Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

authorityThe mystery of Area X continues with an FBI agent’s entry into the Southern Reach. What’s going on? Why can’t anybody remember anything? Why is everyone so antagonistic? And why does everything smell bad?

Rarely have I been so disappointed with a book as I was with Authority. The first entry in this series is a gripping, psychedelic adventure that reads like a nature-gone-wild acid trip. This book, on the other hand, is like going to work with a punishing hangover. You don’t know what’s going on and everybody is pushing piles of paper at you.

“A shadow had passed over the director’s desk then. He’d been here before, or somewhere close, making these kinds of decisions before, and it had almost broken him, or broken through him. But he had no choice.” pg 18. On and on it goes. No answers, only confusion and bewilderment. I honestly thought, up until the very end, that something mega-cool was going to happen to make up for all of the so-so stuff that had happened so far. Unfortunately…

I also got super excited anytime Area X was mentioned, sort of like passing an old fling on your way to a funeral. Take this passage: “But the truth did have a simple quality to it: About thirty-two years ago, along a remote southern stretch known by some as the “forgotten coast,” an Event had occurred that began to transform the landscape and simultaneously caused an invisible border or wall to appear.” pg 35. Yes! And then we were immediately back into the boring office work/politics stuff.

“You’ve heard of the Southern Reach?” He had, mostly through a couple of colleagues who had worked there at one time. Vague allusions, keeping to the cover story about environmental catastrophe. Rumors of a chain of command that was eccentric at best. Rumors of a significant variation, of there being more to the story. But, then, there always was. He didn’t know, on hearing his mother say those words, whether he was excited or not.” pg 71. And that, my friends, is pretty much the whole book. Let me save you another 250 or so pages.

I exaggerate. A bit. It’s just that I’m incredibly disappointed in the turn this story took. I suppose I’ll read the last one in this series because I’m a completionist, but that is the only reason.

Thanks for reading!

Galore by Michael Crummey

Galore by Michael Crummey

“An intricate family saga and love story spanning two centuries, Galore is a portrait of the improbable medieval world that was rural Newfoundland, a place almost too harrowing and extravagant to be real. Remote and isolated, exposed to savage extremes of climate and fate, the people of Paradise Deep persist in a realm where the line between the everyday and the otherworldly is impossible to distinguish.”

-Description from Goodreads

galoreGalore is all over the place. And I didn’t like it.

I like epic historical fiction. (The Far Pavilions) But, this one wasn’t epic. It was more a collection of pointless stories strung together than a rich tapestry with unifying threads.

I don’t necessarily mind plot lines about priests who act in un-priestly ways. (The Thorn Birds) But there was nothing redeeming about this priest.

In fact, I can’t think of a single character that I cared for much. That’s a shame because there were so many to choose from.

On to the next book. 🙂 I recommend giving this one a pass.

Thanks for reading!

The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3) by Rick Yancey

The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3) by Rick Yancey

thelaststarThe Last Star is the final entry in The 5th Wave, a trilogy about aliens, teenagers and the end of the world. It is also a morality play about what matters. Why do cars, jobs and stuff matter so much when, in the end, it is all about our relationships and love.

I’m sorry to say that I found the ending to be unsatisfying. Yancey wove such a puzzling yarn that I felt like he didn’t completely untangle all the knots. To be fair, there was a lot going on. But, I read the last pages and I felt a big, internal: “huh?”

This book also reminded me of The Road. “From piles of blackened bones to corpses wrapped head to toe in tattered sheets and old blankets, just lying there in the open like they’d dropped from the sky, alone or in groups of ten or more. So many bodies that they faded into the background, just another part of the mess, another piece of the urban vomit.”pg 70.

The Last Star also raised big questions about civilization and its durability. How thin is the veneer on civilization? What would it take for humanity to turn on itself? Most dystopian writers say, not much.

I don’t know. I’m of two minds on the issue. One part of me says, civilization is a flimsy set of agreements that could easily crumble with enough fear, famine and plague.

