Friday, October 7, 2016

September Reads

Exhume (Dr. Schwartzman Series Book 1)  by Danielle Girard

Synopsis: Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman has finally found a place to belong. As the medical examiner for the San Francisco Police Department, working alongside homicide detective Hal Harris, she uncovers the tales the dead can’t tell about their final moments. It is a job that gives her purpose—and a safe haven from her former life at the hands of an abusive husband. Although it’s been seven years since she escaped that ordeal, she still checks over her shoulder to make sure no one is behind her.

My take:  This is an advanced preview novel. I receive one for free every month because I have a Kindle (or something like that).

Overall, Exhume is a serviceable mystery/suspense novel. It's not great, but it's not awful either. In the spirit of honesty, I probably won't be down for Book II.

The action and plot pull you along with a few hitches, but none that cause the plot to come to a screeching halt. Annabelle, the protagonist, is nicely conflicted. Her creepy ex-husband is annoyingly stereotyped. A LOT of plot questions remained unanswered, but not  knowing the answers isn't keeping me awake at night. There also came a point when Annabelle's actions seemed more about keeping the plot chugging along than how a scared woman might respond. Many reviewers took issue with the generic stalked wife story line, although I apparently didn't find it as heinous as they did.

If you read this novel with few expectations, you won't be disappointed.

Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb

Synopsis: Nature versus nurture...

The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice-skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be.

Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD but never one like this. A review of the security videos reveals that the victims were killed with a tactical laser rifle fired by a sniper, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the list of locations where the shooter could have set up seems endless, the number of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer.

Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources—and genius—at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two—one older, one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil.

My take:  I am a J.D. Robb junkie. I'm not rational. I like the books in spite of myself, and I have no words to speak in my own defense.

The Forgotten: Aten's Last Queen by J. Lynn Else

Synopsis: "I am King Tut’s wife, but my name is barely a whisper in history’s memory. I was the last of my family to survive the Aten revolution. I had a child at age 12 and was forced to marry three times. But that didn’t mean my story ended badly. My name is Ankhesenamun, my loved ones called me An, and I will stop at nothing to save my family."

Despite the vast treasure found in Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb, there is little left over regarding his bride. From the turbulence of her father’s reign, Akhenaten, who forced monotheism on the country to the mending of these wounds by the now-famous Tutankhamun, her life saw more change than most ancient Egyptians dared even dream about. Evidence left to us about her is this: She was forced to marry her father, her brother, and her grandfather. She gave birth to one healthy baby girl and two stillborn girls. She was widowed at age 12 and 23. She saw four pharaohs crowned within 23 years. After her grandfather took the throne, she disappeared from history.

My take:  I tend to avoid books about the Armana period. One, because I'm just not that interested in that time period. Two, they're often mawkishly sentimental  or just flat out wrong historically. I rarely make it past the first paragraph, much less the first chapter. Some notable exceptions are Nick Drake's excellent Rhotep series (the English do Ancient Egypt well) and Michelle Moran's Nefertiti.

The hook for Aten's Last Queen was good enough, so I gave it a try.  It went downhill from there.

The author certainly did some research about ancient Egypt and the Armana period. However, she screws up a lot of stuff, which indicates she did just enough research to get by.  For example, a Royal Nurse in ancient Egypt is not the same as a downtrodden poor woman that you might find in medieval England. Another example of close but no cigar: Akhenaten is described as naming his city Akhenaten after himself. The city's name was Akhetaten meaning "City of the Horizon." Yep, those Egyptian names are tricky.

But what about the novel itself? The writing is prosaic, verging on banal; and grammar errors abound. Her and her sister do something or they came to Pharaoh and I are typical examples. I'm also pretty sure Egyptian children, even non-royals,  were never called kids.

An's voice, as a prepubescent princess, was unbelievable. Yes, children grew up faster in those days, but I can't suspend enough disbelief to accept a 9 year old  religious philosopher.  I have a particular peeve about childish voices that sound too adult, so this quirk alone could have ruined the book for me. . . if there weren't so many others.

In short, I gave up. If you want novels about the Armana period, read Nick Drake and Michelle Moran.

