Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Inn at Rose Harbor (Romance Novel)

Love. Peace. Death. Forgiveness. Healing the Past. Beginning a New Life. 

The Inn at Rose Harbor is the first book in Debbie Macomber’s new series, which is set at a bed and breakfast run by Jo Marie Rose. While the series takes place in Cedar Cove, the scene of her twelve book Cedar Cove series, new readers like me will feel comfortable reading it without knowing the backstories. The book, like most of Macomber’s others, is a bit corny and in some ways innocent, but it still has a way of touching a person’s heart. The book has a faint supernatural element to it, making it a bit more multidimensional.

Briefly, after the death of her new husband, Jo Marie Rose leaves her life in Seattle and opens up a bed and breakfast. Her first guest is Joshua Weaver, who has come to make peace with his dying step-father, who emotionally abused him as a child. Josh becomes reacquainted with Michelle, the “fat girl” from his school days who had a crush on him. Jo Marie’s second guest is Abby Kincaid, who has come to Cedar Cove to attend her brother’s wedding. While she grew up in Cedar Cove, she has avoided coming back because fifteen years earlier her best friend died in a tragic car accident in which Abby was driving.

I love new beginnings. Reading about Jo Marie setting up her B&B and becoming familiar with Cedar Cove, stirs up hope in the future within me. The Inn at Rose Harbor isn’t anywhere near Pulitzer Prize quality. I don’t care. I admire Macomber’s ability to reach out to a huge audience. She connects us with our humanness. While I am not a fan of romance, I enjoyed Macomber’s Blossom Street series, and this new series has gotten off to a good start.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Caliban’s War (SF Novel)

Political Games. Monsters. Traitors. Cascades. Children. Fear. Protomolecules. 

Caliban’s War is worse than a bag of chocolates or a box of crackers; I really, really tried to put it down. It just has too many elements that are addictive to my science fiction loving brain: plenty of action, quirky characters, camaraderie, bad guys, space stuff, a bit of interesting science, a splash of humor, and a dash of irreverent cuss words. Caliban’s War is a direct sequel to Leviathan Wakes and is the second book in James S.A. Corey’s —aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck— The Expanse Series. It is definitely not a standalone novel.

Briefly, Bobbie, a Martian Marine, is the only survivor after her comrades and some UN Soldiers are slaughtered by a monster on the surface of Ganymede. After chasing pirates for the OPA for a year, Holden and company –Naomi, Alex, and Amos–are sent to find out why Mars and Earth have suddenly gone to war over Ganymede. Prax, a botanist specializing in soybeans, has his life’s work wiped out in moments by the war and then finds out his four-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. Avasarala, a foul mouth, sari wearing, power wielding, politician on Earth, tries to keep the solar system safe for her grandchildren. Slowly, they come together to uncover the truth about the monsters and to try to find Prax’s daughter.

I’m not ready to label Caliban’s War “great science fiction”, because it has its flaws. Especially near the beginning, I felt that some of the plot was recycled from Leviathan Wakes. There is a certain flatness to the “bad guys” and a bit too much “giving people what they have coming to them.” While some of the characters were a bit clich├ęd at times, I enjoyed them. I am grateful for the strong female characters. I had fun watching the collaboration between the forthright Bobbie and the political gaming Avasarala. I recognized and learned from the politics. In several instances, individuals and governments in the story would rather further their own political agendas than deal with the real problem, the possibility that the protomolecule might wipe out humankind. I was touched by the way the novel looks at how individuals deal with traumatic events. Oh, must I wait until next year before the third book in the series comes out?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

In This Our Life (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Happiness. Freedom. Suicides. Generations. Love. Justice. Racism. Social Reform. Family. 

In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow won the 1942 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a film the same year. It is a slow moving, character driven novel. At times it is poignant. Many of the themes are timeless. Chapters focus on different characters in the story, helping to keep the novel fresh and interesting.

In the beginning of the story we meet Asa, who has had a pitiable life. He is the father of two grown daughters and a grown son, and the husband of Lavinia, whom he doesn’t like let alone love. Lavinia has been an invalid for most of their marriage, and her wealthy uncle, William, has helped them to survive financially. Roy, the older daughter, has been married to Peter for three years. Stanley, the younger daughter, is going to be married to Craig, a social reformer, in a few days. But, everyone can feel that something is wrong. That something becomes clear when Stanley and Peter run off together. Because Stanley has been the charmer most of her life, people don’t seem to hold the indiscretion against her. Roy, who has always been the strong one, puts on a strong front, but in time she finds herself comforting Craig. When Stanley’s marriage to Peter takes a tragic turn, she returns home and manages to inflict more hurt on innocent people. Craig’s ideals are put to the test. Asa finds courage.