The other part of me, the eternal optimist side, says that there is something within each of us that even the worst calamity couldn’t touch.

Kill the body, yes. Kill hope, yes. But kill the soul and its purpose? No. I feel like that part would find a way. And part of that soul’s purpose, I think, is connection to others. That means, civilization. So, there’s something more permanent to it, something fated.

Anyway, The 5th Wave as a three-part story is intense, gritty and could lead to some excellent discussions because it leaves a lot of open-ended questions and ambiguous answers. Rather like life.

Thanks for reading!

The Eight Human Talents: The Yogic Way to Restore the Balance and Serenity Within You by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa

The Eight Human Talents: The Yogic Way to Restore the Balance and Serenity Within You by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa

eighthumantalentsThe Eight Human Talents is part-story and part-instruction manual for the practice of Kundalini yoga. I’ve only ever practiced hatha yoga and this is very different from what I’ve learned. I’ve tried a couple poses and this is definitely going to take some practice.

If I learned anything from this book, it is to breathe deeply. One of Gurmukh’s main points is that by connecting with the breath, we reconnect with ourselves.

Also, don’t be afraid to try, even if you fail. “If we can make one step towards happiness, towards healing, towards change, miracles begin to happen. The Kundalini Yoga and Meditation in this book are a way of making those small steps towards happiness. If you will try even one thing from this book-one breathing exercise, one stretch, one meditation- know that somewhere I am cheering right out loud for you, because I know that making that first step is the hardest thing to do…” introduction, xxii.

Some of Gurmukh’s stories were saccharine sweet, but I enjoyed most of them. “We are powerless over every other person on the planet, and we only have power over our own lives. No matter how problematic the people in your life are, you are always the solution.” pg 125.

I’ll have to get back to you on if these exercises deliver on the myriad of promises that Gurmukh makes. So far, I’ve discovered that my lower back needs to be strengthened and I should work on my neck flexibility.

She ties all of her suggested poses to different chakras and energies found within the body. If that concept is too far out for you, you may be better served with a different introduction to Kundalini yoga.

Recommended for beginners to moderately experienced practitioners.

Thanks for reading!

Sarah (The Canaan Trilogy #1) by Marek Halter

Sarah (The Canaan Trilogy #1) by Marek Halter

sarahA historical fiction about the early days of Abraham from Sarah’s (Sarai’s) point-of-view.

I think that this novel wasted an opportunity for a great story. Like a majority of women in the Bible, Sarai’s life was largely untold. So, Marek Halter had a blank slate to work with.

And what he wrote for Sarai was a life of waiting. Waiting for Abram to talk to his god. Waiting for Abram to come back from war. Waiting to become pregnant. Waiting and wandering, looking for a home.

If I had written this story, Sarai would have been so busy doing something spectacular that she would have hardly even noticed Abram’s absence or presence. Maybe she invented a new form of weaving. Maybe she started her own business selling those herbed loaves that she was so proud of. Or, to introduce a fantasy twist, maybe she was secretly a vampire hunter, like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

My point is: for a story about a woman, it was mostly about the men in her life. Which makes it not very different than the source material. And, in my mind, a disappointment.

Thanks for reading!

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook  by Christina Henry

lostboyChristina Henry, author of the chilling Alice, which is a brilliant re-telling of Alice in Wonderland, has shifted focus to a new fairytale. In Lost Boy, readers get to experience the story of the boy-who-never-grew-up through the origin story of his arch-nemesis. And what a story it is.

“Peter will say I’m a villain, that I wronged him, that I never was his friend. But I told you already. Peter lies. This is what really happened.” loc 85, ebook. Goosebumps? Yeah.

Fans of the original tale will need to prepare themselves for having beloved characters shown in a new and sinister light. Think Longbourn, but worse, much worse. “I had been with Peter longer than I’d been in the Other Place, longer than I could count, anyway. The seasons did not pass here and the days had no meaning. I would be here forever. I would never grow up.” loc 146, ebook. The others in Peter’s group call the narrator, Jamie.