The Kingmaker's Daughter (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels) by Philippa Gregory

Synopsis: In this New York Times bestseller that inspired the critically acclaimed Starz miniseries The White Queen, Philippa Gregory tells the tale of Anne Neville, a beautiful young woman who must navigate the treachery of the English court as her father, known as the Kingmaker, uses her and her sister as pawns in his political game.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter—Philippa Gregory’s first sister story since The Other Boleyn Girl—is the gripping tale of the daughters of the man known as the Kingmaker, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick: the most powerful magnate in fifteenth-century England. Without a son and heir, he uses his daughters, Anne and Isabel, as pawns in his political games, and they grow up to be influential players in their own right.

My take:  The  White Queen was the first book I ever read  that made sense of the War of the Roses.  I loved the Starz mini-series, and the Neville sisters were some of the most interesting characters. However, I thoroughly disliked The Other Boleyn Girl for its rampant historical inaccuracies. So, I approached The Kingmaker's Daughter ready to either love or hate it.

Given my dislike of The Other Boleyn Girl inaccuracy, I did a bit of research. It appears that Gregory stays true the storyline of Anne, although there are gaping holes in the historical record.

Gregory's Anne is a wonderfully complex and conflicted character. Some reviewers complained she came across as spoiled. Well, maybe. I mean why wouldn't she be? She grew up in a world where her family was at the very top of the social pyramid. . . until they weren't. People expected great things of Anne and her sister, and sometimes they delivered and sometimes they didn't. And let's face it, Anne was a woman at a time when women were valued mostly for their ability to bear children, pass along their great fortunes to their husbands, and pray.

Anne's admiration/hatred of Elizabeth Woodville is the crux of the story in some ways, and it's a story most of us know. There's always this woman who seems to get everything we want without trying too hard. In some ways, Anne's story in this novel is more about her relationship with Elizabeth than with any of the men in her life with the possible exception of her father in whose shadow every other man in the novel must stand.

I enjoyed this book greatly, but a word of caution: If the logistics of the War of the Roses makes your head spin, I don't recommend it.

The Body Reader by Anne Frasier

Synopsis: For three years, Detective Jude Fontaine was kept from the outside world. Held in an underground cell, her only contact was with her sadistic captor, and reading his face was her entire existence. Learning his every line, every movement, and every flicker of thought is what kept her alive.

After her experience with isolation and torture, she is left with a fierce desire for justice—and a heightened ability to interpret the body language of both the living and the dead. Despite colleagues’ doubts about her mental state, she resumes her role at Homicide. Her new partner, Detective Uriah Ashby, doesn’t trust her sanity, and he has a story of his own he’d rather keep hidden. But a killer is on the loose, murdering young women, so the detectives have no choice: they must work together to catch the madman before he strikes again. And no one knows madmen like Jude Fontaine.

My take: This was a taut, well-written thriller told from the point-of-view of a damaged woman whose reliability is shaky at best. Being inside Jude Fontaine's head reminded me of lines from Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone:
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
Then, we find out there's always something more to lose. As Jude puts the pieces of her life and the clues about the murder of young women together, every stop is logical and deadly. The denouement, therefore, is logical, but it was not predictable.

The best compliment I can give a novel like this is that it dragged me through the pages, and I never once wanted to put the book down. I started it Sunday morning and finished Monday afternoon.

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

Synopsis: New York City as you’ve never seen it before. A thousand-story tower stretching into the sky. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible—if you want it enough.

Welcome to Manhattan, 2118.

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will her new life cost Rylin her old one?

Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy by an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Debut author Katharine McGee has created a breathtakingly original series filled with high-tech luxury and futuristic glamour, where the impossible feels just within reach. But in this world, the higher you go, the farther there is to fall.

My take:  A very readable book. It's a little predictable, and the characters are certainly not unique. In spite of that, I wanted to keep reading, and I did. Yes, the novel is set in the future, but the NYC we all know and love is very recognizable with the floors of the building becoming the various neighborhoods and social enclaves we've all experienced or read about. It is not strictly speaking dystopian, but it sometimes has a dystopian mood.  As the synopsis suggests, it's a novel about how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In many ways, this novel reminded me of The Summer Prince, described as a heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil. To be honest, The Summer Prince was a much richer novel, and it's one I find myself thinking about at odd times. . . long after I've forgotten most novels.

