loulamac’s #CBRV review #80: Call for the Dead by John Le Carré

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This is an interesting, charming little book. While no classic, it is noteworthy as it is the first outing of David Cornwell as John Le Carré and provides the introduction of George Smiley.

The plot hinges upon a murder mystery, is set against the backdrop of the cold war and features characters we’ll get to know better in the Karla Trilogy. Unlike the later Smiley novels however Call for the Dead is more focused on the solving of a crime than it is international espionage, and reveals much more about Smiley’s emotional life. Fascinatingly this includes his courtship of, marriage to and first estrangement from ‘the demon Ann’, a character who is so absent but so crucial to Smiley’s battle with Karla.

The crime in question is the apparent suicide of a civil servant from the Foreign Office, who kills himself in his Surrey home a matter of hours after meeting with Smiley. Smarting as his boss points the finger, Smiley’s spidey-sense is set a-tingling when his initial interview with the widow throws up more questions than it answers. Working with a policeman who is on the eve of retirement, and the reliably glib Peter Guillam, Smiley  digs deeper and uncovers a conspiracy that goes back to his years as a recruiter in pre-war Germany.

As I said, this is no classic. The writing and plot do show glimmers of the glory that was to come in Smiley’s People (read my review of that here), but the chapter headings, massive chunks of dialogue, and explanatory epistle from Smiley at the end are pretty clunky. It is worth a read though, if only to satisfy any curiosity you may have about Smiley himself.

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alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 62: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

Goodreads: “For generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of

Venus has emerged to build a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus: a gate that leads into a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.”

I’ve really enjoyed the three books so far in the Expanse series: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate. Where the first set the pace, tone, and foundation for the series in a way that was already epic in scale, the latter two have somehow continued to build on that promise by introducing more narrative lead characters and new high-stakes conflict without letting the story run away from itself. Despite the expansion of character profiles and deeper exploration of those characters’ motivations, the core group we were introduced to in the first book — James Holden and his crew — remain central to the story, thereby anchoring us to a heart of the tale that we’ve grown familiar with and attached to.

Abaddon’s Gate contains a classic redemption tale, a frame-job, and the possibility of massive war among two superpowers, a lesser alliance, and an unknown alien foe that is likely to crush everyone and annihilate humanity in the blink of an eye. Our hero, James Holden, also talks to ghosts and even goes on a one-man mission as an emissary to the alien would-be demolitionists because that’s what the ghost tells him to do. The book rarely takes a moment to breathe, but the slower chapters reinforce the emotional stakes and passion — sometimes quiet, sometimes imbued with burning rage — that drive the characters.

Also remarkable in the series is the way that each book feels, in a way, like a standalone: there are no cliffhangers and the individual stories therein are resolved; however, the resolution sets up a backdrop for what may become the main source of tension in the next book, or the one after. Leviathan Wakes saw the emergence of a dangerous, little-understood alien protomolecule that, by the end, was seemingly dispatched into the inhospitable environment of Venus, therefore saving Earth from destruction. Caliban’s War showed the protomolecule quietly taking over Venus and exhibiting feats of impossible physics, worrying everyone to death over what its next move would be. Abaddon’s Gate reveals what the next move was, and though, again, the immediate conflict was solved, the possibility for major catastrophe still lurks in another form entirely. And none of that takes into account the political and personal struggles of the humans themselves, which could themselves be a collection of compelling and suspenseful stories.

The Expanse series is space opera at its finest. The prose isn’t the most sophisticated, but it’s tightly written and consistently entertaining. Even sci-fi novices could enjoy these books, I think, since they’re not overly jammed with techie jargon and high-concept gimmicks. If you’re put off because it’s set in space, don’t be. The plots are steeped in classic noir and suspense, with war games thrown in for good measure. Highly recommended.

Mrs Smith Reads Iron House by John Hart, #CBR5 Review #23

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I was recently looking to read something easy and quick and my Mom suggested Iron House by John Hart. A North Carolina native, Hart is one of my Mom’s favorite authors (or, arthurs, as she says it) and I had read The Last Child and enjoyed it, so off I went with her copy under my arm.

Iron House was a quick read, but I think mystery thrillers have changed quite a bit since I last read one. The body count in this book is enormous! I will assume Hart was writing with a movie treatment in mind but I could have done with a little less blood and gore.

Mrs Smith Reads The Iron House by John Hart

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 57: John Dies at the End by David Wong

“STOP. You should not have touched this flyer with your bare hands. NO, don’t put it down. It’s too late. They’re watching you. My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye. The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

The important thing is this: The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension. John and I never had the chance to say no. You still do. I’m sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind: None of this was my fault.”

I am trying to think of a weirder book than this (from my childhood: Sideways Stories from Wayside School comes to mind; I also remember Weetzie Bat being very strange but I may have just been too young to understand it.) Weirdness isn’t bad. In fact, this was a really entertaining book that was as funny as it was genuinely creepy. I’m still not completely convinced that I understood everything that was going on, and I am fairly certain that if I made this observation to the titular John, he’d simply nod and comment that I can’t be expected to; after all, I haven’t ever taken the sauce.

