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review 2018-06-30 22:15
Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell
Embers of War - Gareth L. Powell

Three years ago, Conglomeration and Outward forces were at war. One of their most terrible battles was fought on and around the planet Pelapatarn. On the orders of her superiors, Captain Annelida Deal directed Conglomeration ships to lay waste to everything on the surface of Pelapatarn. The planet's sentient jungle would die, as would hundreds of thousands of civilians and both Outward and Conglomeration troops, but Captain Deal's superiors believed that this one terrible move would end the war, and Deal agreed with them.

In the book's present, the war is indeed over, but the peace between the two sides is wary and tense at best. Sal Konstanz, formerly a member of the Outward forces and a horrified witness to the carnage at Pelapatarn, is now a member of the House of Reclamation, a politically neutral group dedicated to rescuing survivors of damaged/wrecked ships. She's the captain of the Trouble Dog, an ex-Conglomeration ship seeking to atone for the bombing of Pelapatarn.

When a passenger liner mysteriously shuts itself down, the AI equivalent of committing suicide, the Trouble Dog is the closest House of Reclamation ship available to rescue any survivors. Unfortunately, this mission has more complications than the Trouble Dog or any of her crew realizes.

I picked this one up because I'm drawn to stories with prominent AI characters in them. Trouble Dog was my favorite thing about this book, although I feel like Powell didn't go as far with her as he could have. For example, Nod kept saying how sad Trouble Dog was, something that Sal couldn't see and that Trouble Dog herself probably would have disagreed with (battleship AIs aren't supposed to feel sad about taking lives). In the book, AIs are grown from cloned human cells and, after a period of time, those organic parts sometimes bleed into their personalities more than their creators intended. Trouble Dog had clearly grown a conscience during the war and had indicated that she regretted her actions. Nod's chapters made it seem like she was maybe feeling more than she could process or fully recognize. I'm not sure the rest of the book ever confirmed that, though, and I feel like that thread eventually got dropped.

I'm not sure why the book's blurb and several reviews called this a fast-paced story. It really wasn't. Trouble Dog spent most of the book journeying to the wreck, with a couple stops here and there. I found myself thinking that at least half the people who survive shipwrecks must die of their injuries, dehydration, or starvation waiting to be rescued if it always takes House of Reclamation ships that long to arrive.

The characters and their gradually intersecting paths kept my attention well enough, despite the surprisingly drawn out journey to the downed ship. Sal battled with guilt over the death of one of her crew members and worried about what she'd do after she was thrown out of the House of Reclamation as she expected she soon would be. Ona Sudak's secret was blindingly obvious, but I looked forward to seeing what her final destination would be, as she tried to evade death/capture on a strange, planet-sized alien artifact. Ashton Childe, a Conglomeration agent desperate to be assigned somewhere cooler than the jungle he seemed fated to spend the rest of his life in, didn't interest me as much, but I at least wanted to see how he tied in with Sal, Trouble Dog, and Ona Sudak.

The book alternated between chapters from various characters' POVs (first-person, but thankfully not present tense). I didn't feel like most of the POVs were very well-differentiated, but the only one that actively annoyed me was Nod's. Nod was Trouble Dog's very alien engineer. Considering how important Nod was to Trouble Dog's continued ability to function, it was a little shocking how rarely anyone ever seemed to think of the character. I often forgot it even existed.

Even so, Nod's constant mental grumbling about the World Tree, Trouble Dog's damage, and the way no one on the ship ever thanked it for its work was kind of annoying. The part that really got to me, though, was the final chapter, where Nod thought something to the effect of "I know an important thing that I don't plan to tell anybody, but if someone thought to ask me..." Either tell them or don't, Nod. Wallowing in it like this makes you a jerk, especially if this thing you know could get people killed.

