All posts by Annette

Review: War of Shadows (Gershom Gorenberg)

If you’re interested in WWII, and specifically, the North African Theater battles between the Desert Fox himself and British forces, this is a book for you.,

Gorenberg helpfully provides a listing of all the players at the front of the book, so if you’re not intimately familiar with everything that was going on in the chaos of North Africa, you’ll find that handy, The story, at its heart. is about people: their victories, but also their great failures. Both are abundant here – it is a war, after all.

It’s a dense book, and requires attention. Here and there, it strays a little outside the lines (and it is clear the author is both very familiar with and very passionate about the period examined during these periods). However, it is a worthy read, an these occasional ramblings are worth it in the overall scheme of things.

Four and a half stars out of five, for the rambles, rounded up to five for a well-written and entertaining (as entertaining as war can be) book.

Thanks to Perseus Books/Public Affairs and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Good Sister (Sally Hepworth)

The Good Sister starts off slowly – to be perfectly honest, it starts out slowly for the first third of the book. However, if you hang on, the rest of the book will definitely be worth your attention.

Rose and Fern, fraternal twins, grew up with a sociopathic abuser of a mother. Fern, who clearly is autistic (most likely Aspberger’s) is protected both in her youth and in her adulthood, by Rose. Fern of course lives a fairly regimented life until she finds out that Rose cannot get pregnant. Fern decides she’ll show her love for her sister by having a baby for her. The narrative is provided from the point of view of Rose, via her journal, and Fern, via her simply living her life.

That’s the basic storyline, and it doesn’t really take off until Fern has to start varying her routine, given that her routine has not thus far allowed her to do things like go and dates and such. We also find out that Rose is not quite the doting and caring sister we think her to be based on the opening of the book.

There’s a lot to like in this: it’s a psychological thriller, without a doubt, has some good twists, and has one of the main characters afflicted with a condition without taking that character into some weird place, which happens all too often. The writing is good, and there are no major plot holes. If the front end was a tad speedier, I’d give it five stars, but it still is a solid four star read.

Thanks to St, Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: 13 Days to Die (Matt Miksa)

Sometimes, I don’t mind if a book doesn’t quite know what it wants to be when it grows up.

This is not one of those times.

13 Days to Die spreads itself across several genres – thriller (political, medical), mystery (hunting an ID to attach to a person), flat out political commentary, conspiracy theories, etc.

The basics: a man comes out of the forest in Tibet, looking like Patient Zero of a new bug that could easily become a pandemic, which will look pretty familiar to anyone living through 2020. An American intel officer impersonating a journalist, Olen Grave, is sent off to investigate this, and teams up with a Chinese medical doctor, Dr. Zhou, also investigating it.

It doesn’t spoil anything to say that Patient Zero is not just some random dude, but is more than he seems to be. Grave (it isn’t necessary to telegraph what’s going on by naming someone Grave, author, unless you want to add pulpy fiction to the list of genres) and Zhou get caught up in a (shocker!) conspiracy involving their respective countries. They have to figure out what is going on before the planet gets nuked into oblivion.

There are some unnecessary afterwords about characters at the end, and it’s at this point where the train really goes off the rails.

The story is okay, but the book could have been better if it decided whether to go into full-on conspiracy theorist ground.

Two out of five stars.

Thanks to Crooked Lane and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Skylark’s Secret (Fiona Valpy)

There are some books that you can’t say a ton about in a review, because it all involves spoilers. This is one of those books. It isn’t to say that the details are worth skipping, because they are not. This is quite a good book about homecoming and relationships and how family members interact with one another and the world around them.

We have a protagonistic duo in this book – both daughter (to open the book) and mother (as we travel between time periods) are involved in making the story that is shaped by their experiences both in the small Scottish town in which they live but also by the larger world outside that town.

If you enjoy literary fiction with familial conflict and the secrets small towns can hold, you’ll very probably like this book, even if you have never set a toe on Scottish soil.

Four out of five stars.

Thanks to Amazon UK and NetGalley for the review copy.

 

Review: The Last Exit – Jenny Lu #1 (Michael Kaufman)

The Last Exit features two main characters:on is Jen Lu, a cop in a near-future earth where climate change has ravaged the planet and the Russians appear to have taken over DC(?) but we still have a President and Vice resident. The other is Chandler, an AI implant in Lu’s head, who only “lives” for five years.

The world of this future has those in their late 40s and early 50s having a good chance of contracting mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in this work, changed slightly to become the acronym ROSE). The top scientists have decided it’s because there are too many old people, so the official policy becomes this: a child can receive the treatment for ROSE, but only if their parents decide to exit when they reach their mid 60s. The policy, of course, tends to result in a lot of elder abuse, with parents at time being abused by their children because the parents don’t want to exit. The mega-rich, naturally, live by a different set of rules – they neither have to exit, nor do their children lack for the treatment, should they need it. The adults who seem to live forever are called Timeless, a strata unreachable for the usual day to day population.

