horribly, and he's spent lengthy spells in prison as the police try to break him of his stalker ways. Red's likable but also course, angry, and violent. He drinks a lot, usually to forget what's he's seen or is planning to do. He's under no illusion that what he does to provide for his family is absolutely insane.

This is the first Strugatsky Brothers novel I've read, and it was marvelous. There's a madcap hysteria about it I didn't think I'd enjoy, but it pulled me right in. There's just no way to predict whether Red or anyone else will survive each page, and the mystery of the zones is obviously unsolvable, so there's no security for either the characters or the reader about what will happen. For some reason, it really works.

Highly recommended.

Nov 30, 2016, 3:43am Top

>127 auntmarge64: Glad to know you liked Roadside Picnic! There's just something so wonderfully unsettling and compelling about the whole concept, isn't there?

Nov 30, 2016, 8:45am Top

>128 bragan: I saw you'd read it and liked it. Have you read any of their other works?

Now I'm going to see if I can get a copy of the film.

Nov 30, 2016, 9:22am Top

>129 auntmarge64: I have read a book called The Time Wanderers by them, but that was decades ago, and I remember essentially nothing about it. Clearly it didn't make nearly the same kind of impact.

I should maybe see if I can get hold of the film, too. It seems like it would have to be interesting.

Nov 30, 2016, 7:31pm Top

>130 bragan: I read a review of the film that said there are two versions on the DVD, and that the default version does not have the music layout the director wanted. FYI.

Nov 30, 2016, 7:46pm Top

>131 auntmarge64: Hmm. I see Netflix has it. I wonder which version it is?

Dec 1, 2016, 9:08pm Top

>132 bragan: I don't see it on Netflix. If it were, I'd watch it whichever version!

Dec 2, 2016, 2:31am Top

>133 auntmarge64: They have it available on DVD, but not streaming.

Edited: Dec 3, 2016, 5:51pm Top

Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt ***½ 12/3/16

I enjoyed this post-apocalyptic story, although it did seem to take forever to get going and then to get anywhere.

Centuries after a plague wipes out most humans and the civilizations of our own time fall (one reference indicates at least 700 years), a small group sets out on horseback from a Mississippi settlement to try to find a (possibly mythical) location known as Haven. Legend has it that remnants of the lost cultures have been hidden away there, to await a future where they can be of use. A first mission nine years earlier ended in all but one person dying, and the survivor refused to discuss what happened, so these travelers rely on some drawings they find after his death and on marks they recognize as directional indicators left by the previous expedition's guide. The towns growing up along the Mississippi have always known that a great civilization preceded them because they're surrounded by the rotting ruins of buildings, highways, and technology. But how such wonders were possible is beyond current imagining, and there are even greater discoveries to be made on the trip itself.

Although published less than 20 years ago, this book is reminiscent of earlier SF writers and is mostly oriented towards the human experience.

Edited: Dec 6, 2016, 2:17pm Top

YES! I loved Eternity Road when I read it many years ago. I have to admit I was sucked in by the cover, initially. However, what I enjoyed most about this booked was the anachronistic used of our modernity. I love how he shows a primitive future civilization interacting with the remains of today. Cool story. The Twain parchment was a fun piece too.

Dec 8, 2016, 9:25pm Top

You Can Have a Dog When I'm Dead: Essays on Life at an Angle by Paul Benedetti ***½ 12/8/16

A collection of the author's columns from the Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator: life, love, families, and all their bewildering complications. Some entries are paeans to the emotional moments of family life, others are hilarious vignettes that sometimes had me crying I was laughing so hard. While writing this series of essays, Benedetti (and his wife!) was raising and then learning to let go his 3 children, watching older family members age and pass on, and dealing with the realities of life in a middle-aged body, all with good humor and a loving eye for the foibles of those around him.

One or two essays are close variations on earlier stories and should have been edited out (how many essays can you read on the chore of buying new underwear, as funny as it can be?), but all-in-all, a delight to read.

(Courtesy of Netgalley. To be published March, 2017)

Edited: Dec 15, 2016, 9:10am Top

Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction ed. by Brian Stableford ***½ 12/14/16

An interesting but strangely unmoving and academic collection of short works that were written before the advent of traditional science fiction.

Stableford provides a revealing introductory history of what is loosely termed "scientific romance", the forebear of the science fiction which became popular after World War I. Most entries are short stories, a few in verse, and some would be categorized today as horror. A few stories had somewhat modern feel, but mostly not, and this is why the collection lacks something for the average reader. Quite a few of the authors are obscure today, and there may be a reason for this, so while they make for valid additions to the collection they aren't necessarily rewarding to read.

I did enjoy a few of the stories very much, but all-in-all I think this will be useful for students and scholars of the genre rather than for those who read science fiction for enjoyment.

(Courtesy of Netgalley. Oddly enough, while the picture shown above is the one Amazon uses, it is not the one that transfers to LT; I used the URL for the LT pic and it came out as the one on Amazon. At any rate, it's possible the publisher may be in the process of changing the title to that shown on the picture.)

