Review – The Map of the Sky

H.G. Wells is an unhappy man. His latest work, The War of the Worlds, has a sequel that he didn’t write. Having agreed to meet with the American author who he believes has unjustly made money off his idea, Wells grumbles his way through the streets of London to the pub for the meeting. This author, who impresses Wells more than he cares to admit, tells him incredible tales of monsters and aliens and when Wells fails to believe, he offers to show him. In a locked room at the natural history museum, Wells gazes upon what he believes to be a true Martian — just like the creatures he created in his latest book.

At the same time, in America, young socialite Emma Harlow is once more declining the attentions of almost every eligible man in her social circle. When one of the men, Montgomery Gilmore, manages to annoy her to the point of a challenge, she tells him what it will take to win her hand in marriage. A fan of H.G. Wells’s latest book, she wants him to re-create the Martian invasion from The War of the Worlds. Gilmore, a man with money to burn, accepts the challenge and sets out to construct the invasion in the hope of winning Emma’s heart.

When the day arrives for Gilmore’s event, people gather around a supposed space ship in a field outside of London. Among the onlookers are Emma and Wells who was drug there by an inspector from Scotland Yard believing Wells would know what is going to happen. What happens is beyond them all and has them running for their lives.

Palma takes several different stories and weaves a tale that starts in London, travels to the Antarctic, heads to America, and then lands back in London. I have to admit that starting this review was daunting simply because I didn’t know where to start. There is so much going on in this book but Palma manages the story well, tying up loose ends and making each part of the book feel complete.

The Map of the Sky is the sequel to his first novel, The Map of Time. While I want to say this book can stand alone, there are some characters that return, in new incarnations, and having the entire back story does help in reading this one. Palma obviously has a special regard for Wells’s work and even though his works are prominent aspects of this book, I don’t think one has to have read the books — in this particular case it is Wells’s The War of the Worlds — to enjoy the story.

Time travel, aliens, historical figures — it’s a nice mix. I enjoyed the odd historical figure thrown in, Edgar Allan Poe for example, and Palma does a good job of not making you feel as if he’s tossing out names but creating enough back story for that character to make sense in the full context of the book. I appreciate that. However, I will caution that this isn’t a book that lets you come and go; there’s a lot going on for it to be a leisurely read. It’s more the type of book that sucks you in with the small hints buried in the story and twists and turns that don’t seem to have an ending until the entire scheme is played out.

Palma is an appealing writer and I have to say I enjoyed both of his books. He’s into the details which make his stories come alive.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of the Sky

By Felix J. Palma

Atria Books

ISBN: 9781451660319

4 stars

Review – The Reckoning

The Reckoning is the second book in The Taker trilogy. My review of The Taker is here.

The Reckoning picks up where the first book in The Taker trilogy left off — with Lanny running away from Adair, the man who bestowed eternal life upon her. After escaping the small cell Lanny imprisoned him in, Adair is now free and looking to exact revenge on Lanny, the woman he supposedly loves and has convinced himself he cannot live without.

Lanny is on the run with her new love Luke trying not only to avoid criminal charges for murder back in Maine but also any last vestige of her previous life. The last 200 years, while memorable for numerous reasons and punctuated with the odd famous individual or well-known events, have also been filled with terror for her. She knows that the prison holding her former lover, and tormentor, Adair, may break at any time and he will come looking for her. When the day Lanny most dreaded arrives and Adair is freed, she tried to impress on everyone in her life, current and past acquaintances, that Adair being free is more than a simple matter of hiding. She knows he will find her and she doesn’t want to let that happen knowing only years of pain, fear, and humiliation will be hers to endure. Thanks to her immortality, death will never be a release from the nightmare she knows awaits her.

Luke doesn’t understand her fear, and not having ever known Adair or anyone else from Lanny’s past, he believes her fear to be irrational. Knowing she can’t have Luke found by Adair, Lanny leaves him to search out the others and hopefully find answers and some solace in their company. What Lanny finds is not at all what she expected.

As in the first book in this series, The Taker, a good deal of the story is told through flashbacks of Lanny and Adair’s lives. They spend days thinking over their pasts and wondering where it got them. This is especially true in the case of Adair, who after 200 years of imprisonment is now part of a world that doesn’t conform to his style of living. For a man with freedom, he seems oddly intimidated by it —- he can’t frighten the world and its people into submission. Even the ones he has bestowed eternity upon aren’t as he remembered.