The ending was a disappointment. Trouble Dog said they were ushering in an era of "peace and diplomacy rather than a hawkish reliance on military strength" (402), but I disagreed. You know the saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? That's the feeling I got from the ending, and I didn't get enough of a sense that the characters truly realized what they were unleashing. The only exception was maybe Trouble Dog, but she seemed to think the end justified the means, which was odd considering her history. Despite my worries about where Powell plans to go with all of this, I'll probably read the next book once it's out.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-05-21 11:52
The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides,Nick Landrum

The Virgin Suicides just like Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's pleasantly surprised me. I have seen the film many years ago and I remember the feeling of nostalgia settling in after the film has ended. (I think Josh Hartnett's dreamy eyes played a part in it. ;) ) I found the book does the same. A well-constructed storytelling draws you into the adolescent impressionable world - dealing with growing up, falling in love and dying. The novel doesn't answer questions. Instead, the novel makes you want to cross the street from the boys' spying place to the Lisbons' house, knock on the door and ask, 'What is happening inside?'

 

The story is a reminisce of a grown man and is told from the collective first-person of teen-aged boys (I think there are 7 of them, I tried to count) who are obsessed with the enigmatic Lisbon sisters: Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux and Cecilia. Cecilia is the first one to attempt and complete suicide setting in motion series of various responses from neighbours and schoolmates. Her suicide stirs up the sleepy neighbourhood, confronts them and makes them deal with emotions and feelings that are suppressed due to being unacceptable in social circles. While the remaining sisters are attempting to move on with their lives - they too are confronted with social pressure and parental restriction. How do they escape?

 

The novel's narrative is stylistically flowing. This uncomplicated language adds to the emptiness of the beautiful world around when dealing with macabre events. The novel does not claim to be omniscient, but its memories are fragile just like the sisters.

 

One can discuss and draw so many different issues and themes from the novel that I think it would be perfect for any literary essay. One thing did surprise me that at the end, after having walked the reader through the story, the author calls the act of suicide "simple selfishness". My understanding that even as an adult, the narrator is still dealing with personal guilt and consciousness. 

 

Brilliant read. A must.

 

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review 2018-01-08 16:25
When the Fire Wanes
The Gods of Guilt - Michael Connelly

So I really did enjoy this one, but thought the angst that Haller was dealing with was ridiculous. I also wish that Connelly had showed us Haller running for the DA's office and how the scandal affected him in the moment. We are hearing about events from about a year ago in the series and it just drove me up the wall we didn't get to experience it. 

 

Haller is down and out in this one. He has returned to drinking, and seems to be going through the motions. Haller lost trying to run as a DA after a former client of his ends up killing someone close to Hayley and Maggie. Haller is blamed and just gets destroyed at the polls. What's worse is that Hayley and even Maggie barely speak to him anymore. He hasn't seen his daughter in a year, and when he does see Maggie at the courthouse she turns and goes in another direction. Haller keeps seeing his father's old partner (called Legal) who is doing his best to get Haller to get over his shit and get back to defending his clients. A fire has gone out in Haller and everyone can see it.


When Haller gets a call to defend a man who is charged with killing a prostitute, Haller is curious how his name was brought up. The ties into the case that first brought us Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) was pretty fantastic. Haller starts to get back a little of what he lost in the preceding year and even gets a love interest in this one (that I ended up feeling sorry for throughout). 

 

Haller is ready to take down the dragon in this one since he realizes that he truly has a client that is innocent, problem is that there are many that want him to go to jail since it would bring up a lot of corruption. 

 

We have Haller get put in harm's way and we lose a character that I loved. Haller talks about the personal jury that judges us all in the end, and I feel for him. He's definitely got his groove back by the end of the book. But what comes before definitely changes him. 

 

We get recurring characters in this one. We have Lorna judging Haller a lot in this one. I wish we had some more dialogue between these two since Haller acts way too much like her husband at times and she is angry at Haller too.


We have a Bosch sighting (seriously though it's weird Bosch was all blase about his half brother almost being killed) that made me shrug a bit.

The court room scenes still are my favorite parts of this series.

 

The ending leaves Haller at a type of peace for the moment. 

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review 2017-08-30 00:03
My Review of Admission of Guilt
Admission of Guilt - T.V. LoCicero

Admission of Guilt by T.V. LoCicero is the second book in The detroit im dyin Trilogy. It can be read as a stand alone. When a 13 year old girl is shot and killed, her teacher, John Giordano, takes matters in his own hands to do something about the drugs in her neighborhood.

 

I thought the premise was interesting, but the execution to pull this story together was a bit flat. I would start a chapter, and for a few paragraphs I wouldn't know which character the author was referring to. It threw my reading off a bit. Also, there were several grammatical errors, but I looked over this because I wanted to know the outcome.

