Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Four-star Series Books 2014

Photo by roujo


The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1) by Graeme Simsion. Goodreads synopsis: An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.
Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.
Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.
The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

I had heard about this, of course, and had it on my Kindle from when it was 99 cents in the Kindle store, but I have this bad habit of putting things on my Kindle and then feeling no urgency to actually read them, since they're not going to expire or cost me money and they're not even taking up space on my bedside table. When we were in Thunder Bay for Christmas and my doctor brother-in-law gave it to my mother-in-law and he had even read it already, I thought it was time. It was charming and happy-making - almost a textbook example of a feel-good novel. I did have some slight reservations about the fact that the there almost seems to be a sense that if people on the spectrum just want to change enough, then they can (I felt the same way about As Good as it Gets, although I liked that too) - I'm absolutely willing to entertain arguments to the contrary on this. It's never said specifically that Don is on the spectrum, of course, but hoofbeats, zebras, walks like a duck etc. I haven't decided if I'll read the sequel. 

Science Fiction:

The Android's Dream (The Android's Dream #1) by John Scalzi. Goodreads synopsis: A human diplomat kills his alien counterpart. Earth is on the verge of war with a vastly superior alien race. A lone man races against time and a host of enemies to find the one object that can save our planet and our people from alien enslavement...
A sheep.
That's right, a sheep. And if you think that's the most surprising thing about this book, wait until you read Chapter One. Welcome to The Android's Dream.For Harry Creek, it's quickly becoming a nightmare. All he wants is to do his uncomplicated mid-level diplomatic job with Earth's State Department. But his past training and skills get him tapped to save the planet--and to protect pet store owner Robin Baker, whose own past holds the key to the whereabouts of that lost sheep. Doing both will take him from lava-strewn battlefields to alien halls of power. All in a day's work. Maybe it's time for a raise.
Throw in two-timing freelance mercenaries, political lobbyists with megalomaniac tendencies, aliens on a religious quest, and an artificial intelligence with unusual backstory, and you've got more than just your usual science fiction adventure story. You've got The Android's Dream.

This was the first book I'd read by this author - I'd heard of him, so I borrowed it off of a friend's bookshelf and then proceeded to ignore it for a year or two. When I picked it up, it completely won me over. It has a light touch and a satirical bent, but it doesn't go over the line into utter silliness, which is a deal-breaker for me and ruins a lot of satire as far as I'm concerned (okay, it does begin with a sinister plan to create an international incident using highly technologized fart power, but after that it gets a little more subtle). The characters are sympathetic, the action is engaging, and then bam, something hits you right in the heart. I resolved to read more Scalzi.

Lock In (Lock In #1) by John Scalzi. Goodreads synopsis: Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.
Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.
This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse..

Hey look, more Scalzi. Another fast, enjoyable read. Pretty much flawless world-building and intriguing treatment of the condition - the culture of the Hadens reminded me in many ways of Deaf Culture, which I've always found fascinating. As one reviewer mentioned, the disability politics were very well-handled also. Scalzi seems to be really good at creating nuanced characters without needing to put a whole lot of words into it so it doesn't slow down the narrative flow. My husband just mentioned that someone from work told him to watch a show on Netflix called Redshirts (it's only on American Netflix, alas), which prompted me to do some Googling in order to ascertain that the show is in fact based on another Scalzi book, which I just got from the library. And yes, anyone who watched Star Trek, it does mean what you're thinking it means. 

Young Adult:

Girl of Nightmares (Anna #2) by Kendare Blake. Goodreads synopsis: It's been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can't move on. 
His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they're right, but in Cas's eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.
Now he's seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he's asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong...these aren't just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.
Cas doesn't know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn't deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it's time for him to return the favor.

I didn't actually feel any need for a sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood. But if there had to be one, this was perfectly well done.