While Adair is trying to form some sense of identity (and search out Lanny to exact vengeance for locking him behind stone) Lanny is looking for some sort of forgiveness. I have to admit that I felt some of the characters, Adair in particular, changed too much and too little all at the same time. Adair is a monster, to be certain, a man obsessed with a woman he’s tortured physically and mentally, and, yet, he can’t understand why she wants him buried behind a stone wall. Of course, any time he becomes soft hearted, you’re immediately reminded of his past actions. Katsu doesn’t let you forget you aren’t supposed to like Adair.

At the end of The Taker, I was wondering where Katsu would take this story and now at the end of The Reckoning, I’m feeling much the same curiosity. I think Katsu has a skill for building characters with extensive pasts that continue to fascinate. In many ways, I was left guessing as to what the truth was and what was told to impress or scare. The characters all walk fine lines. They may be immortal but they’re all part of a mortal world that most likely wouldn’t understand or accept them. Most find ways to blend in and survive but I still can’t get past their actions. It’s a character driven story with incredibly interesting and sometimes hateful characters and that’s keeping me firmly attached to the story.

If you’re interested in The Reckoning, start with The Taker. This is a story best read from the beginning. It’s a tale of obsession, love, and fear among immortals who can’t be harmed by the trials of life but who manage to do a number on each other. You’ll need all the gory details to understand why waiting on the final book in this series will feel like an eternity.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Reckoning

By Alma Katsu

Gallery Books

ISBN: 9781451651805

4 stars

Review – The Seventh Gate

Sophie Riedesel is a teenager in Berlin in 1932. Other than being too smart for her own good with a biting sense of humor and always ready with a sarcastic remark, she’s a fairly normal young woman of the time. When Hitler begins his rise to power, her life takes a drastic turn. Her father, a scientist and a member of the Communist party with strong beliefs, suddenly switches to the Nazi party and espouses views she never thought he had. Sophie wants to believe he did it to save his job and family, but she isn’t entirely sure that’s the case. She has trouble understanding her father now, and it becomes even worse when her boyfriend, who she’s known since they were small children, also joins the party telling her things she doesn’t want to hear.

With all the men in her once-stable life now on the wrong side of her belief system, she takes comfort in her growing friendship with an older Jewish neighbor, Isaac Zarco, and his eclectic and — according to the Nazi party — socially unacceptable group of friends, which includes Jews, social activists, and some former circus performers.

As Germany changes, so does Sophie. Her relationship with her father, once open and loving, becomes halting and difficult. Her already strained and distant relationship with her mother, who outwardly doesn’t seem to care for her, turns nasty. Her younger brother, Hansi, a boy who hasn’t spoken in years, is a silent comfort and burden to her at the same time. She shares things with him she doesn’t tell anyone else, secretly wishes he would go away, and deeply wants to understand what goes on in his head.

Sophie becomes more and more involved with Isaac and the work he and his friends are doing to try and stop the growing power of the Nazi party. Isaac and his friends have formed a group called the Ring, which is working to get the word out and possibly stop the atrocities taking place in Germany. When a member of the group is murdered, Sophie, having grown close to Isaac, begins investigating the murder and asking questions in places she shouldn’t. She eventually becomes so involved in Isaac’s life that he begins making plans to send her away before any harm can come to her.

I don’t read much about World War II because I find it such a sad time in human history, but to me this book is an exception. What drew me to it was the mystery thrown in and mixed with the idea of kabbalist mysticism. Sophie is growing up fast in a city hampered with new rules every day, and it was particularly interesting seeing it all happening through her eyes. She takes risks, false steps, and makes mistakes, but sticks to her beliefs even when she knows what she’s doing could bring harm to those she loves. Her life, which once revolved around her boyfriend and obsession with Hollywood movies, is now made up of a group of people she realizes she can’t live without.

Isaac, who is a scholar of Jewish mysticism, begins teaching Sophie what he knows, and her love for Isaac and understanding of what drives him becomes a force in her life she will fight for in ways she never thought possible. Seeing Sophie change from a young girl fascinated by her own growing sexuality into a woman concerned with the political implications of her country’s governmental policies was an interesting metamorphosis in the way it affected her life in a most singular way — her family and the family she made. It’s Sophie’s ties that make this book so moving.

If you love historical fiction with characters that make no apologies for who they are and what they do, The Seventh Gate is a book you should read.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Seventh Gate

By Richard Zimler

Overlook Press

ISBN: 9781590207130

4 stars

 

Review – Railsea

Railsea has been compared to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, but it’s really just China Miéville’s take on an adventure story. Its philosophies, the hunt, the unknown, and the need for answers and exploration of our origins drive this novel.