There is something very unique, not just about the plot — which is obviously so — but about Wong’s writing and his ability to, in the face of such weirdness, pretty thoroughly define his characters without really seeming like he is trying very hard to at all. By the end of the book, I absolutely understood the motivations and actions of each character, and that’s without any backstory worth speaking of for most of them.

Sometimes I worry that my review attempts get a little pedantic, talking too much about nuts and bolts, and since doing so for this book just seems kind of inherently wrong, like a square hamburger patty, I’ll just shut up here and say “READ JOHN DIES AT THE END.”

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #23: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

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The Shining Girls is a time-traveling serial killer cat-and-mouse thriller.  Got all that? Obviously, you have to check your disbelief at the door here.

Harper has had that killer urge since he was a boy, and as he grows older, it gets even stronger and he begins to kill when he can get away with it. After a fortuitous (and cleverly circular) string of events, Harper discovers a time traveling portal in a house in Chicago, and that’s when Harper begins his life as a serial killer. Harper will step out into different times and hunt girls, his girls – he knows them by their shine. He always goes back to make sure the job is complete and he’s always been successful – until Kirby. Kirby is the only girl to ever survive his attack (though just barely) and she spends her life after the attack searching for the man who nearly killed her. Kirby gains an internship at a paper and teams up with Dan, a sports writer (and former crime reporter), to hunt down a killer.

This book has so many outrageous elements that it just shouldn’t work. Unexplained magical time portal? Check. Vicious serial killer? Check.  Tough yet vulnerable survivor protagonist? Check, check and check. In the hands of someone with mediocre skills this would have been as schlocky as it sounds, but in Beukes hands, it just shines (I’m sorry. I had to.) Each of Harper’s victims is introduced to us and I found myself rooting for them, even though you knew what the outcome would have to be. Beukes creates more 3-D characters in a few pages than some writers can in entire books.

Kirby is a great character, she’s smart and ambitious and she’s driven to find her attacker, and she is hell bent on revenge. I loved that she wasn’t 100% healed, and likely never would be, and sometimes she was bitter as hell. I liked her friendship with Dan and there was a lot of humorous moments peppered in to make the story not so heavy. Beukes really has a wonderful way with creating characters and that’s where the strength of this novel lies. There are some clichés to be found (sociopath with no empathy, bohemian free-spirited mother, disillusioned reporter) but she takes them just a step above so that even when I knew something was coming, I enjoyed the journey she took me on to get there.

If you’re a mystery/thriller fan and are looking for something outside of the box, this is definitely the book for you. It’s smart and funny and really just fun as hell.

ABR’s #CBR5 Review #20: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

dark-placesOn its own, Dark Places is probably a very good book. But if you have read Gillian Flynn’s other novels, Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, Dark Places will seem familiar, derivative.

Dark Places may not be the page turner that Gone Girl was, but I still really like the way Flynn composes her novels. Her back-and-forth style not only creates suspense and tension, it gives the characters a chance to tell the story. You hear events from one character, and in the next chapter, another character corrects the errors, fills in the blanks, expands the story. I also think she is a uniquely descriptive writer.

That said, there is certainly a recipe to the success of her novels. Start with a troubled girl. Throw in a tragic past. Give her an addiction or vice. Make her family dysfunctional. Add a colleague who may turn into a love interest. Include one or two truly terrifying women. Turn the female protagonist into an amateur detective. End on a slightly optimistic note that still makes you feel dirty.

Libby Day is the troubled girl in Dark Places. In her tragic past her sisters and mother were killed, and when the signs and the townspeople pointed to Libby’s brother, she claimed he killed them. Libby’s vice is that she has lived off insurance money for 25 years. She doesn’t want to hold a job, have friends, clean herself or her apartment. And yes, she drinks and steals. Her possible love interest is Lyle, a member of the local Kill Club, a strange organization that is fascinated by murders and believes her brother is innocent. Libby herself is a pathetic character, but the doozy in this novel is Diondra, a sexually precocious 15-year-old addict, alcoholic, abuser, Satan worshipper. She’s a peach.

When Libby’s insurance money starts to run out, she teams up with Lyle and the Kill Club, who pay her to reconnect with her father and incarcerated brother, and sell mementos from her dead family. It’s no surprise that she begins to question her brother’s conviction and doubt her memories.

I would like to say that this book also ends more hopefully than it begins. But in the end Libby’s family is still dead (that isn’t a spoiler) and now you have the Diondra character in your head.

 

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #48: Born to Bleed by Ryan C. Thomas

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Cannonball Read V: Book #48/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 184

Genre: Horror

I loved Ryan C. Thomas’ The Summer I Died and I had no idea there was a sequel until recently. I picked it up despite the mediocre reviews and unfortunately came to the same conclusion: disappointing.

This books takes place 10 years after the horrifying events in The Summer I Died. ***SPOILERS FOR THE SUMMER I DIED*** Roger ended up surviving after watching his sister and best friend die at the hands of a maniac. ***END SPOILERS*** He’s obviously still very traumatized and barely functioning after he moved to southern California to be an artist. He’s out painting at a lake one day when his co-worker at the galley he works for, Victoria, and her boyfriend mysteriously vanish. After finding their car still there with blood on the ground, Roger goes all detective to track down a suspicious SUV that was there earlier and that he thinks might be the kidnappers.

Read the rest in my blog.