Quicksilver (Ultraviolet #2) by R.J. Anderson. Goodreads synopsis: Back in her hometown, Tori Beaugrand had everything a teenaged girl could want—popularity, money, beauty. But she also had a secret. A secret that could change her life in an instant, or destroy it.
Now she’s left everything from her old life behind, including her real name and Alison, the one friend who truly understood her. She can’t escape who and what she is. But if she wants to have anything like a normal life, she has to blend in and hide her unusual... talents.
Plans change when the enigmatic Sebastian Faraday reappears and gives Tori some bad news: she hasn’t escaped her past. In fact, she’s attracted new interest in the form of an obsessed ex-cop turned investigator for a genetics lab.
She has one last shot at getting her enemies off her trail and winning the security and independence she’s always longed for. But saving herself will take every ounce of Tori’s incredible electronics and engineering skills—and even then, she may need to sacrifice more than she could possibly imagine if she wants to be free.

Again, a sequel to a book that didn't seem to really require one (that may be the best kind of sequel, now that I think about it). But really quite different and intriguing. Definitely not your average YA female protagonist. 

Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3) by Laini Taylor: Goodreads synopsis: By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.
Common enemy, common cause.
When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.
And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.
But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.
What power can bruise the sky?
From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.
At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

I was telling Lynn today (Hi Lynn!) that I kind of want someone else to read this trilogy so they can tell me if it's really as good as I think it is, or if I'm just tripping. I know that sometimes there's some strange alchemy of the right book at the right time that suffuses it with a vaseline-filtered rosy glow that might not otherwise be present. For this same reason, I kind of don't want anyone else to read it and rain on my little Laini-loving parade. Anyway. It's quite dark, but I just found that the world-building, the settings, the plotting and the characters were all stellar, with themes of race and culture and identity and sacrifice and redemption layered in skilfully. Some people thought that the new characters and information brought into the story in the final book just complicated things, but I found that it just rounded out the shape of the structure nicely. I'm fairly sure that this is one I will reread at some point.


The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy #1) by Peter May. Goodreads synopsis: When a brutal murder on the Isle of Lewis bears the hallmarks of a similar slaying in Edinburgh, police detective Fin Macleod is dispatched north to investigate. But since he himself was raised on Lewis, the investigation also represents a journey home and into his past.

Wow. Powerfully written, with a visceral sense of place. The mystery, while well-done, is secondary to the unforgiving bleakness of the setting and the bittersweet (bitter-bitter?) melancholy coming-of-age and coming-to-terms story. Will definitely read more in the series.

The Purity of Vengeance (Department Q #4) by Jussi Adler-Olson. Goodreads synopsis: International superstar Jussi Adler-Olsen, with more than fourteen million copies of his books sold worldwide, returns with the fourth book in his New York Times bestselling Department Q series, about a perplexing cold case with sinister modern-day consequences. 
In 1987, Nete Hermansen plans revenge on those who abused her in her youth, including Curt Wad, a charismatic surgeon who was part of a movement to sterilize wayward girls in 1950s Denmark.
More than twenty years later, Detective Carl Mørck already has plenty on his mind when he is presented with the case of a brothel owner, a woman named Rita, who went missing in the eighties: New evidence has emerged in the case that destroyed the lives of his two partners—the case that sent Carl to Department Q.
But when Carl’s assistants, Assad and Rose, learn that numerous other people disappeared around the same weekend as Rita, Carl takes notice. As they sift through the disappearances, they get closer and closer to Curt Wad, who is more determined than ever to see the vision of his youth take hold and whose brutal treatment of Nete and others like her is only one small part of his capacity for evil.
With The Purity of Vengeance, Jussi Adler-Olsen delivers a thrilling and shocking addition to his bestselling Department Q series.

This is a fun series. I love cold case stuff, and I'm partial to the figure of the older, rumpled, cranky detective. I also love Assad, the quirky, underestimated assistant who really shines in this entry. Some attention is paid to the problem of growing bigotry and political nationalism in Denmark, which is timely and relevant, if really unpleasant to read about. 