 

I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2017-08-01 22:02
For discerning readers who enjoy books about the human condition
A Horse Walks into a Bar: A novel - David Grossman,Jessica Cohen

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the first book I’ve read by David Grossman. I hope it won’t be the last.

The description probably gives a fair idea of the plot. Yes, we are in Netanya, Israel, and we are spectators of the act of a stand-up comedian, Dovelah Greenstein (or Dov G.). He is 57 years old (as he repeatedly reminds us through the evening), skinny (almost emaciated), and seems to become increasingly desperate as the night goes. He tells jokes, anecdotes, makes comments about the city, the spectators, Jews (yes, the self-deprecation readers of Philip Roth, for example, will be familiar with), says some politically incorrect things, tells a number of jokes (some really funny, some odd, some quite old), and insists on telling us a story about his childhood, despite the audience’s resistance to listening to it.

The beauty (or one of them) of the novel, is the narrator. Yes, I’m back to my obsession with narrators. The story is told in the first-person by Avishai Lazar, a judge who was unceremoniously removed from his post when he started becoming a bit too vocal and opinionated in his verdicts. The two characters were friends as children, and Dov calls Avishai asking him to attend his performance. His request does not only come completely out of the blue (they hadn’t seen each other since they were in their teens), but it is also quite weird. He does not want a chat, or to catch up on old times. He wants the judge to tell him what he sees when he looks at him. He wants him to tell him what other people see, what essence they perceive when they watch him. Avishai, who is a widower and still grieving, is put-off by this and reacts quite rudely, but eventually, agrees.

Although the novel is about Dov’s performance and his story (his need to let it all hang out, to explain his abuse but also his feeling of guilt about a personal tragedy), that is at times light and funny, but mostly sad and even tragic, he is not the character who changes and grows the most during the performance (his is an act of exorcism, a way of getting rid of his demons). For me, the story, sad and depressing as it can be at times (this is not a book for everybody, and I suspect many readers will empathise with quite a few of the spectators who leave the performance before it ends), is ultimately about redemption. Many narrators have told us in the past (The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness) that in telling somebody else’s story, they are also telling their own. This is indeed the case here. The judge (at first we don’t know who is narrating the story, but we get more and more details as the performance advances) is very hostile at first and keeps wondering why he is there, and wanting to leave. But at some point, the rawness, the determination, and the sheer courage of the comedian, who keeps going no matter how difficult it gets, break through his protective shell and he starts to question his own actions and his life. If this might be Dev’s last performance, in a way it is a beginning of sorts, especially for the judge.

Readers become the ersatz club audience, and it is very difficult to stop watching something that is so extreme and desperate, but it is also difficult to keep watching (or reading) as it becomes more and more painful. It is as if we were spectators in a therapy session where somebody is baring his soul. We feel as if we are intruding on an intimate moment, but also that perhaps we are providing him with some comfort and support to help him go through the process. Although other than the two main characters we do not get to know the rest in detail, there are familiar types we might recognise, and there is also a woman who knew the comedian when he was a child and, perhaps, plays the part of the therapist (a straight faced one, but the one he needs).

The book is beautifully written and observed. Grossman shows a great understanding of psychology and also of group interactions. Although I am not an expert on stand-up comedy, the dynamics of the performance rang true to me. I cannot compare it to the original, but the translation is impressive (I find it difficult to imagine anybody could do a better job, and if the original is even better, well…).

As I said before, this is not a book for everybody. Although it is quite short, it is also slow and intense (its rhythm is that of the performance, which ebbs and flows). None of the characters (except, perhaps, the woman) are immediately sympathetic, and they are flawed, not confident enough or too confident and dismissive, over-emotional or frozen and unable to feel, and they might not seem to have much in common with the reader, at first sight. This is not a genre book (literary fiction would be the right label, if we had to try and give it one), there is no romance (or not conventional romance), no action, no heroes or heroines, and not much happens (a whole life happens, but not in the usual sense). If you are interested in characters that are real in their humanity (for better and for worse), don’t mind a challenge, and want to explore something beyond the usual, I recommend you this book.

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