Dark in Death by JD Robb (2018)

Book #46, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

Lt. Eve Dallas is back in her forty-sixth adventure, set in New York City of 2061, overseeing a murder investigation that has claimed the life of a up-and-coming Broadway star. The bizarre details of the young woman’s death strike a cord with a local mystery writer, who comes to Eve with her fears that the murderer may be committing “lethal plagiarism” by acting out the murders from her series of books called the Dark series.

Almost immediately Eve confirms that the murder of the young woman is almost an exact replica of the murder in book two of the Dark series. A short look into open cases in the city shows her that just a month prior another young woman was killed in a manner that imitated book one in the series. Now the team is scrambling to read all eight books in the series, quiz the author on her plots and motivations for the books, scour fan mail to the author, and follow the available forensic evidence; all in an attempt to stop the murderer from committing six more copy-cat murders.

A cast of strong women, led by Eve and Peabody, come together to dig deep into the damaged psyche of a murderer who went from super-fan to serial killer: to find out what happened and how he can be stopped.

 

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A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)

Inspired by the imminent release of the new A Wrinkle in Time film from Disney, one of my book clubs selected to read this children’s literature classic for our March book selection, followed by a of group viewing the movie. A Wrinkle in Time is a slim volume, book one in a quintet written by Madeleine L’Engle, and took just a few hours to read. The story follows high-schooler Meg Murry who goes on an intergalactic journey to find her missing father and attempts to lessen the power a dark force that is exerting its evil over the universe.

On Earth, Meg is awkward, angry, and quarrelsome; often in trouble in school and lacking close friends. Her social isolation is made worse by her longing for her father, whose work for the US Government has taken him away from his family for several years. One of her only consolations is her deep connection to her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace, whose startling intelligence and empathy are those of a much older boy and who has what at times seems like a supernatural power to read minds.

With the arrival in town of three very unusual women — Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit — Charles Wallace and Meg are launched on a journey into the far reaches of the universe, along with their neighbor, Calvin. Traveling along the fifth dimension, using a series of time travel short cuts or “wrinkles in time,” the children are taken to the outer edges of the universe to save their father from a planet whose residents have succumbed to the Dark Thing.

Using their own unique skills and gifts given to them by the Mrs., the children temporarily defeat the Dark Thing’s accomplish the IT and rescue their father, returning him home to reunite him with their mother and siblings. While this is a book loved by my sons, I find myself a bit underwhelmed by the story which fluctuates between too complex and too simplistic and which seems unsophisticated to today’s reader. I have no doubt, however, that the movie will be outstanding and more than make up for the book’s shortcomings.

 

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (2017)

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“Everything that I am seeing is all physically balanced on the cusp between the now of things and the big, incomprehensible change to come. If it is true that every living particle that I can see and not see, and all that is living and perhaps unliving too, is trimming its sails and coming about and heading back to port, what does that mean? Where are we bound? Is it any different, in fact, from where we were going in the first place?” 13

Louise Erdrich’s stunning new novel, Future Home of the Living God, is an ecstatic, psychedelic, feminist masterpiece: one that tells stories about the raw power of women, of mothers, of the continuance of life against all odds: and it is about the inevitable, horrific ways that men in power will dirty and corrupt change in an effort to control the uncontrollable.

A series of huge and irreversible environmental disasters have set into motion massive global changes; whether or not human-kind can survive those changes is unknown. Everything that is known, or even guessed, about the origins of life on planet Earth are being called into question and no one — neither scientist, politician, nor religious leader — can predict what will happen to those left on earth. The question that emerges as even more urgent to answer is: what will happen to those who are about to arrive on earth?

As governments crumble and people devolve into violence and chaos, the call to round up all pregnant women and detain them against their will is is growing louder. Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a young Ojibwe woman living in Minneapolis, sees the world crumbling and is unsure where to turn: towards her white, adoptive parents or to her biological Native parents on their reservation in Norther Minnesota? Who can best protect her during these uncertain times, and who can best protect her unborn baby from a government that wants to take it for their own experimentation?

” I know this: there is nothing one human being will not due to another. We need a god who sides with the wretched. One willing to share misery.” 153

The dystopic story that follows is riveting and horrifying, but expertly written by Erdrich. The author blends Native story-telling, Catholicism, New-Age spirituality, evolutionary biology, and her own unique visions of the future to tell Cedar’s tale. What will become of women, she asks, when men in power decided that they will seize complete control of human reproduction?  The answer, nothing good.

The future of the world is not a devastating and dramatic end but a complete reversal. Things begin to move backward, time reverses, and humans shed their civility in response. Women, as always, are simultaneously the key to the Future and  extraordinarily vulnerable to the ill-intent of science, religion, and men who want to claim their power to create life for their own.

This book is, I say again, a masterpiece of science fiction — of fiction! — and should not be missed.

“That my body is capable of building a container for the human spirit has inspired in me the will to survive. It has also shown me truths. Someone has been tortured on my behalf. Someone has been tortured on your behalf. Some in this world will always be suffering for your behalf. If it comes your time to suffer, just remember. Someone suffered for you. That is what taking on the cloak of human flesh is all about, the willingness to hurt for another human being.” 205

 

Year One by Nora Roberts (2017)

Chronicles of The One series, Book #1

In Year One, Nora Roberts has published what I consider one of the best books she has written in years, and I have read every single book she has ever written. This futuristic novel is a combination dystopian science-fiction thriller and fantasy story: introducing readers to a cast of characters, both human and super-human, who are fighting preserve the United States from an apocalyptic civil war.