Dec 16, 2016, 12:39pm Top

Hello auntmarge64! Did you miss me back in >136 brodiew2:?

Dec 16, 2016, 4:38pm Top

>139 brodiew2: - Sorry about that!

Yup, the characters' interactions with the artifacts were definitely the best part of the story. It made for some great "what if" moments, and was certainly a commentary on how past civilizations can be misinterpreted. Makes one think.

Edited: Dec 21, 2016, 6:32pm Top

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby **** 12/17/16

Accepted to travel to the South Pole as a visiting artist, Cooper Gosling details her trip and the extraordinary lives she meets at the base. There are rivalries, pairings, and wonderfully distinct characters whose back stories are often included. Into the mix of the scientists, who are in the middle of a three-year experiment to confirm or deny the Big Bang, comes a climate change denier forced on the base by a pair of right-wing Congressmen who have threatened polar funding.

The author's sister has overwintered at the Pole, so I think the atmosphere among the Polies is probably drawn pretty accurately. These are serious people, made so largely by the physical dangers and restrictions of the place: close quarters, infrequent baths, too much or too little daylight, and killer temperatures. Combine this with very strong personalities, competition among the scientists' visions, tensions between the scientists and the maintenance crew, and, of course, the presence of a science denier. The scientists are appalled by his presence, not least because working at the Pole is very, very serious life-and-death business, not to be messed with just to make a political statement. This man's presence is central to the story, but it actually works in quite nicely and doesn't turn the book into a thriller, thank goodness.

I had only one complaint in a book I otherwise loved: the climate change denier's backstory is told in some detail, and I really, really didn't care what his personal reasons were. I skimmed that section and didn't think it was necessary to include it at all. Skip that section and give yourself a wonderful read about a place you'll probably never be able to experience yourself.

(Courtesy of Netgalley. To be published in 2017.)

Dec 21, 2016, 11:08am Top

South Pole Station sounds interesting.

Dec 21, 2016, 1:38pm Top

Great review of South Pole Station, Margaret!

Edited: Dec 21, 2016, 6:35pm Top

>142 RidgewayGirl: Do keep an eye on out for it. I think you'd like it.

>143 kidzdoc: Thanks, Darryl! I hope you get to read it.

Edited: Dec 24, 2016, 6:23pm Top

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey **** 12/23/16

A character study of three astronauts during a 17-month simulation of a round-trip to Mars.

The astronauts have been chosen for experience, expertise, and compatibility. They are Helen, a 50s-something widow with an adult daughter with whom she has trouble connecting; Sergei, divorced with two teenage sons who now live with their mother and stepfather in NJ; and Yoshi, married to a high-level robotics exec but with no kids. If they make it through the sim, they will likely be chosen to be the first humans to set foot on the real Mars. The sim is very difficult and lifelike. Weightlessness and simulated ship gravity have been built in, as well as lift-off, landing, problems with the ship, and just about every variable the designers have imagined. There is no help from the outside except what can be offered over the communications system. It's so real the astronauts frequently forget they are on Earth.

Each of the crew, one of the managers, and various family members are the focus of various chapters, and much time is spent on introspection and on trying to parse the true meanings of each others' intentions and moods. This sounds like it would be quite irritating, and I wondered at first if I could stand it, because as their innermost thoughts and suspicions are revealed it becomes clear there are no entirely likable characters here. But somehow it all fits very nicely with the difficulties encountered by the crew and by the families from whom they are separated except for messages they leave each other, accompanied by increasingly long pauses in response times, as would be true on the real voyage.

This story has stuck with me. I've read quite a few Martian expedition novels, but this is the first time the entire trip takes place during a simulation and with such an emphasis on characterization. There is a wonderfully unexpected frisson of fear brought on by an experience one of the astronauts has part way through the mission. It adds a dimension to the story I couldn't quite imagine how the author would resolve.

An unusual story that surprised me. I wish there was more.

Edited: Dec 28, 2016, 10:20pm Top

The Gods of Second Chances by Dan Berne **½ 12/28/16

Ray Bancroft, a widowed Alaskan fisherman, has raised his 11-year old granddaughter by himself since her birth. Ray fishes seasonally and supplements his income by chartering fishing outings for tourists. His business partner is his half-Tlingit best friend Felix, who years earlier suffered a stroke and can no longer make decisions. Otherwise Felix is a wonderful partner - and a staunch believer in appeasing the spirits. Now, while facing a lawsuit brought by a careless customer, Ray must also prepare for the return of his long-absent drug-addict/ex-con daughter.

There are some very interesting parts to this book, especially about the lives of the fishermen, but there is just way too much drama for what starts out as a gentle look at a quiet life: a lawsuit, a new girlfriend, the now-sober but religious-zealot daughter who wants custody of her child, and the criminal father of the child, just released from prison. This all takes place over a couple of months. And Ray, who seems like a reasonable sort at the beginning of the book, falls apart and becomes unable to approach any of this with patience or forethought. It just didn't all hang together for me.

Group: Club Read 2016

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