Finders Keepers (Exmoor Trilogy #3) by Belinda Bauer. Goodreads synopsis: At the height of summer a dark shadow falls across Exmoor. Children are being stolen from cars. Each disappearance is marked only by a terse note - a brutal accusation. There are no explanations, no ransom demands... and no hope.
Policeman Jonas Holly faces a precarious journey into the warped mind of the kidnapper if he's to stand any chance of catching him. But - still reeling from a personal tragedy - is Jonas really up to the task?
Because there's at least one person on Exmoor who thinks that, when it comes to being the first line of defence, Jonas Holly may be the last man to trust..

I knew that I had read two previous books by Belinda Bauer that I really admired. But because I read a lot, and have a crap memory, and am sometimes a Reader of Very Little Brain, I was embarrassingly far into this book before I thought "Heyyyyy....", looked up the previous two books and realized that the characters from those books were IN THIS BOOK, leading me to state that Bauer easily gets the award for Best Trilogy-That-Nobody-Knew-Was-A-Trilogy (okay, maybe SOME people knew, I sure as hell didn't)  I like the way the three books were linked without being dependent on each other or being all cliff-hanger-ish. I haven't read anything by her that hasn't been really good, but honestly, this seemed brilliant to me - it's a mystery, but there is so much other great stuff here: relationships between siblings and between children and parents, two great police characters who are not heroic or perfect in the least but are extremely well-written, a sweet and real first love story, and a villain who is more sad than frightening. There's also a wonderful sense of place. It's really a magnificent novel that just happens to be a mystery.

Where Monsters Dwell (Odd Singsaker #1) by Jorgen Brekke. Goodreads synopsis: A murder at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, bears a close resemblance to one in Trondheim, Norway. The corpse of the museum curator in Virginia is found flayed in his office by the cleaning staff; the corpse of an archivist at the library in Norway, is found inside a locked vault used to store delicate and rare books. Richmond homicide detective Felicia Stone and Trondheim police inspector Odd Singsaker find themselves working on similar murder cases, committed the same way, but half a world away. And both murders are somehow connected to a sixteenth century palimpsest book—The Book of John—which appears to be a journal of a serial murderer back in 1529 Norway, a book bound in human skin. 
A runaway bestseller in Norway, Where Monsters Dwell has since sold to over fourteen countries. Where Monsters Dwell is the most awaited English language crime fiction debut in years.

This is an intriguing mystery, handled well enough that the spanning of continents and centuries adds interest rather than confusion. I really liked the offbeat Norwegian police detective, and the American one, and the interplay between them. I also loved the parts that took place in the library, and the bemusement of the detective at the odd "book people" who were more concerned at the theft of a priceless book than at the flayed corpse of their colleague.

Wolf (Jack Caffery #7) by Mo Hayder. Goodreads synopsis: When a vagrant—the Walking Man—finds a dog wandering alone with the words "HELP US” written on its collar, he’s sure it’s a desperate plea from someone in trouble and calls on Detective Inspector Jack Caffery to investigate. Caffery is reluctant to get involved—until the Walking Man promises new information regarding the childhood abduction of Caffery’s brother in exchange for the detective’s help tracking down the dog’s owners. Caffery has no idea who or what he is searching for, but one thing he is sure of: it's a race against time.
Meanwhile, the Anchor-Ferrers, a wealthy local family, are fighting for their lives in their remote home ten miles away. Two men have tricked their way into the house and are holding the family for ransom. Yet as the captors’ demands become increasingly bizarre and humiliating, it becomes clear that this is more than a random crime—it’s a personal vendetta.

This is an author whose latest book I am always desperate to plunder, and it always makes me wonder if there's something fundamentally wrong with me because she is twisted. I console myself with the fact that she's also intelligent, perceptive, and a keen student of human nature - the violence is never gratuitous. Her books are brilliant. But twisted. 

The Beautiful Mystery (Gamache #8) by Louise Penny. Goodreads synopsis:The brilliant new novel in the New York Times best-selling series by Louise Penny, one of the most acclaimed crime writers of our time.
No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”
But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

I loved the first few books in this series, then one or two seemed a little more stilted. This one was really good. The language is slow and cadenced and lovely, and the characters are so incredibly nuanced - almost too much so at times, but generally it falls this side of melodrama. The evocation of the monastic setting and the music was vivid and beautiful, and the interaction between Francoeur and Beauvoir near the end, with Francoeur as Iago to Beauvoir's Othello, is positively chilling. 