Shamus Yes ap Soorap (Sham for short) is the youngest crew member of the Medes, a mole train on the hunt for a big catch on the great Railsea. He has dreams of working salvage — finding new things, old things, and alien things. What he actually does is assist the doctor of the Medes and bring water to the men and women who are working to break down the moles they hunt into oil, bone and skin. The captain of the Medes, Naphi, is on the hunt for a mole — a legendary ivory-colored mole called Mocker-Jack. She believes, as other mole train captains do, that capturing Mocker-Jack is her destiny.

When the Railsea leads the crew of the Medes to an old wreck, Sham goes with the crew to investigate and finds something he hopes to make his very own piece of salvage. Instead, he hands over the small camera memory chip to the captain. The images it contains lead Sham and his captain in essentially the same direction with different outcomes — Sham is led to two children of now dead-explorers, and the captain is led to new, never-before-conceived hunting grounds. Naphi’s dreams of bringing down Mocker-Jack, her famed ivory-colored mole, now seem within reach.

What Miéville does that I absolutely love is create places so familiar, yet at the same time so strange. He creates a land that the crew is afraid to step on for fear of dying. This world of safe land among animal-prowled soft dirt is both alien and accessible at the same time. It’s a world of dirt, but he makes you see it as a world of water — deep and unsafe water at that. Out in the Railsea, it’s the tracks that keep everyone safe, and you have no choice but to believe that’s the absolute truth of this world.

This is also a book filled with characters you’ll care about and fear for in a world poised to attack. Sham is young, untested, naïve, and trusts people too easily. He never knew the fate of his parents, and when he has the opportunity to bring closure to two children whose parents have died, he sets out to do just that, unaware of the implications his actions may bring. His pet, an injured daybat he nursed back to health and named Daybe, is a stalwart friend and more than just a silly little bat. Daybe is fearless, with crazy loyalty to young Sham, and is one of the book’s most memorable characters.

I’ve read several of Miéville’s books, and he’s now on the list of authors from whom I anxiously await books. No matter the topic, a book by Miéville is one that I want to read. He has an ability to take our world, warp a few elements, twist a few basic beliefs, and make it something so new and strange. These new worlds don’t stop existing simply because the book is closed. His worlds and stories stay with you long after the end.

As a side note, I’ve seen this book described as a young adult novel. It’s really much more than that, and much more than just a re-telling of Moby Dick. It’s about dreams and adventure in a world we want to get to know better. And isn’t that why we read? China Miéville makes these worlds we crave possible. In fact, you should be reading Railsea now.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Railsea
By China Miéville

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345524522

4.5 stars

Review – The House of Velvet and Glass

Sibyl Allston spends her days mourning the loss of her younger sister and mother whose lives ended tragically when the Titanic sank in April of 1914. The two were returning home from a grand European tour and their loss devastates the family. As the oldest daughter and most responsible of the Allston children, Sibyl takes over as the woman of the house but doesn’t have the backbone to garner any respect — not from the house staff or family acquaintances. Accepting of the fact that she will most likely remain single, she does what she can to make her life, and her father’s, as normal and comforting as she can considering their loss.

When Sibyl’s brother Harley is kicked out of Harvard under circumstances that he won’t discuss — everyone assumes it has something to do with a young woman — her already heartbreaking and complicated life gets one more added layer of sadness. Her father and brother can’t be in the same room together without fighting, and after a particularly stressful time, Harley leaves. Later, a young woman shows up at the house covered in blood with news that Harley has been severely injured. While waiting at the hospital for news on Harley, Benton Derby, Sibyl’s former love — a man she still has great feelings for — shows up wanting to help throwing not only Sibyl, but the whole family, into a tail spin.

Sibyl, a devotee of fortune telling, begins to find solace in the art hoping that a medium used by her mother will help her find comfort in the memories of the past and answers about the future. What she doesn’t understand yet is her own gift in the art and the affect it will have on her life and her family members.

What Katherine Howe does very well is capture a moment in time. Boston of 1915 is a rich setting and she doesn’t let any of the details slip. The book moves around in time thanks to the fortune telling aspect, but the characters pull the story back reminding you where the story is taking place. Sibyl is a particularly poignant character looking for comfort and acceptance from her father but also from a deceased mother that lost hope in her and placed all her dreams of a good marriage match on her younger sister. Sibyl’s a sad person but so wrapped up in handling the necessities of her day that she hides most of her feelings hoping others won’t see her hurting. Her need for comfort, acceptance, and assurance land her in a dangerous place.

While I did enjoy certain aspects of the fortune telling in this story — it was a popular pastime at this point in history — it did make parts of the story feel slightly disjointed. It’s a nice touch but is also a bit heavy handed making the story feel like it is coming and going at the same time.

