Artemis by Andy Weir (2017)

artemis

Andy Weir, author of the wildly popular novel The Martian, returns with another (unrelated) science fiction novel set in space. Artemis, a colony built on the moon, is home to approximately 2000 Artemisians who run mining operations, conduct scientific experiments, and — for the vast majority of the moon’s permanent residents — work in jobs serving the wealthy tourists from Earth.

Enter our anti-heroine, Jasmine Bashara, a shady smuggler who has a reputation on the moon for drinking, promiscuity, and trouble-making. “Jazz” sees herself as someone just trying to get by, someone willing to bend the rules in order to better her place in the economic hierarchy on Artemis. Since the moon is sovereign, the laws there are flexible and illicit business dealings are par for the course: somethings that many residents, not just Jazz, take advantage of.

After several rocky years since leaving her father’s home, Jazz is still living in the worst section of the moon city and barely saving up enough to cover the basics. When one of the planet’s wealthiest citizens (a man for whom Jazz often smuggles illegals onto the planet) makes her an offer for millions of “slugs” (moon currency) to help him with a dangerous task, Jazz agrees. Seeing dollar signs and not danger signs, Jazz initiates a wild attack on the on-planet mining company and sets into motion a complex series of events that lead to chaos, corruption, and murder.

The author’s, admittedly considerable, knowledge of the phsyics and the realities of the atmosphere on the moon helps add the believability of the plot. He has clearly done extensive research into the technical aspects of the book and, although he gets carried away a lot with the details, the more complex parts of the setting are conveyed well to readers. Setting aside, the plot of the book is a bit stale and the pacing of the story uneven…it is clear that those parts of the book were less considered than the space city where the action takes place.

Additionally, Weir does an admirable job creating a cast of characters that spans all races, ethnicities, religions, and income levels, and in having chosen to divert from most sci-fi literature in telling the story through the eyes of a young, brilliant, bad-ass Saudi Arabian/Artemisian woman. However, the characters come across as juvenile and insufficiently fleshed out, conversing with stilted dialogue and following unrealistic story detours arguing over petty grievances they have with one another.

While it was an enjoyable book and a fast read, Artemis left something to be desired in the way of  character development and plot. My guess is that the movie will be better than the book.

Advertisements

The Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #12

great reckoning l penny

The the main character of Louise Penny’s outstanding mystery series, Armand Gamache, returns to solve another mystery in A Great Reckoning. In this installment, he must solve a murder, uncover a complicated corruption scheme, and he must also face some painful truths about his own past — revealing secrets he has been keeping for most of his life — in order to solve the crimes.

When the previous book ended, Armand was faced with answering the question “what next?” What would be the next chapters in his personal and professional lives? That question is answered in the opening chapters when Penny reveals that Armand has come out of retirement to take over running the Sûreté du Québec Academy. Armand hopes to undo the damage that years of abusive leadership has wrought and to help lead the young cadets in becoming wise and respectful officers.

When Armand took over the Academy, he fired most of the old professors and hired new ones to lead the students without cruelty. However, he left in place the most corrupt, cruelest, and most abusive of the old professors — Serge Le Duke — in the hope that having the man on campus would help Armand uncover proof of his corruption and place him in prison.

A few months into his tenure, Armand feels that he is making progress with the students and feels that the safer, more accepting Academy culture is training a new generation of talented investigators. Armand is wrong.

Serge Le Duke is found murdered, execution style, in his private rooms and all of the evidence suggests that either a student or professor was responsible for the crime. Immediately, four students emerge as central to the case. Armand and the other investigators know that these students know more than they are telling, but are they covering up committing the crime? Or are they covering up information that would lead to the killer?

In a questionably legal decision, Armand moves the four cadets to his home village of Three Pines for the duration of the investigation. To keep the cadets busy, he tasks them with finding out the origins of a mysterious map that has been found in the village and — baffling, a copy of the same map was found in the murdered man’s rooms — to see if the students can find out how the map relates to the case.

Armand’s decisions regarding the new rules at the Academy; his choice of cadets he admitted to the school; his decision to move the four cadets to Three Pines; and his decision to leave a corrupt man in a power position are all cloaked in mystery. In order to catch the killer, Armand must answer these questions and many more about his shady actions in the recent months; his answers will not only expose his secrets to his family and colleagues, but also expose secrets that may harm the four cadets at the center of the mystery.

 

 

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro (2017)

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck — there was a forest.
You were in luck — there were no trees.
You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .

From “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska (quoted on page 18-19)

This beautiful, brief memoir is about marriage: not the heady reckless days of being newlyweds, nor about looking back from a distance at the long years of children and grandchildren, but rather about the middle years of a marriage. The years of a marriage that are marked by mortgages, teenagers, and adult responsibilities; the years when routines speed up time and parents grow frail, the years when a couple must work to recall the wild love of their early days and work to keep their bond strong so they can reach those golden years. Hourglass — told in a Virginia Woolf-inspired style — a is spectacular exploration of the special, fragile time that marks middle marriage and how rewarding and challenging a time it can be for a couple.

