Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Incriminating Evidence (Rachel Grant)

Incriminating Evidence
The Evidence series, Book 4
Rachel Grant
Janus Publishing
Fiction, Romance/Suspense
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Rootless archaeologist Isabel only ever had one point of security in her life, her brother Vincent... until he was murdered eleven months ago while working with the mercenary group Raptor, a death quickly covered up by the new CEO as an unfortunate training accident. So she's come to the small town of Tamarack, Alaska, ostensibly surveying timber land but actually sneaking onto Raptor territory (in spite of a restraining order) to seek evidence. This is how she stumbled across the wounded man - and into more trouble than she could've imagined.
Former Army Ranger Alec scarcely remembers the past day. He'd come to Alaska to see to his newly-acquired business, Raptor - only to wake up, wounded and disoriented, in the middle of nowhere with a strange redheaded woman. When he finds out who she is, he wonders if she's the one who landed him there to begin with: it's no secret that Isabel blames Raptor for her brother's death, and even got the compound shut down for two months, a black eye on both the company and his own ongoing political campaign back home in Maryland. If anyone has a motive to attack him, it's her. But he soon becomes convinced that there's more to her and her claims than he first realized. A rival mercenary group, an experimental infrasound weapon, a possible stalker, rogue agents in their midst, and more create a recipe for disaster - though the greatest risk may be to a pair of hearts who pick the worst time and place to fall in love.

REVIEW: I've only read one other Evidence novel, which I enjoyed enough to prompt me to pick up this one when the ebook was on sale. (I have no idea why Book 4 was offered at a discount and not others, but that's why I'm just a reader and not a publisher, I suppose.) Like many romance series, it's not so important to read them in linear order; aside from some character crossover and thematic resonance, this works as a standalone. It has many of the same elements I enjoyed about Concrete Evidence, the first book in the series: strong yet flawed main characters who balance rather than overwhelm each other, crackling sexual tension that progresses naturally, a suspense-filled plot that stands on solid research, and enough unpredictability to keep things interesting even if the relationship is a foregone conclusion. It reads fast and comes to a satisfying resolution, which is what I wanted when I picked it up. I expect I'll keep an eye peeled for the rest of the series, if they ever decide to show up on sale.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Fix-Up (Tawna Fenske) - My Review
Concrete Evidence (Rachel Grant) - My Review
Bound to the Bachelor (Sarah Mayberry) - My Review

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Girl With No Name (Marina Chapman)

The Girl With No Name: The Incredible Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys
Marina Chapman, Vanessa James, and Lynne Barrett-Lee
Pegasus Books
Nonfiction, Autobiography
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Mid-1950's Colombia was a land of little law, where murder, kidnapping, and child abductions were commonplace. In a small mountain village, a girl eagerly awaiting her fifth birthday sneaks out of the house to steal pea pods from the garden. Before she knows what's happening, a hand grabs her, and a cloth is pressed over her face.
She would never see her home or her family again.
Abandoned by her abductors deep in the jungle, the girl would soon forget almost everything about her past - her parents, her language, even her own name - as she struggles to survive. Her only teachers and companions for years are a troop of capuchin monkeys. Inevitably, she eventually returns to the human world to be among her own kind... but lessons learned in the wilderness would mean the difference between life and death, even far from the jungle.

REVIEW: This is one of those stories that seems almost impossible, like something out of Kipling, but which apparently actually happened; the tales were pieced together from Marina's memories by her children, with some research help from a ghostwriter, who confirmed what points could be confirmed. (Marina never does recall her birth name or family, and even her exact age is a matter of speculation.) It avoids overly anthropomorphizing the monkeys who proved so instrumental to her survival. While individuals take on distinct personalities, they still remain animals, and there's still an unbreachable barrier between species; they accept the girl's presence and associate with her, but never seem to truly consider her one of their own, and even when Marina learns their "language" and the ways of their troop she's always an outsider. Somewhere deep down she knows she's human and belongs with other humans, though her own species turns out to be the greatest danger she faces in her wild life (her return to civilization finds her sold as an essential slave to a mentally unstable brothel owner, and her prospects scarcely improve after that.) The story moves fairly fast, painting a vivid picture of the green, living jungle and bleak, filthy cities where she must survive before finding true freedom and belonging. Marina's is an interesting story, with more chapters - such as how she wound up married and living in England - still to be told.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (Frans de Waal) - My Review
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass) - My Review
The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling) - My Review

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab)