This is Howe’s second book following The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She’s a writer more than willing to immerse her readers in history and if you enjoy historical fiction, Howe is a writer to look to.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The House of Velvet and Glass

Katherine Howe

Hyperion

ISBN: 9781401340919

3.5

 

Review – The Technologists

Boston, 1868, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is about to graduate its first class. Founded four years before, the school has endured the mocking of its neighboring and well-known school, Harvard University, but is coming into its own.

On a foggy night at the harbor, a terrible accident takes place resulting in the wreckage of several ships. The accident is blamed on faulty compasses, which were reported to spin wildly at the time several of the ships were pulling into port causing the catastrophe. Some individuals believe it might be the work of some strange phenomenon and others a madman. The police aren’t sure who to turn to for answers — Harvard with its gravitas or the new upstart school with the means for experimentation. When a second odd event, glass melting spontaneously in an area in downtown Boston, causes the death of a popular actress, the police turn to an esteemed Harvard professor to find the answer. However, students from the Institute of Technology also decide to investigate knowing their means of experimentation will result in a faster answer and hopefully bring calm to the city.

Marcus Mansfield, and several of his colleagues including the first female student of the Institute, re-form The Technologists, a defunct club at the school, and begin their investigation in a secret basement laboratory experimenting with every known compound to find the answers they need. Racing to put an end to the madness now griping the city, they search for a madman using technology to prey on the fears of everyone.

Rivaling investigations take place between the two schools — old Harvard with an eminent scholar at the helm ready to explain how man has brought about the accidents and the Institute of Technology ready with chemicals and formulas to counter the out of date arguments of the old university. The police aren’t sure who to turn to and finally decide on the tried and true Harvard University but find the arguments put forth aren’t stopping the bizarre occurrences. When Marcus and his friends are able to find explanations for the events, the police aren’t willing to listen. When they finally begin to understand, it may be too late to save everyone and the city from total destruction.

The geek in me loved the science in this book. The Technologists is true to its name in that regard. Marcus Mansfield, a former soldier and factory man, is an example of the old world meeting the new. He understands technology and the fears of the men who work in the shops. The idea that man has brought down the wrath of God on himself with his experimentation adds some nice tension but unfortunately, isn’t explored in much detail as the real culprit starts to come into focus.

One of the more interesting characters in the book, Ellen Swallow the first female student at the school, adds to the outdated thoughts that man with his new experiments is testing the limits of his creator by allowing a woman to study, not only among men, but science. Her steadfast mind proves she can more than hold her own among her peers though. She might take a minute to grow on you as a character but she’s definitely one of the more notable ones.

I became a fan of Pearl’s with The Dante Club. I enjoyed the way he married technology and fear in this book and think fans of his earlier works will find The Technologists an enjoyable read as well.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Technologists

By Matthew Pearl

Random House

ISBN: 978140006657-5

3.5 stars

Review – The Stonehenge Legacy

The Stonehenge Legacy

By Sam Christer

The Overlook Press

ISBN: 9781590206768

3.5 stars

Every once in a while I crave a good thriller — the relentless pace, suspense keeping me constantly turning the page. When I finish, I want to feel windswept and out of breath from trying to keep up. For this, I’m willing to suspend all disbelief and go with it. If you’re willing to do just that, Christie spins an entertaining tale.

Nathaniel Chase is a famed treasure hunter and archeologist; though he’s more famous for this treasure hunting than his archeological advances. His sudden death is a shock to his son, Gideon, who has not spoken to him in years. Distraught and confused over the death of a father he hardly knew — Nathaniel withdrew from Gideon’s life after the death of his wife — Gideon doesn’t know what to do with the news of his father’s suicide. With nowhere else to go until he can make funeral arrangements, he decides to go to his father’s home and unexpectedly interrupts a break-in. Injured but not seriously hurt, he returns to the house wondering why anyone would be interested in his father’s home. He was a rich, well-known person but his treasures weren’t kept at his house. To Gideon, it’s more than the simple smash and grab the local police seem to think it is. Curious, he starts looking around the house and finds a hidden room full of his father’s journals written in a code only Gideon understands.

What Gideon uncovers in the journals is a record of a secret society devoted to protecting the gods of Stonehenge. Unsure of what he’s found, Gideon, an archeologist in his own right, decides to investigate and possibly infiltrate the cult. Unfortunately for Gideon, several plans are already in motion and his timing couldn’t be worse.