As the story opens (presumably in 2017,) an ill passenger boards a flight from Dublin to New York City and unknowingly infects hundreds of people who cross his path. This man sets into motion a violent, deadly plague — called The Doom — that in less than a month kills more than half of the world’s population. In almost no time at all, The Doom causes cities to crumble, governments to dissolve, and turns the United States into a violent waste-land.

Among the survivors there emerges three distinct groups of people: humans who are for unknown reasons immune to The Doom; a population of peaceful magical people (called The Uncanny) who have extraordinary powers; and their murderous counter-parts, The Dark Uncanny. Fear and paranoia grows between the three groups, as everyone struggles to find a way to survive in a world that is quickly running out of supplies needed to keep the remaining population alive.

A group of main characters emerge from the over-arching story, humans and Uncanny who want to work together to build a new, peaceful civilization. This group rescues survivors, stockpiles food, medicines, and other essentials, and who — after a months-long struggle — begins to build a city together, New Hope. At New Hope, the residents take up farming, raising animals, building schools and hospitals, and offering each other solace and peaceful respite from the bloody battles that have raged since the epidemic emerged.

However, two terrifying threats appear on the horizon and threaten all of the hard work the residents of New Hope have done. The Purity Warriors are a group of Christian extremist determined to rid the world of the Uncanny, often in the most bloody and horrific ways. The Dark Uncanny also begin to grow in power, they are using their supernatural abilities to kill everyone who attempts to control them — human or superhuman. A civil war begins to brew between the three groups.

One woman, an Uncanny named Lana, who has worked for months to protect survivors and help bring them from the across the country to New Hope becomes the target of increasingly terrifying attacks; many people begin to believe that she is the person prophesied to bring an end to the civil war to the restore peace to what is left of the United States.

This book is Nora Roberts at her very best: a unique and thrilling story populated with great characters; one that she manages to keep well-balanced between contemporary drama, science-fiction, and fantasy. I am looking forward to Book 2!

 

Artemis by Andy Weir (2017)

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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.

Secrets in Death by JD Robb (2017)

Book #45, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

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In the forty-fifth installment of her futuristic, sci-fi, police procedural mystery series, JD Robb brings back her entire cast of colorful, and often lovable, characters to New York City of the future; a place of crime, abuse, and violence; but also one of huge technological and social advances.

This book opens on a cold, February evening in a swanky wine bar, where Eve Dallas is meeting a colleague with whom she has had a contentious relationship with in recent years. As the two women discuss the best way to get past their personal differences, a women drops dead of a stab wound at the bar in front of them.

Although Eve and her colleague cannot save the woman, they are able to immediately open the investigation. The murdered woman was a TV personality famous for her ability to dig up dirty secrets on celebrities. Immediately it becomes clear that there are nearly infinite numbers of people who this woman has harmed with her malicious form of journalism. But Eve senses there is a rage even deeper than embarrassment behind the murder, and digs even deeper.

Soon Eve and her team uncover a list of people who the reporter was blackmailing: demanding both huge financial pay-offs and dirt on other rich and famous people as payment. It is in this group of people that Eve is certain her murderer lies…someone fed up with secrets and the horrible cost that the murdered woman extracted from them for not revealing it.

Another solid installment in a long-running and (mostly) enteraining franchise.

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)

Western-novel writer Bobbi Anderson lives in rural Haven, Maine, where she spends most of her time alone, writing, hiking with her dog, with an occasional visit to her neighbor Jim. Jim “Gard” Gardner is an barely functioning alcoholic, failing poet, and anti-nuclear activist; he is also Bobbi’s sometimes lover.

One summer morning, Bobbi and her dog, Pete, are hiking in the woods outside her home when Bobbi stumbles across a metal object that she cannot identify, nor remove from the soil. Intrigued, Bobbi makes a cursory attempt to remove the object but finding it too heavy, and lodged too deep, and thinks to continue hiking and forgot about it. But she finds that she cannot. She is inexplicably drawn to dig the object up. She works for hours the first day, and then finds herself returning day after day, digging endlessly trying to retrieve — desperate to retrieve — the object and find out what it is.

The object has an immediate and hypnotic effect on Bobbi, and her obsession with it begins to take over Bobbi’s life. Despite the fact that bizarre and terrifying events begin happening once she discovers it, Bobbi cannot stop her excavation.

Three weeks after Bobbi’s discovery, “Gard” arrives back in Haven to find Bobbi a changed woman; nearly mad and physically almost dead from the efforts of her digging and other “projects” that have consumed her since finding the object. Bobbi reveals to Gard what she has found — what she calls The Tommyknockers — and he is stunned…not just by her discovery but by the way it has transformed her into someone almost unrecognizable.

The two must decide what they will do with the discovery: the revelation might change the world (if they can convince the world that the Tommyknockers are real) but it also might mean that the two of them would be locked up and interrogated for more information. And there are the fascinating projects that Bobbi has begun to build, things that seem as if they should not exist at all, and certainly not built by a writer with no previous technical skill; things that are of immense importance and value.

To keep it secret means they risk the unearthly pull the object has on them, with no one and nothing to dilute its effects. However it also means that whatever gifts or knowledge the Tommyknockers have to bestow upon the world will belong to just the two of them…at least for a while.

What will they choose? What will the Tommyknockers reveal? What risks are worth taking and what are Bobbi and Gard willing to give up of themselves in or to receive the Tommyknockers wisdom?