How the Light Gets In (Gamache #9) by Louise Penny. Goodreads synopsis: The stunning, ingenious and sinister new novel in the internationally bestselling Inspector Gamache series.
As a fierce, unrelenting winter grips Quebec, shadows are closing in on Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Most of his best agents have left the Homicide Department and hostile forces are lining up against him. 
When Gamache receives a message about a mysterious case in Three Pines, he is compelled to investigate -- a woman who was once one of the most famous people in the world has vanished. 
As he begins to shed light on the investigation, he is drawn into a web of murder, lies and unimaginable corruption at the heart of the city. Facing his most challenging, and personal, case to date, can Gamache save the reputation of the Sûreté, those he holds dear and himself?
Evocative, gripping and atmospheric, this magnificent work of crime fiction from international bestselling author Louise Penny will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Another solid entry in the series, with a nod to a famous chapter in Canadian history. 

Out of the Deep I Cry (Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne #3) by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Goodreads synopsis: On April 1, 1930, Jonathan Ketchem's wife Jane walked from her house to the police department to ask for help in finding her husband. The men, worn out from a night of chasing bootleggers, did what they could. But no one ever saw Jonathan Ketchem again.
Now decades later, someone else is missing in Miller's Kill, NY. This time it's the physician of the clinic that bears the Ketchem name. Suspicion falls on a volatile single mother with a grudge against the doctor, but Reverend Clare Fergusson isn't convinced. As Clare and Russ investigate, they discover that the doctor's disappearance is linked to a bloody trail going all the way back to the hardscrabble Prohibition era. As they draw ever closer to the truth, their attraction for each other grows increasingly more difficult to resist. And their search threatens to uncover secrets that snake from one generation to the next-and to someone who's ready to kill. 
Out of the Deep I Cry is a 2005 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel.

For years I would happen upon a book in this series, read it, love it, then forget to follow up on it. I think I'm up to date on all of them now. It's a wonderful series - vividly portrayed setting, finely-drawn characters, and insightful questions of morality and humanity.

Don't Talk to Strangers (Keye Street #3) by Amanda Kyle Williams. Goodreads synopsis: Hailed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as “one of the most addictive new series heroines,” Keye Street is the brilliant, brash heart of a sizzling thriller full of fear and temptation, judgments and secrets, infidelity and murder. 
He likes them smart.   
In the woods of Whisper, Georgia, two bodies are found: one recently dead, the other decayed from a decade of exposure to the elements. The sheriff is going to need help to track down an experienced predator—one who abducts girls and holds them for months before ending their lives. Enter ex–FBI profiler and private investigator Keye Street. 
He lives for the struggle.   
After a few weeks, Keye is finally used to sharing her downtown Atlanta loft with her boyfriend, A.P.D. Lieutenant Aaron Rauser. Along with their pets (his dog, her cat) they seem almost like a family. But when Rauser plunks a few ice cubes in a tumbler and pours a whiskey, Keye tenses. Her addiction recovery is tenuous at best.  
And loves the fear.   
Though reluctant to head out into the country, Keye agrees to assist Sheriff Ken Meltzer. Once in Whisper, where the locals have no love for outsiders, Keye starts to piece together a psychological profile: The killer is someone who stalks and plans and waits. But why does the sociopath hold the victims for so long, and what horrible things must they endure? When a third girl goes missing, Keye races against time to connect the scant bits of evidence. All the while, she cannot shake the chilling feeling: Something dark and disturbing lives in these woods—and it is watching her every move.

This is back up to the quality of the first. 