In thrillers of this nature, death is usually in abundance and time is always lacking. Although, the addition of Stonehenge is a nice touch and good backdrop for a story that includes a kidnapping of a famous American, the death of a British Lord’s son, and the disappearance of several others in a small, English country town. Yes, there are a few moments along the way when you go, “huh?”, but overall the plot surrounding the cult is strong enough to pull you and the plot through. Of course, you have to be willing to go along with conspiracy theories, police procedures, kidnappings, and cult behavior. Once you get there, Christer manages a pace that has you wondering when he’s going to drop the ball. But he never does. He keeps the tension going until the end. I wasn’t completely sold on the ending but things are satisfactorily wrapped up even if it might give you pause to wonder where it came from.

The Stonehenge Legacy is one of those books you want with you when you need a distraction and I mean that in a positive way. Christer does a good job of pulling you in and keeping you there with just enough intrigue, suspense, and mystery to hold you there till the end.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for The Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Review – The Taker

The Taker

By Alma Katsu

Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books

ISBN: 9781439197059

4 stars

The Taker appeared on my book radar a few months back and I won’t be shy in saying that I jumped at the chance to review this one. From what I read, it was creepy, indulgent, and worth a weekend spent huddled on the couch. I have to agree, Katsu tells one intriguing tale.

Lanore (Lanny) McIlvrae was born to poor farmers in the small town of St. Andrew in the farthest reaches of Maine. The love of her life, Jonathan, is the son of the town’s founder, Charles St. Andrew, and he stands to not only inherit his father’s place of honor but all the town’s burdens as well. Not thrilled with the prospect but refusing to turn from it, Jonathan — an extremely beautiful and desired person — copes by taking advantage of almost every woman in town, single and married. Lanny, while a good friend also longs to be on the receiving end of his love. She gets her wish and soon finds herself pregnant while desperately trying to keep her world from falling apart. On the day Lanny tells Jonathan she’s pregnant, he tells her he can’t be with her. Minutes later, Jonathan’s father announces his engagement breaking her heart twice in the same hour.

Knowing she cannot remain silent, Lanny tells her family. She’s promptly sent off to a convent in Boston to have the baby and redeem her soul. Wanting to keep the only tie she has left to her beloved Jonathan, she leaves the boat before the nuns can pick her up from the dock. On a dark residential street, lost and overwhelmed, she meets three individuals who offer her shelter and a warm meal while she figures out what to do. Drugged and used, she realizes soon there is no escape. Unfortunately, the world she fell into only grows more mysterious as time goes on. The longer she stays, the worse it gets. Lanny eventually becomes the courtesan of a man named Adair who shares a secret with her — he’s immortal and so is she now. What he wants in return for saving her and giving her eternal life is her beloved Jonathan.

The story alternates between Lanny’s past and the present while she tells, Luke, the emergency room doctor, what happened to her. Even though he doesn’t necessarily believe her story, the last thing her wants is for her to stop talking. When she convinces him to help her escape, you think it’s the worst move he can make but he sees it as the only way out of St. Andrews — away from his sad life, and a reason to live which he hasn’t been able to summon for some time. While the snippets of the present break the spell of Lanny’s tale, they’re a necessary part of the story not only serving to bring us back to reality but also Luke. The two cling to each other while running from small town cops. What they’re going through seems improbable and sometimes even stupid but it’s no match for the story Lanny tells. You want her to keep talking just as much as Luke does.

Lanny isn’t a character you feel sorry for even though what she’s been through is emotionally and physically tortuous. The reason you don’t feel sympathy is because you’re too caught up in the story. There’s something entrancing about her even if she doesn’t believe it to be true. She’s learned how to be manipulative; she had to in order to survive. But this stops you from feeling the same way Luke does for her. I like that. It isn’t something many authors can carry off — creating an alluring main character without making her completely likable. For a first time author, it’s a great feat and while not everyone will agree on how likable Lanny is, honestly it’s all personal preference here, she’s hardly innocent of anything and even she reminds you of that.

Enjoyable though the story is, you have to be comfortable with scant details about how Lanny came to be what she is and her explanation for exactly what she is. She’s immortal, but not a vampire. She’s strong and recovers quickly when injured but can die. I wanted more information here and Katsu does do a little distracting with the story itself by letting Lanny leave out some significant details from her tale. But since she’s telling her life story, you go with it. I did wonder why Luke didn’t press for details — it made me wonder what other powers Lanny conveniently left out of her story.

With one book, Katsu is now an author I will be waiting on. She tells a daring, harsh, and unapologetic tale with a main character that has you wrapped around her little finger until the very last word.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter and can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.