Monday, January 9, 2017

Three-Star Books Read in 2016: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

Science Fiction:


Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: “Are you happy with your life?” 
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.
From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.
 

If I hadn't read several books that seemed to seize on this exact plot device, this probably would have blown my mind. It would have been nice for the big reveal to be more of a surprise. Besides that, the writing and characters were good but sort of workmanlike - it didn't catch fire, but it held my attention until the end. 


The Fold by Peter Clines: STEP INTO THE FOLD.
IT’S PERFECTLY SAFE. The folks in Mike Erikson's small New England town would say he's just your average, everyday guy. And that's exactly how Mike likes it. Sure, the life he's chosen isn’t much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but he’s content with his quiet and peaceful existence.  
That is, until an old friend presents him with an irresistible mystery, one that Mike is uniquely qualified to solve: far out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to “fold” dimensions, it shrinks distances so that a traveler can travel hundreds of feet with a single step. 
The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, traveling through the Door is completely safe. 
Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems—and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret.  
As his investigations draw him deeper into the puzzle, Mike begins to fear there’s only one answer that makes sense. And if he’s right, it may only be a matter of time before the project destroys…everything.  
A cunningly inventive mystery featuring a hero worthy of Sherlock Holmes and a terrifying final twist you’ll never see coming, The Fold is that rarest of things: a genuinely page-turning science-fiction thriller. Step inside its pages and learn why author Peter Clines has already won legions of loyal fans.

This is one of the aforementioned books containing a similar plot device to Dark Matter's. I thought this book sounded really cool and kept contemplating buying this book. I ended up deciding to wait until the library had it. I'm glad I did.The first four-fifths or so was a perfectly serviceable science-fiction book - nothing that really elevated it, characters that were neither horribly flat or very nuanced, and an interesting plot device. Then things kind of devolve, almost farcically.

Fantasy:
Omens by Kelley Armstrong: Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.
But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.
Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.
Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

Felt a little junk foodish, but incredibly readable, and the relationship between Olivia and Gabriel isn't quite formula - he's an intriguing character.

Visions by Kelley Armstrong: As #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong’s new Cainsville series continues, Olivia’s power to read omens leads to the discovery of a gruesome crime with troubling connections to her new hometown.
Omens, the first installment in Kelley Armstrong’s exciting new series, introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes.
Their success, however, is short-lived. While Olivia takes refuge in the old, secluded town of Cainsville, Gabriel’s past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most.
Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her, but the body vanishes before anyone else sees it. Olivia’s convinced it’s another omen, a sign of impending danger. But then she learns that a troubled young woman went missing just days ago—the same woman Olivia found dead in her car. Someone has gone to great lengths to kill and leave this young woman as a warning. But why? And what role has her new home played in this disturbing murder?
Olivia’s effort to uncover the truth places her in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces, forces that have their own agenda, and closely guarded secrets they don’t want revealed.

Great narrative energy. The female protagonist is likable - not whiny, stupidly convinced of her own invincibility or man-dependent. Best of all, people keep secrets and other people allow them to, without being all "if we're in a relationship we have to have TOTAL HONESTY". I would run headlong into the next if it wasn't already out at the library.

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab: Kell is one of the last travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. 
There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King--George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered--and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London--a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.
 

Three-and-a-half. I was totally absorbed for most of it and then it lost momentum for me, but I'm pretty sure that was my mood. Really cool world-making and Lila and I've forgotten His Name Already are great characters (I'm just really bad with names). There are also some really great finely-drawn minor characters who are made in such a way as to make you care about them right before something horrible happens. This always simultaneously impresses and enrages me. I'm not sure this requires any sequels, but I will probably read them anyway.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North: Listen.
All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me.

My name is Hope Arden, and you won't know who I am. We've met before - a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.
It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.
A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.
No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit - you will never remember who I am.
That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .
The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the tale of the girl no one remembers. But this gripping story – of love and loss, of hope and despair, of living in the moment and dying to leave a mark – is novel that will stay with you for ever.

Call it three and a half stars. Claire North has a talent for writing about people who have unusual gifts or traits - being reborn hundreds of times, being able to transfer consciousness between bodies, and in this case being forgotten by everyone she meets as soon as she leaves them. I once tried to write a short story about a man who had a similar problem, actually, but couldn't figure out how to make it viable. North does the job, although I would have liked a little more background, a little more time spent on her childhood and the development of the issue. 

Making her an international jewel thief adds a nice dimension of intrigue, and her interactions with people - interactions that affect her but never them, not in any lasting manner - are bittersweet and moving; seeing her meet people, friends or enemies, for the first time over and over again is both frustrating and heartbreaking. The Perfection angle was interesting and appropriately horrifying - present technology taken to its extreme logical conclusion - although a few times I felt like the harping on the "perfect smile, perfect body, perfect clothes" thing was a little overdone. The introduction of Byron then takes the story off the thriller track and off into philosophical meanderings, to which the subject matter lends itself very well, although the plot might be a bit slower than some readers would expect from the synopsis. 

Overall this is a diverting read that poses some challenging questions about how memory impacts relationships and how alone a person is if they can't be connected to the people in their lives an ongoing, meaningful manner. 

A Kindle copy was previded by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Fellside by M.R. Carey: The unmissable and highly anticipated new literary thriller from the author of the international phenomenon The Girl With All the Gifts.
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It's a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?

Just saw this on someone's to-read shelf and wondered if I had ever gotten around to writing a review. It's a total cliché to complain about an author's sophomore effort, but unfortunately I did find this really disappointing, mostly because I loved The Girl With All the Gifts so very much and this is nothing like it. The writing is still wonderful and much of the story is quite beautiful, it just wasn't what I wanted. I tend to shy away from the women-behind-bars genre, so even though the intricacies of the politics here were fascinating and well-drawn, they're not my thing. The way Carey develops complicated characters and relationships is still very much in evidence, and I will still read anything he puts out. I just wish these two books had been in reverse order.

Horror:
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King: A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.
Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.
There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.
Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Usually if I read a short story anthology and there are more than one or two stories that I really like, that makes my overall impression of the book very favourable. For some reason, I felt like the first half of this was mediocre and self-indulgent (yeah, I know writing by nature can always be called self-indulgent, but when we're talking Stephen King I'm pretty sure you know what I mean). Then there were a couple of really good ones, but my overall impression is still not of consistent high quality; it felt more like he had a couple of gems and then scraped up some other stuff to round up the collection and padded it with autobiographical notes. Two stories (the island and the obituaries) seemed like the same story from slightly different angles. The father-son relationship in the Batman and Robin story was extremely touching. The baseball story was great and, for someone who has a baseball player and devotee for a son, really upsetting.


4 comments:

DaniGirl said...

I get so impatient reading these because I don't have time for three star books - I need the good ones, baby, give them to me!!!

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

You and I tend to agree so much on our ratings that I should maybe just stop reading any book that you have already read and given a middling review of. (Trying this comment on my iPad to see if it works when my phone obviously has an issue.)

Steph Lovelady said...

I read that King collection when it came out, about a year ago, and without fetching it from the shelf I remember almost nothing about it, which isn't a good sign.

That's cool you had the same idea about a person no one remembers.

Nicole said...

I don't enjoy this genre typically, BUT I did read one that you recommended a few years back (cannot remember the name, I think it was We Never Talk About My Brother) and loved it. So perhaps will branch out!