The Book Thing (Bibliomysteries #9) by Laura Lippman. Goodreads synopsis: A thief targets a local bookstore and it will take a bibliophile PI to save the shop.
Tess Monaghan wants to like the Children’s Bookstore. It’s bright, cozy, and packed with the kinds of books that she is dying for her daughter to fall in love with. But no matter how badly she wants to support this adorable local business, the owner’s attitude stops her in her tracks. What kind of children’s bookseller hates children?
What’s eating Octavia, the grouchy owner, is more than the pressures of running a small business. Each Saturday, someone steals a stack of her priciest, most beautiful children’s books, and the expense threatens to force her fledgling store out of business. Luckily, Tess is more than a book lover—she’s a private investigator who doesn’t mind working pro bono to help out an independent bookshop. Her simple act of kindness will make Octavia smile for the first time in months—and uncover a crime more suitable for the mystery aisle than the children’s section.

A novella in the Tess Monaghan series and the Bibliomysteries series which is apparently a series of short mysteries about books. I prefer the longer books, but I love Tess as a character and Lippman always writes well, so I take what I can get.  


Hannah said...

I love John Scalzi! Weird for me, because I'm not much of a sci-fi generally, but everything you've said here is true. I highly recommend Old Man's War - just brilliant.

Steph Lovelady said...

Your description of Where Monsters Dwell reminds me of The Murder Room (P.D. James), which I enjoyed.

I'm guessing if you don't like it when satire veers off into silliness you're probably not a fan of the Hitchhiker's Guide series. (Although it wasn't really satire to start with, more of a spoof, so maybe that's different.) Noah and I have been reading it on and off. We're between books 2 & 3 now. He likes it but not as much as I thought he would. Perhaps it hasn't aged well.

Lynn said...

I was reading this post and when I got to Daughter of Smoke and Bone I was all, "Oh yes! That's the book Allison told me to read!" So I went over to Amazon to put it on my wish list and then "accidentally" bought the ebook for my Kindle. Don't get too excited, though, it'll probably three years from now that I come running back to you telling you how much I LOVED IT.

DaniGirl said...

Geez, I paid $13 for my Kindle version of the Rosie Project - the first book I bought when I finally got my own Kindle this Christmas. How did you get it for a buck?

(As for the book, I couldn't get Sheldon Cooper out of my head enough to truly enjoy this one. Meh.)

Nicole said...

I loved the Rosie Project SO VERY MUCH. I just adored the way it was written, the characters. I didn't figure out until 3/4 of the way through that it was set in Australia. How did I miss that detail?

Sasha said...

Was Don Tillman's quest to "find out if he is capable of true love"? I thought he was just looking for a wife... which is not to say that I'm not just forgetting bits. Heck, I'd forgotten about the Father Project, and the fact that he was a geneticist, if pressed I would have said mathematician; but no, that was the other guy, the one Don "diagnosed" with Asperger's. Anyhow, I'm all for an excuse to go back and re-read this one. I initially hadn't been interested in a sequel, but then it went on my Christmas list and I was disappointed enough at *not* getting it that I'll probably go get it now. Also - As Good As it Gets was a novel? I didn't know that. That's going to have to go on the list too.
Those two Scalzi books sound really intriguing too. I have the weirdest sense that I've had The Android's Dream in my hands and then never read it... A library loan that had to go back before I actually cracked it maybe.
And Finders Keepers - ARGGGHHHH! It sounds amazing but the whole child-abduction thing just scares the bejeezus outta me. Damn. It sounds like it's not necessary for this series, but I like to read series in order... maybe I'll go back and try the first one.
I LOVE the Louise Penny series... I think I've only got one more left and I'm procrastinating because I don't want it to be over. How The Light Gets In... that's the one that starts with the body found under/near a bridge? It was definitely interesting seeing Canadian history brought into a novel... I wonder how it would read to someone without at least some knowledge of that time? I also have to admit that some of this one seemed a bit implausible, as though bringing the story closer places and stories I know somehow made suspension of disbelief more difficult.
And finally - thoroughly intrigued by the Bibliomysteries series. Although the problem with books-about-books is in the time it takes me to read one, at least ten get added to my to-read list. I know, it's rough. The same thing happens when I read your blog posts, but I'm not about to let that stop me ;)