Review ~ Harmony in Light

This book was provided to me for review consideration by WordFire Press & the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America via NetGalley.

Harmony in Light

Harmony in Light by Walter H. Hunt

In 1880s Paris, a doctor encounters a statuette that can drive men mad, secret societies, and a bridge between worlds that threatens disastrous consequences. Throughout, he is assisted and opposed by historical figures such as Charlie Dickens, the son living in his late father’s shadow, a young Sigmund Freud and the ghost of the Marquis de Sade.

Why was I interested in this book?

On NetGalley, I’ve been auto-approved by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This means I can read any of the titles they are currently promoting via NetGalley without going through any approval process. It’s a bit of perk. I hadn’t reviewed anything for them in a while and Harmony in Light sounded like it might be interesting, despite my general avoidance of fiction with historical celebrities.

What did I think?

I was a little dubious going into Harmony in Light. Using historical personages in fiction is hard to get right. Often, a reader has a notion of the personage’s character and that can clash with the author’s version of that character. In this case though, I have very little opinion of Charles Dickens, Jr., Sigmund Freud, the Marquis de Sade, or Guy de Maupassant (who is also there). I didn’t even know if Dickens had children. He did, in fact, have 10 children.

Actually, Hunt errs on the other end of using historical celebrities: I’m not sure that the names and reputations they brought to the story were necessary. But perhaps I’m missing some connections. There are a lot of characters and names to keep track of.

I did enjoy the central mystery of the plot. Dr. Sauvier is a good investigator and the skeptical foil to the statuette’s weirdness and the societies of mesmerists looking to control it. Occasionally, the narrative felt a little padded out, but Hunt’s occult Paris is a diverting enough setting. I also rather liked the ending. Hunt has written some alternate history in the past, but he side-steps messing with future history here.

Other Info

Published: Nov. 26, 2018 by WordFire Press
My copy: PDF/Kindle ARC

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#FrankenSlam! Review & WrapUp

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

via Goodreads

It’s been two and a half years since I read Frankenstein. I decided to give it another read this year due to the 200th anniversary of its publication.

I started out reading an edition annotated for “Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.” I figured it would be a nice twist—to read a novel I’d read twice before with the context of what scientists and engineers have to say about the book. Unfortunately, I misunderstood. The annotations aren’t by scientists for scientists; they are by a group of literature/philosophy/humanities people written at scientists. There was a preachy quality to the annotations that really annoyed me. Speaking as a bachelor of arts schmuck who hangs out with a lot of engineers, it’s off-the-mark to assume that people in the sciences are ignorant of ethics.

I have also come to have a problem with how Frankenstein is held up as the quintessential example of science gone wrong. There is very little science in Frankenstein. The image of Victor Frankenstein as a scientist is pretty laughable. There are very few instances where science is done alone in a vacuum. Technology is reliant on thousands of people working together. The lone mad scientist (or even the benevolent Tony Stark) might as well be a wizard casting a spell for all he or she has to do with science.

So, about midway through I switched to an edition illustrated by David Plunkert, which was much less vexing.

Illustration by David Plunkert
from Rockport Publisher’s Classics Reimagined series.

Last time I read, I was struck by how much of the book Frankenstein spends running away. This time around I found him nearly insufferable. Having read Paradise Lost just before this, I could see a parallel between the monster and Satan: both get the best lines and elicit more sympathy than the “main” character. Frankenstein is more like Adam in the late books of Paradise Lost. He has done wrong, but like a little kid he’s going to whine about it and try to dodge his responsibilities as much as possible.

#FrankenSlam! WrapUp

Jay @ Bibliophilopolis hosted the FrankenSlam! Challenge: Read Frankenstein and the three books that comprise the monster’s education. There were also other Frankenstein related activities.

Alas, I have fallen short.

I read Frankenstein and two out of three of the other books. I started Plutarch’s Lives, but I didn’t get very far.

Here are my reviews of the other two:
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goeth
Paradise Lost John Milton

I did talk quite a bit to Eric about the whole endeavor, much to his chagrin. I also rewatched the first season of Penny Dreadful which I’m counting as an adaptation. But, I’m just short of a full FrankenSlam!

Review ~ Unholy Land

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley for review consideration.

Unholy Land

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

From the bestselling author of Central Station comes an extraordinary new novel recalling China Miéville and Michael Chabon, entertaining and subversive in equal measures.

Lior Tirosh is a semi-successful author of pulp fiction, an inadvertent time traveler, and an ongoing source of disappointment to his father.

Tirosh has returned to his homeland in East Africa. But Palestina—a Jewish state founded in the early 20th century—has grown dangerous. Unrest in Ararat City is growing; the government is building a vast border wall to keep out African refugees. Tirosh has become state security officer Bloom’s prime murder suspect, while rogue agent Nur stalks them through transdimensional rifts—possible futures to prevented only by avoiding the mistakes of the past.

via Goodreads

It is actually really hard to review Unholy Land after reading its afterword by Warren Ellis.

Unholy Land is one of those lovely books that starts out presenting itself as one thing, and mutates into another almost without you seeing it.