Shapiro examines her own marriage with honesty and courage; displaying the things she gets right and the things that go wrong. A deep, almost desperate, vulnerability is required to make a marriage work. Two people bind themselves together when things are the very best, in the hope that things will always be rosy, always go as well. But then life happens — illnesses, lost jobs, deaths, births, near-misses, and lost chances — and you must hope that the strength of your love and your commitment to one another can weather these storms; that you can go on believing in the happy ending even when the future is a complete unknown.

Shapiro also examines the choices she and her husband did and did not make —  each corner not turned, every job not taken — and wonders, would other choices have led to a different me? a different him? a different us? Marriage, she believes, is living with each and every choice you’ve made and knowing that each step has brought you to where you are right now; marriage is having faith that this place is the right place to be.

Upon finishing the book I am struck by how wildly optimistic getting married really is. Two people make a commitment (that no matter how easily made, one that is very difficult to undo) and set out to build a life with no guarantees, with no safety nets. Your marriage requires that everyday — many times each day — you must look upon your relationship as meaningful and worthwhile, something as important and valuable today as it was on your wedding day.

Middle marriage are the years when you hold on to one another tightly, hoping wildly that the best years are still yet to come, and still believing there is no one else you would want beside you than your partner. What a wild leap of faith to take! What a wonderful treasure when you find yourself alongside someone worth taking that risk with.

— To my Husband, S. who I adore now as much as then

 

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (2015)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #11

the nature of the beast

After a few weeks off from my Louise Penny reading spree, I was thrilled to finally restart the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series yesterday. Penny has returned the action back to the small Quebec village of Three Pines and reassembled her cast of beloved characters who work together to solve another mysterious murder.

Fall is approaching Three Pines and the residents are reveling in the beautiful weather and fall colors descending down the mountain. Now retired from the police, Armand Gamache and his wife are settling into a peaceful, quiet life in the village; filled with rest, good friends, and delicious meals. Armand has recently been fielding offers to return to the police force, as well as other offers to work for various government and international agencies. Despite increasing pressure to return to work, Armand has been reluctant to do so. He is at a crucial crossroads: what does “next” look like for he and Reine-Marie?

The calm exterior of the village is shattered when a little boy is found murdered, his body disguised as an accident and his father rumored to be a prime suspect. Armand assists his former colleagues in solving the murder and makes an early, critical discovery: the boy’s body has been moved. The search for the site of his murder leads to an unimaginable find: a cave hiding an enormous Soviet-era missile launcher hidden in the Quebec wilderness.

Soon the case spins out in a million directions: who build this gun? Why is it hidden outside of Three Pines? Is it still capable of firing? And who was intended target when the weapon was built?

Armand and the police force must dig deep into the weapon’s history, going back to the start of the Cold War and the years of the nuclear arms race. Military experts and secret service agents soon arrive in Three Pines to investigate the case; causing tensions between the different groups. Armand wants to find the boy’s killer, the other agents want to find out more about the gun and who built it. These tensions cause everyone to begin hiding information from one another, stalling out the search for the murderer.

When another citizen is killed, the case veers wildly off course and Armand and the others must dig deep into documents about physics, weapons design, military strategy, and government secrets to find all of the answers they seek.

The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha (2010)

HNY

What better way to kick off the new year, than by reading a short little book meant to celebrate all those awesome little things that make you happier, assuming to take the time to notice them?

This little gem of a book was recommended by a good friend of mine, who knows I love collecting lists of things that can instantly make me happier. This book is filled with small, everyday things that — when recognized — can add an instant lift to your day.

All day my family and I have been leafing through it and reading our favorites to each other. The book has been a huge happiness booster and a source of some great conversations around the house about what we would add to our personal lists of “awesome.”

Among some of my favorite “awesomes” in the book are:

  • Strategies for Epic Trick-or-Treating (his rules are all spot on, our family agreed)!
  • Finding the perfect nacho on the nacho platter!
  • Sleeping on new bed-sheets!
  • The smell of onions and garlic sauteing in olive oil!
  • Getting shampooed at the hairdresser!
  • Taking your bra off after a long day!
  • Naps!
  • Snow on Christmas!

A super-cute book and a great reminder that there is a lot to be thankful for, even on bad days. Here’s to an awesome new year!

The Likeness by Tana French (2008)

Dublin Murder Squad series, Book #2

the likeness tana french

Tana French’s first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, In The Woods, was highly recommended to me by several people but when I read it I found it strangely hard to like and never bothered to read the next book in the series. However, after reading only “light” novels and non-fiction over the holidays, I was in the mood for something a bit juicier and the library had a copy of The Likeness on the shelf. I am so glad I gave the series another try; as this novel was thrilling, intriguing, and completely unlike any police procedural I have ever read.