If you want future, not-so-dystopian YA, both of these books are good choices.

Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood

Synopsis: To contemporaries, the Wars of the Roses were known collectively as a “cousins’ war.” The series of dynastic conflicts that tore apart the ruling Plantagenet family in fifteenth-century England was truly a domestic drama, as fraught and intimate as any family feud before or since.

As acclaimed historian Sarah Gristwood reveals in Blood Sisters, while the events of this turbulent time are usually described in terms of the male leads who fought and died seeking the throne, a handful of powerful women would prove just as decisive as their kinfolks’ clashing armies. These mothers, wives, and daughters were locked in a web of loyalty and betrayal that would ultimately change the course of English history. In a captivating, multigenerational narrative, Gristwood traces the rise and rule of the seven most critical women in the wars: from Marguerite of Anjou, wife of the Lancastrian Henry VI, who steered the kingdom in her insane husband’s stead; to Cecily Neville, matriarch of the rival Yorkist clan, whose son Edward IV murdered his own brother to maintain power; to Margaret Beaufort, who gave up her own claim to the throne in favor of her son, a man who would become the first of a new line of Tudor kings.

My take:  This is a nerd book. I've lately developed an interest in the "Cousin's War;" see The Kingmaker's DaughterBlood Sisters delves into the sketchy historical record of the women caught in the middle of the conflict. Unless you have some understanding of this period and its various shifts of power, Blood Sisters won't make any sense. If you do, it's invaluable.

In an odd way, it reminded me of a far more contemporary work, The President's Club. Women who are politically on opposing teams often reach out and help each other because they understand what it's like to be in a position that few people on this earth are ever in. Which doesn't mean there isn't betrayal and backbiting.

Blood Sisters has inspired me to read more about Margaret Beaufort.

We are unprepared by Meg Little Reilly

Synopsis: Meg Little Reilly places a young couple in harm’s way—both literally and emotionally—as they face a cataclysmic storm that threatens to decimate their Vermont town, and the Eastern Seaboard in her penetrating debut novel, WE ARE UNPREPARED.

Ash and Pia move from hipster Brooklyn to rustic Vermont in search of a more authentic life. But just months after settling in, the forecast of a superstorm disrupts their dream. Fear of an impending disaster splits their tight-knit community and exposes the cracks in their marriage. Where Isole was once a place of old farm families, rednecks and transplants, it now divides into paranoid preppers, religious fanatics and government tools, each at odds about what course to take.

My take:  So, I've done some time in the prepper community, and I lived in Austin where hipster is the flavor du jour. This book does a pedestrian job of capturing those world views, although that world view is only an inch deep. WE ARE UNPREPARED offers a keyhole into what might happen during one of the increasingly common weather events that are the result of climate change. It makes all the important points and manages to work in compassion for children and a love interest. It's a laudable attempt.

In spite of all the aforementioned, however, the book is not particularly compelling and lacks passion. The characters are rather stereotypical, and no one seems very committed. . .  either to the status quo or to changing it. When the apocryphal storm arrives, it's more of a whimper than a bang and implies all is recoverable if we change a little bit. 

The Line (Witching Savannah Book 1) by J.D. Horn

Synopsis: Savannah is considered a Southern treasure, a city of beauty with a rich, colorful past. Some might even call it magical…

To the uninitiated, Savannah shows only her bright face and genteel manner. Those who know her well, though, can see beyond her colonial trappings and small-city charm to a world where witchcraft is respected, Hoodoo is feared, and spirits linger. Mercy Taylor is all too familiar with the supernatural side of Savannah, being a member of the most powerful family of witches in the South.

Despite being powerless herself, of course.

My take:  This book was fun in the way that the early Sookie Stackhouse books were fun. The characters were diverse and believable. (Yes, even fantasy series need believable characters...believable within the created world.) Like the Sookie novels, it explores the ever fascinating relationship between family members who just happen to belong to a magical system.

The magical system built by Horn works well and logically. It also had a nice plot twist.

 I bought the second book in the series.