He is a fierce fighter- the best. And he protects the younger and weaker members of those lucky few that Peter brings back from the real world or in this tale, the Other Place. This protective instinct is sneered at by Peter who accuses Jamie of “babying” or “mothering” the boys. In truth, there is no worse insult in Peter’s arsenal. Grown ups either abuse you or take your stuff or both. They’re pirates.

“(Peter) had invited us there, had promised us we would be young and happy forever. So we were. Unless we got sick, or died, or were taken by the pirates.” loc 257, ebook. So, Neverland is not the paradise that it is portrayed as in the original tale. There are also monsters called Many-Eyed that eat the boys alive, if they catch them.

“Was this, I wondered, what it felt like to be a grown-up? Did you always feel the weight of things on you, your cares pressing you down like a burden you could never shake? No wonder Peter could fly. He had no worries to weight him to the earth.” loc 1971, ebook.

The stage is set. Love and hate intertwine with magic, blood and, of course, a little bit of fairy dust.

If you enjoyed this tale, you may also want to explore some other Peter Pan re-tellings like Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson or All Darling Children by Katrina Monroe. The last, a horror-filled offering, may really appeal to those who want to delve more into the potential shadows of Neverland. There’s a price to pay for never growing up. In that tale, as in this, Peter pays it without a qualm.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for a free advance reader’s copy of this book. Reminder: the short quotations I cited in this review may vary in the final published version.

Thanks for reading!

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

mistressoftheartA medieval mystery in which Simon of Naples, a eunuch and a unique woman with the ability to decipher the wounds inflicted on bodies, race to discover the identity of a violent killer of children before he strikes again.

From its opening lines, The Mistress of the Art of Death had me in its thrall. “Here they come. From down the road we can hear harnesses jingling and see dust rising into the warm spring sky. Pilgrims returning after Easter in Canterbury. Tokens of the mitered, martyred Saint Thomas are pinned to cloaks and hats- the Canterbury monks must be raking it in. They’re a pleasant interruption in the traffic of carts whose drivers and oxen are surly with fatigue from plowing and sowing. These people are well fed, noisy, exultant with the grace their journey has gained them. But one of them, as exuberant as the rest, is a murderer of children.” pg 1.

I have been to Canterbury and viewed the spot where Thomas Becket was cut down by the knights of Henry II. It is an amazing place. Even more so when you consider that it has been standing for so long. I loved going back there, if only in a story.

The Mistress of the Art of Death herself, Adelia, is a brilliant and headstrong heroine. She embodies what I imagine women to have been in the time before we were allowed the same privileges as men. “She sighed with impatience. “I see you are regretting that the woman, like the doctor, is unadorned. It always happens.” She glared at him. … “Turn over that stone”- she pointed to a flint nearby-“and you will find a charlatan who will dazzle you with the favorable conjunction of Mercury and Venus, flatter your future, and sell you colored water for a gold piece. I can’t be bothered with it. From me you get the actuality.” He was taken aback. Here was the confidence, even arrogance, of a skilled artisan.” pg 52.

The reality that Adelia has been taught to see is not pretty. She learns all about the horrors that mankind inflicts on one another through her schooling. It has hardened her, but she seeks, beyond all else, to give voice and justice to the murdered. “Man hovers between Paradise and the Pit… Sometimes rising to one, sometimes swooping to the other. To ignore his capacity for evil is as obtuse as blinding oneself to the heights to which he can soar.” pg 77.

And yet, Adelia is still sassy. I loved her attitude. “He found her modest- a description, Adelia had long decided, that was applied to women who gave men no trouble.” pg 88. Though this novel could have dragged the reader through the stultifying reality of medieval attitudes and prejudices, instead Ariana Franklin takes us on a sparkling adventure filled with just enough detail to give the flavor of the time.

Recommended for those who like mysteries, historical fiction, strong heroines and perhaps some romance on the side. The Mistress of the Art of Death, though it touches on dark themes, was a welcome respite for me from a world that so often shows its shadows. I hope that it is an escape for you too.

Thanks for reading!