Lu hears rumors of something called Eden – she isn’t sure if it’s a place or a treatment, but keeps running into mention of it, usually at murder scenes. She mentions it to her boss, but he tells her to stow it and focus on her job. But with Eden popping up again and again, she can’t help but poke into it, despite the warnings from her boss, and despite the shadowy figures, including a rep from BigPharma, of course, who meet with her precinct to warn of a counterfeit treatment that causes people to age like progeria on steroids, leaving them dead within three days. Conspiracies galore!

The AI, Chandler, seems to be a route through which the author can get to the reader without it being infodumpy, and it does work to an extent. There were a couple of times when I wondered how it could have seen anything if Lu just scanned past something. These were minor issues, though.

Overall, it isn’t a bad mystery, and while the social justice stuff is here, it is not completely in your face, so if you’re of a more conservative bent, it likely won’t be too preachy for you.

Three and a half stars out of five, rounded up to four.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

 

Review: The Artist’s Journey (Kent Nerburn)

What would you say if you received a letter from a young artist, asking if it was possible to make a life in your art?

Most people, of course, will realistically say the odds are long – a truth. Some people would go further and say it’s a waste of time – an untruth..

I have a lot of thoughts about pursuing art in the course of a life, regardless of whether it is full time or squeezed in between other life duties. Many of those thoughts are echoed in this book, which I’d say is geared more toward younger people just beginning their trek on the artist’s path, whether that art is writing, painting, designing, dancing, or any other other ways they might express themselves. It’s easy to get into the negatives – most artists don’t make enough money to survive solely on their art, it may take years or decades to make a name, rejection is practically a given, and so on – and these, while necessary truths, need not be the only lens through which one views their art.

Nerburn incorporates these truths in this bookish response to the young artist, but weaves them into a larger framework of making good art, as Neil Gaiman would say. The question is not whether one may make a living in their selected art, but whether the continued practice and pursuit of an art is worthwhile in the life one is currently living.

Spoiler: it absolutely is.

There are many books and blog posts and videos that say this, but I found Nerburn’s version to be well written, quite thoughtful, and a good read, regardless of the age of the reader pursuing their art and if they are a neophyte or grizzled veteran.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Vatican Conspiracy – Marco Venetti #1 (Peter Hogenkamp)

A fine debut in a new series!

Marco Venetti – scratch that, Father Marco Venetti – is a former sailor in the Italian Navy. Not just a sailor, though: he has the skillset of a special forces member. This skillset isn’t often necessary in his current job, but when his ex shows up, carrying stories of human trafficking, it’s a good thing he has them.

Venetti is a good character – he’s not happy about taking lives, and he’s a bit on the fence about his vows and weighing those against helping Elena. It’s nice to have a main character whose flaws and hangups do not involve them being stalked by serial killers and the like. Venetti’s introspection revolves around him taking proactive steps in life (before this book begins and within it) versus having the forces of life act upon him.

The action begins on the first page and doesn’t let up. As with most conspiracies, there’s more than just the surface level in play.

If you like Dan Brown or Gregg Hurwitz – an odd pairing, I know, but trust me on this – you’ll enjoy this one.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Cry Baby – Tom Thorne #17 (Mark Billingham)

I’m a sucker for origin stories, ever if I’ve never read any of the books in the series.

Such is the case with Cry Baby, listed as Tom Thorne #17, but which is essentially book zero.

The year is 1996, before everyone had the equivalent of a supercomputer in their pocket. Two boys go into the woods, but only one returns. Thorne is assigned to investigate the disappearance of the boy, but with no information at all to go on. He’s also navigating the ruins of his marriage, which comes with the additional baggage of his estranged wife’s boyfriend.

Another couple of deaths – people known and connected to the families of the two boys – ups the ante, and we discover that some people involved are not giving up a;; the information as to what they know.

It’s a taut story. The only misfire for me is a motive that is sadly not as well defined as the rest of the book.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Little Bandaged Days (Kyra Wilder)

Little Bandaged Days follows Erika, mother of two, moving to Geneva, Switzerland with her husband.

The books takes a rather strange construct, with Erika identifying and interacting with other people by using their initials – including her children. I suppose this is some kind of experiment about Erika pushing people away, but it got fairly annoying the deeper into the book I made it. These sorts of literary experiments can be done well and give a good payoff at the end, but this book fell short for me.

Erika doesn’t know the language, and makes no effort at all to learn it. She allows herself to become more and more isolated from the world in which she finds herself, and while I get it’s supposed to be about a woman slowly losing her grasp on her own mental health, I just can’t feel terribly sorry for anyone who knows they need to change x in their lives in order to have a better life, but makes zero effort to change anything at all to get to that betterment, or at least make progress on it.

This popped up for me in the mystery/thriller category, but it’s clearly a general/women’s fiction novel. It reads as if someone stepped up for a dare of writing about a woman spiraling into mental illness with the extra challenge of not naming names.

I did not like the ending, which I will not spoil, and this really sums up my review of this book: didn’t like it. Clearly, it was not for me. Sorry.

Two stars out of five.

Thanks to Abrams and NetGalley for the review copy.