Our heroine, Detective Cassie Maddox, was a rising star in the Dublin police force, whose work in Undercover had earned her a coveted spot on the Murder Squad in the first book of the series. However, several errors and unethical choices by Maddox during a high-profile murder case resulted in a humiliating nervous breakdown and a demotion to another unit.

The opening of The Likeness finds Maddox working Domestic Violence cases and still struggling with psychological issues resulting from her last, disastrous case in Murder. When she receives a call from two detectives — her former boss from Undercover and her boyfriend in Murder — asking her to report to a crime scene, she is reluctant to comply. Terrified that refusing would have her fired, and equally terrified that her loss of nerve will be revealed, she goes.

What greets her there is something that she never could have predicted: the young woman who has been murdered is her exact doppelgänger, who has died using the alias “Lexie Madison,” one that Maddox herself invented when she was working Undercover years earlier. Shocked at the turn of events, Maddox cannot understand why she has been pulled into the investigation.

The two detectives leading in the case have an outrageous — and slightly unethical — request of Maddox. They would like to conceal the woman’s murder and send Maddox undercover into the Lexie’s life to see if they can catch her killer. On one hand, Maddox is horrified at the thought of working in the field for the first time since her breakdown. On the other hand, she knows she was a master at Undercover work and is intrigued at the idea of being asked to take on such a delicate — and dangerous — task.

She agrees and soon she is moving into a large estate outside of Dublin, where Lexie — using a stolen identity — lives with her four best friends, all of whom are murder suspects. Each day she must simultaneously be Lexie and learn who Lexie was pretending to be. Having told her friends she survived a stabbing and is recovering from a coma and memory loss (to help conceal any differences they might notice), Maddox slowly has to earn their trust by becoming “their Lexie” and getting them to relax enough to reveal what really happened the night of the murder.

But a strange thing starts to happen to Maddox during the months she is living undercover with the four suspects: she begins to fall in love with the life they are living and deeply care for them. All four of them are orphans, as she is, and they are all creating a life outside of the mainstream: a life filled with music, art, literature, good food, and a friendship that Maddox has never before experienced and finds intoxicating. The lines between who she is and who she is pretending to be grow blurry and soon the investigation stalls. These wonderful people could not have hurt anyone, Maddox begins to believe.

Knowing Maddox is in too deep, the two detectives on the outside force her hand by revealing that one, or all, of the housemates most certainly killed Lexie. Shocked to learn that she has cozied up to the very killer she was sent their to arrest jerks her back into herself. Maddox begins to tear the group apart, hoping that they will reveal the killer before anyone tries to kill Lexie again.

I found it utterly unique to read a murder mystery where the detective lives with and comes to deeply care for the suspects, developing “some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome” that threatens the case and puts her life in danger. Emotionally rich and filled with a truly unique mystery to unravel, The Likeness was a wonderful read!

The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy (2017)

the rules do not apply a levy

When Ariel Levy writes that she has always felt that the “rules do not apply” to her, she truly means that, throughout her life, she has had the passion and granted herself the permission to make her own path. Her non-traditional journey is at times thrilling and at other times heart-breaking; but it is relayed to readers with an unflinching honesty and a surprising lack of melodrama.

Levy decided from an early age that she would not lock herself into any of the traditional roles for women.  She would be sexual adventurous; she would have romantic relationships with both men and women; she would refuse marriage and children; and she would create her own career as a writer. As Levy lived through her twenties, she did reject all of the rules she felt were outdated and punitive to women and forged ahead with her own version of the ideal life.

Then, in her 30s, her life began to change and she had to decide whether to keep resisting “traditional” paths or accept them as she got older. She met and fell in love with an older woman, one who wanted stability and monogamy. She, herself, began to crave financial security and a place to call home. So she relinquished a bit of her wildness to get married and set up a home with her new wife.

However, this conventional path was rockier than she had anticipated and she found herself challenging the very rules she had set for herself when she got married. Soon she and her wife found themselves faced with infidelity, financial hardship, and the ravages of addiction. The two women shouldered on, trying their best to repair their marriage, and deciding that the best course of action to get their lives back on track would be to have a baby together.

However, the pregnancy that resulted drove an even deeper wedge between Levy and her wife. Soon their relationship, which was rocky at best, had to flex to accommodate the man who had fathered their son and all three of their extended families. As her pregnancy progressed, Levy ignored the warning signs that her wife has struggling and felt fiercely proud that she was building a life on her terms…a baby without a husband, a father for her son without the drama of a relationship, a baby with her wife that would bring stability to their home.

The fragile strings that were holding their lives together soon snap and Levy finds herself at rock bottom: suddenly everything she once had is gone and she must decide if she is strong enough to shoulder her grief and rebuild her life.

In The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy shows her successes and her failures, her loves and her heartaches all in equal measure. And she shows readers that all choices have costs, and that whether you follow the rules or you break the rules…there us always a price to be paid.