A Darker Shade of Magic
The Shades of Magic series, Book 1
V. E. Schwab
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In four worlds, four Londons once stood side by side, accessed through the magic that all shared... but things changed with the fall of Black London, consumed by its own hungry powers. Now the ways between worlds are closed to all but the Antari, blood magicians marked by one pure black eye, of whom only two remain: Holland of White London, and Kell of Red London. (Grey London, in a grey world of soot and machines, knows so little magic its people think the term a lie.) To keep the evil of Black London from spreading, it was declared that nothing may cross between save letters between the royal houses. But Kell has managed to keep a small side business in the three Londons by smuggling trinkets across the borders, a kernel of rebellion against the chains of duty. He never handled anything truly dangerous - until he came into possession of the black stone, a forbidden relic of terrible strength, on a visit to the dangerously power-hungry rulers of White London. He flees with it to Grey London, and into the path of a most determined young woman.
Lila may be a simple street thief and pickpocket, but someday she will be a pirate queen and sail the world. When her nimble fingers lifted the rock from the strange man's pocket, she was disappointed in her take - but soon she learns more than she ever wanted to know about the other Londons, and about the stone's clever, dark powers, and about the man whom she robbed and to whom she soon owes her life. She could have walked away, probably should have walked away, but Lila isn't about to turn her back on the greatest adventure in her life... nor can she turn her back on magic, now that she knows its scent and strength and undeniable existence.
Their alliance was one of reluctant necessity, but it's going to take both Lila and Kell to deal with the trouble unleashed by the black stone, troubles that may see all three Londons go the way of their lost sister city.

REVIEW: I admit that this one took a while to grow on me. The premise is intriguing from the outset, of course - not just two parallel worlds, but four, each with their own charms and dangers - but Kell starts out a bit flat and broody, as does his counterpart Holland. (With Kell's broody nature and the way his hair was described as falling over his eye, part of my mind kept envisioning him as an anime character, an impression that took some time to shake and admittedly never quite vanished.) The people he interacted with, mostly royalty, seemed fairly simple as well, and the cruelty of the siblings in charge of White London bordered on caricatured. As for Lila, she's hardly warm and cuddly herself, and her first interactions with magic aren't necessarily intelligent given her street-honed wits. Eventually, though, I managed to immerse in the tale as the pace picked up. It's a violent and dark story with a high (and somewhat gruesome) body count, fairly fast-paced once it gets its feet under itself, ratcheting to a tense and bloody climax. (There is a noted tendency for characters to be repeatedly beaten, stabbed, thrown, and generally punished to borderline ridiculous extremes, including massive blood loss, without them actually collapsing longer than the paragraph break... but, then, there is just a whiff of old-school pulp action tale underlying the plot, and of course with magic - blood magic in particular - one can't get too hung up on the physical limits of the human body, I suppose. Still, I was almost chuckling now and again toward the end as the characters racked up concussion upon contusion.) Though the story arc wraps up in one volume, threads are left dangling for future adventures... adventures I might consider following if I found the sequels at the right price.

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The Invisible Library (Genevieve Cogman) - My Review
Stoneheart (Charlie Fletcher) - My Review
The Dark World (Henry Kuttner) - My Review

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Dream of the Thylacine (Margaret Wild)

The Dream of the Thylacine
Margaret Wild, illustrations by Ron Brooks
Allen and Unwin
Fiction, CH Picture Book/Poetry
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Caged in a zoo at the end of its life, the last living thylacine dreams of its lost freedom.

REVIEW: Another quick read during a slow stretch at work. This isn't so much a story as an illustrated freeform poem, juxtaposing harsh, often blurred black and white photos of the last known thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) in captivity with bright, dreamlike illustrations of its "memories." It is not a happy story - extinction never is - but a sadly touching one, even as more species teeter on the brink. If you read it with kids, be prepared to discuss why thylacines are no longer alive today, and what one might do to attempt stopping its fate from befalling others.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Heart of a Tiger (Marsha Diane Arnold) - My Review
Last of the Giants (Jeff Campbell) - My Review
A is for Activist (Innosanto Nagara) - My Review

Monday, September 10, 2018

WE3 (Grant Morrison)

The We3 series, Issues 1 - 3
Grant Morrison, illustrations by Frank Quitely
Fiction, Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: It was a program meant to end human death on the battlefield, replacing soldiers with cybernetically modified animals. But now that funding has been secured, the prototype We3 unit - the dog 1, the cat 2, and the rabbit 3 - is to be terminated like any obsolete technology. Only nobody asked their lead scientist/trainer... or the animals themselves, who have a rudimentary grasp of English thanks to their enhancements. The three former housepets escape, fleeing across the countryside in search of a place, a concept they but dimly recall: somewhere there is no need to run or to kill, called "home."

REVIEW: Though a bit jumbled at times, this is a quick-reading, if often gory, story in the vein of Richard Adams's Plague Dogs. The animals leave a red trail in their wake, often at least as much because of extreme measures used to hunt them down as their own actions, though they aren't overly burdened with human senses of morality; the dog 1 knows he should protect people, but does not hesitate to kill to keep his "pack" safe. After a while the gore becomes numbing and some of the action sequences are a bit hard to follow, and if you think too much about the premise things get shaky (why use stolen housepets when the shelters are overflowing with animals nobody would miss?), but there are moments of true emotional resonance. Overall, it's a dark examination of how inhuman the human species can be.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw (Kurt Busiek) - My Review
The Call of the Wild and White Fang (Jack London) - My Review
Mort(e) (Robert Repino) - My Review