In a way, that’s spot on.  This book starts with a “what if.” What if a Jewish state had been founded in Uganda? It was a scheme in the early 1900s, but one that was never acted on. And, if you’re familiar with Lavie Tidhar’s style of writing, this what if is a tasty morsel. Tidhar’s forte is in providing settings that you feel like you’re walking through, sweating in, having dinner and drinks at. It’s even better when the setting is a mash-up of cultures and technologies.

But I disagree that Unholy Land‘s transformation, from an alternate world noir to a more politically charged thriller,  occurs without notice. Tidhar does things that are designed to put the reader off-kilter. Point of view changes happen not only between chapters but within scenes. Memories shift for characters. It’s obvious early on that something more is going on than originally meets the eye. This isn’t a comfortable book despite my wanting to spend time in the world. I enjoyed it, but I also feel like I’m going to need to reread it. And that’s not a bad thing.

Publishing Information: Tachyon Publications, November 2018
My copy: Kindle ARC
Genre: science fiction

Review ~ Nothing to Devour

This book was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley for review consideration.

Nothing to Devour cover

Nothing to Devour by Glen Hirshberg

Librarian Emilia is alone in a library that is soon to close its doors forever. Alone save for one last patron, his head completely swathed in bandages, his hands gloved, not one inch of skin exposed. Emilia feels sorry for him–like her, he is always alone.

Today, he sees, really sees, Emilia.
What he does to her then is unspeakable.

Thousands of miles away, another victim rises—a dead woman who still lives. Sophie is determined to protect the people she loves best in the world—but she is a monster.

To Jess, it doesn’t matter that Sophie was once as close to her as her own daughter. It doesn’t matter that Sophie’s baby died so that Jess’s grandson could live. It only matters that Sophie is a vampire.

Vampires can’t be trusted.
Even if they love you.

Aunt Sally loved all the monsters she’d created in the hundreds of years since she died and rose again. She loved her home in the bayou. When her existence was exposed to the human world, she didn’t hesitate to destroy her home, and her offspring, to save herself. Herself, and one special girl, Aunt Sally’s last chance to be a perfect mother.

These people are drawn together from across the United States, bound by love and hatred, by the desire for reunification and for revenge.

In their own ways, they are all monsters.
Some deserve to live.
Some do not. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Glen Hirshberg is currently my favorite horror author.

What Worked
One of the strong points of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was its themes of family set among a group of monsters. That novel (and its sequels) only barely scratches the surface in comparison to Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Children trilogy, which concludes with Nothing to Devour. As a Gen X writer, it’s not surprising that Hirshberg begins with a base of found family on which to build his monsters.

In the aftermath of Good Girls (book 2), Jess flees with  her grandson and the remaining survivors, including orphan Rebecca, to a remote island in the Pacific northwest. What she establishes isn’t quite family, but it’s all she, and they, have. Their relationships are a contrast to Emily’s strong family ties, though she is trying to grow-up and away from her parents. That’s before her “Invisible Man” intervenes.

Don’t misunderstand, this trilogy isn’t all family drama. Not in the least. Hirshberg doesn’t shy away from shock and gore. He just makes sure you care about the characters first.

What Didn’t Work
I really wish I would have reread Motherless Child and Good Girls leading up to Nothing to Devour. This *is* the final book in a trilogy. It doesn’t stand alone and its cast is large enough that I didn’t entirely remember who was who at the beginning of the book.

I also still maintain that Hirshberg does his best, most unsettling, work in shorter forms. While these novels are solidly horror, they lack the gnawing chills of stories like “Struwwelpeter” or “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” (from his collection The Two Sams).

Overall
I had pretty much put a stake into vampires as a good literary monster before Motherless Child. The entire Motherless Children trilogy is a great resurrection of the trope.

Publishing info, my copy: Epub, Tor, release date: Nov. 6, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley, 7/24/18
Genre: horror

Review ~ The Moving Blade

This book was provided to me by the author (and NetGalley) for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

The Moving Blade by Michael Pronko

When the top American diplomat in Tokyo, Bernard Mattson, is killed, he leaves more than a lifetime of successful Japan-American negotiations. He leaves a missing manuscript, boxes of research, a lost keynote speech and a tangled web of relations.

When his alluring daughter, Jamie, returns from America wanting answers, finding only threats, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is dragged from the safe confines of his office into the street-level realities of Pacific Rim politics.

With help from ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, Hiroshi searches for the killer from back alley bars to government offices, through anti-nuke protests to military conspiracies. When two more bodies turn up, Hiroshi must choose between desire and duty, violence or procedure, before the killer silences his next victim. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the second book in the Detective Hiroshi series.  I read the first book The Last Train in May of 2017 and enjoyed it. The Moving Blade picks up in the aftermath of the first, but a new reader wouldn’t be lost picking up this book.

A moving blade is unseen, hidden in the blur of motion, felt but not perceived.