At first I found the story incredible boring. Eventually, I found it comforting and touching because of how it speaks about life. I found it interesting because of the way it deals with racism in the context of the late 1930’s. I also found myself pondering my own life.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Leviathan Wakes (SF Novel)

Asteroids. Stealth Technology. Finding the Truth. Conspiracies. Detectives. Wars. Experiments. Governments. Corporations. Rebel Organizations. Aliens. Politics. 

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey —Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck— is what I call a “good read.” It has likeable characters, good world-building, plenty of action, and a storyline with interesting twists and turns. The book has the feel of a science fiction/detective story hybrid. Leviathan Wakes was nominated for the 2012 Locus SF and Hugo Awards.

The story takes place in a world where people have colonized at least as far as the Asteroid Belt. Briefly, in response to a distress call, Holden, second in command of an ice-hauler, takes a team to investigate a disabled ship. While away, their hauler is attacked and its crew killed. Holden finds evidence that the Mars Navy may be to blame. After a Mars ship picks up Holden and his team, the rescuing ship is attacked and most of its crew killed. Holden and his team manage to escape and find themselves befriended by Fred, a former war-hero who is now part of the Outer Planet Alliance, a rebel group. Holden’s various disclosures of information manage to inflame emotions in a solar system already on the brink of war. Holden and his team, haunted by the deaths of their colleagues, try to get to the bottom of the attacks on their ice-hauler and the Mars ship. Meanwhile, Miller, a detective on Ceres, is asked to kidnap Julie, the daughter of a wealthy family, and send her back to her parents. But, as he investigates the case, he suspects that it has more far-reaching implications than just a dysfunctional family. He becomes obsessed with Julie. Even after he is taken off the case and fired, he continues to search for her. Holden’s team and Miller cross paths and for a time join forces. The book ends on a satisfying note, while making us want to know what happens next.

For me, Leviathan Wakes was enjoyable because of the good storytelling. Some of the little details popped out, making me feel like I was watching a movie. Holden and his team is the group that we all wish we belonged to. Miller’s down on his luck detective personality adds to the strong human element. Because I did not read very many reviews ahead of time, the twist in the story caught me by complete surprise; I thought this was the story about the incidents leading up to a huge, multiple book, war. While I have seen elements of the story in other novels, the combination is still fresh and interesting. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Now in November (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Debt. Drought. Death. Farming. Faith. 

Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson received the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1935. I would imagine that this book has spent a long time little read, relegated mainly to English classes. (Scenes from the Bookworld in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series come to mind.) Our local librarians loving found me a copy to read. Yet, the slim novel is especially relevant right now. It describes people who live day to day with the anxiety of possibly losing their homes. It describes an ever-growing drought, which many of us in the United States can relate to this year. It describes faith, love of nature, and coming of age, experiences that are timeless.

Briefly, the story is told by Marget, who in the beginning of the story is 14. She moves with her two sisters and her parents to a farm, which she soon discovers is mortgaged. They have lost almost everything they have owned and the farm is seen as their last chance. Her father’s every waking moment is shaped by his fear of losing the farm. Marget and her younger sister, Merle, see the beauty in the farm and in the land. Her older sister, Kerrin, is described in terms of her dark moods. The second part of the story takes place ten years after they move to the farm, during the drought year. The family has a new hired man, Grant, who affects the sisters in different ways. Despite taking a job as a teacher, Kerrin’s moods grow even darker. A tragic event leaves the family forever changed.

I enjoyed Johnson’s writing, especially her descriptions of nature and her gentle, introspective narrative. This helps her describe devastating events in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the reader. Perhaps because both of my parents grew up on farms, I felt especially connected to the characters in the story. While some might consider the book depressing, it is also haunting and beautiful.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Islanders (SF/Fantasy Novel)

Islands. Artists. Winds. Wars. Lovers. A Murder. Social Reformers. Tunnels. Theater. Deadly Insects. Writers. Traces. Glass Panes. Visual and Temporal Distortions. 

The Islanders by Christopher Priest reminds me why I keep bothering to read science fiction. This novel is fresh and imaginative, defying an easy categorization. Is it a fantasy, mystery, science fiction, or regular fiction? It takes place in another world, yet has things like gap years (British) and cell phones. Many of the chapters are part of some overarching plotline, but some are not. A number of the plotlines interweave. Most chapters are written in the third person, but some are written in the first person. Some chapters take place in the past, others in the present or possibly future. It is easy to see why The Islanders won the 2011 British Science Fiction Association and 2012 Campbell Awards.

Briefly, the novel is set up as a gazetteer of the islands that circle the world. The chapters appear alphabetically by island name. Most chapters describe the geography and other things that a tourist might need to know. Most chapters also include some part of a story. The result is that storylines are told geographically rather than chronologically, like most novels.

I am so, so glad that I read The Islanders. It mentally challenged me. It made me laugh. It made me think about life differently. Some of the passages were so beautiful, I sighed. One chapter was so horrifying that I had to get up and distract myself to make the images leave my mind. I am sure that I missed some of things going on, and I hope to reread the novel some time in the future.