What Worked
While Pronko’s Tokyo is still very vivid, I enjoyed the characters more than the setting this time around. I really like that Hiroshi’s forte is sorting through data. It’s office-bound work that doesn’t get a lot of play in detective novels for maybe obvious reasons. Here, though, it works narratively. Hiroshi is always trying to balance his preferred work with the necessity of leaving the office. My two favorite supporting characters from the first book—ex-sumo Sakaguchi and assistant Akiko—are both given expanded roles because one man can’t do everything. The slightly beyond-the-law Takamatsu, who annoyed me a little in The Last Train, has been suspended from the police force, and given a lesser role which probably works better for the character.

Something that is possibly endearing to only me: the characters eat often. Characters meet and talk at bars and restaurants, which people do. To recuse myself, I probably have an affinity for this because it’s something characters do in my writings.

The plot held together really well. While The Moving Blade goes bigger in terms of socio-politics, it’s still at heart a murder mystery. The story never loses sight of that. I enjoyed the bigger scope without this becoming an out-and-out thriller.

What Didn’t Work
I had a couple minor quibbles (like a porter on a train not smelling and being suspicious of a man who had been pepper sprayed), but one major one. At a couple times during the story, characters turn off cellphones or do not return messages…for reasons. These instances aren’t entirely used to drive plot (thank goodness), but they are obstacles that could easily be avoided and therefore kind of chafe. The reasons given later for the behaviors are okay, but we’re in the middle of a murder investigation—return your calls!

Overall
Despite the above, I really enjoyed The Moving Blade. Pronko again brought Tokyo (at least a version of it) to life for me and peopled it with good characters doing interesting things. That’s pretty much a trifecta for me.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Raked Gravel Press, on sale Sept. 30, 2018
Acquired: copy provided by the author, 8/17/18
Genre: mystery, thriller

 

Mini Reviews, Vol. 14

The Black Dove cover The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes On the Range Mystery #3 – I know, look at me reading all the series!

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer end up “deducifying” in Gold Rush San Francisco, looking to solve the mystery of Dr. Chan’s death. Hockensmith does a good job of keeping these mysteries fresh; changing up the settings while staying true to the Old West. I listened to this on audio; the dialog shines with William Dufris.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea cover Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Think of every ocean/undersea adventure ever. Toothy whales? Check. Giant squids? Check. Antarctic sailing? Check. Atlantis? Check. Island of savages? Well, check. Generally, I really enjoyed this book. Published in 1870 (1872 in English), Verne revels in science. The submarine, the underwater breathing apparatuses, the natural classifications of so much aquatic life—all of it gets good press. Honestly, the only bits I glazed over during were discussions of where the Nautilus was and where it was going. Seaman, I ain’t.

alt text Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Myers

I bought this last summer at The Old Sage Bookshop in Prescott.

I’ve read a few memoirs and collections of letters by 19th century pioneer women. Usually, they are from the prairie or southwest. In this case, Lizzie Fisk lived in Helena, Montana. Instead of a farmer or a rancher, her husband was a newspaper man. Many of her letters are about the Herald, her husband’s, newspaper and the politics of the city and the state. Fisk was an abolitionist and a suffragette, but she was also terribly judgemental and, as a woman of her time, selectively racist. In all, her letters filled out my notion of the American frontier, but honestly, Fisk isn’t someone I would have liked to spend time with. (And I doubt she would have thought much of me either…)

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ World of Trouble

World of Trouble cover

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end.

But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank’s search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.

The third novel in the Last Policeman trilogy, World of Trouble presents one final pre-apocalyptic mystery—and Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond whodunit: How far would you go to protect a loved one? And how would you choose to spend your last days on Earth? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the third book in the trilogy. I enjoyed the first two and I was interested in how Winters was going to wrap up a story set at the end of the world.

What Worked
There are a lot of post-apocalypse stories, but there aren’t many pre-apocalypse stories. I’d argue that’s because the end of the world is the least interesting part of the whole deal. Therefore, if you’re going to set a story at the apocalypse, the story itself has to be solid. Winters does a great job telling a story that would have been good even without an asteroid hurtling toward earth.

The feel of this installment reminded me of the movie Looper. The characters in both act in the inevitable way they should. Both are noir, but take off into a rural setting. I like that juxtaposition. Both also have a speculative fiction future setting that isn’t the story itself.

I’ve said it before but I like Hank Palace. I like his dogged determination and his loyalty. Which is why it’s pretty heartbreaking when he’s wrong about a few things. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but Hank is a little dense at times in this book. It’s understandable, but weirdly disappointing.

What Didn’t Work
The characters in this book take beatings. And stabbings. And burnings. Sometimes, I had a hard time believing that anyone could survive such abuse. I suppose it’s not impossible, but it gives me pause.

What Worked Best
There are so many times when I thought to myself, “Winters isn’t going to pull this off. He’s going to screw up the ending.” But he doesn’t. The meanderings of plot are all justified. The ending is spot-on. I don’t read a lot of series fiction and I finish even less.

I’m going to miss Henry Palace.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Quirk Books, July 15, 2014
Acquired: Amazon, 5/30/18
Genre: mystery/crime

 

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books