Category Archives: head

Anne Corlett — The Space Between the Stars

Humans have expanded throughout the galaxy before a virus wipes out nearly all the population on every planet. Jamie Allenby wakes up alone on a remote planet she escaped to when her marriage was failing and she wanted “some space.” Zero point zero zero zero one percent survival rate, she had heard before her planet fell to the virus. After three days alone she finds two other people. They are rescued by two others in a small spacecraft looking for fuel. Their little band of survivors gathers two more as they bounce from planet to planet toward Earth.

This is not hard science fiction. I would call it “literary” or maybe “psychological” — a study in human behavior. Jamie isn’t sure what she’s searching for, maybe home. The small group includes an ex-priest, a prostitute, an ex-scientist who believes God has caused the apocalypse in order to start over, a young man with autism, the spaceship captain, and his engineer.

Corlette, with her first novel, has written an intriguing story that covers many issues that are relevant today, in the past, or our future.

This one kept me awake until 3AM to finish it. I look forward to more from Anne Corlette.

Dennis Lehane — Since We Fell

I met Dennis Lehane once at a book signing in Boston and I’ve seen him on television a few times. He seems like an easygoing likeable person with a twinkle of humor in his eyes. But Lehane writes dark stories. His characters are twisted. He examines his characters minds good and bad—their delights, doubts, and demons. Great stuff!

The first part of Since We Fell follows Rachel Childs from a childhood with a dominating mother and no father, through a successful career as a journalist in Boston and an unsuccessful marriage, to a breakdown on camera in Haiti while covering the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Her husband leaves her, she’s fired from her job, and she becomes a virtual shut-in.

Enter second husband, Brian Delacroix, who understands her (unlike first husband), treats her with loving kindness, and helps her overcome her phobias. Perfect husband…or is he?

The story is filled with questions, conspiracies, murder, and surprises. Is it a psychological thriller, a literary novel, crime novel, or something that doesn’t fall into any genre or category? It fits all three of my classifications of head, heart, and even some humor.

Charles River, Boston
Charles River, Boston

The setting is mostly in Boston, my favorite city in the world. It made me feel at home.

In my opinion, Dennis Lehane is one of the today’s best authors.

Stephen King — Duma Key

Duma Key is the first Stephen King novel I’ve read in many years. Even though he is an excellent writer, I’m not a fan of horror. You usually find his books classified as horror, but they could also fall into thriller, suspense, fantasy, psychological, supernatural, paranormal, ghost story, and mystery genres. Duma Key is all of these.

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book; maybe because the setting is in Southwest Florida where I live. I found the story intriguing from the beginning. Edgar Freemantle, builder and contractor, is almost killed in an accident that damages his right hip and leg, crushes his skull, and he loses his right arm. Due to his unpredictable behavior while recovering, his wife leaves him.

His shrink suggests Edgar should take up a hobby and go on sabbatical. He leases “Big Pink,” a house hanging over the water at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico on Duma Key. Here he begins to draw and then paint, learning at a furious pace. His ghost arm drives him.

Walking the beach, Edgar meets Wireman, and they become friends. Wireman is caretaker for an old woman, Elizabeth Eastlake, who floats in and out of dementia. Elizabeth owns the habitable part of Duma Key, including Big Pink, and she is an integral part of the story.

The story begins as psychological and/or supernatural thriller, moving on to become a ghost story. It doesn’t become a “horror story/monster movie” until about three-quarters of the way through. By that time it had me hooked, and I had to keep reading to see what would happen. Edgar, Wireman, and Jack (who was hired to help Edgar and became his friend) join forces to battle the monsters.

As I said at the beginning, Stephen King is an excellent writer.

Kim Stanley Robinson — 2312

I picked this book to read because I was delighted with Robinson’s New York 2140. I wanted to read more. But there is no connection between the two novels except the author.

For me, the best part of this book was the settings. It starts with a sunrise on planet Mercury. The descriptions are breath-taking. The author continues to give us imaginative pictures of and from other places in our solar system throughout the book. It must have required tons of research combined with an ingenious imagination to create these scenes.

There are four (or five) principal characters. Swan is an artist from Mercury. She designed worlds and created habitats in moons and asteroids. Her grandmother Alex, who was the leader of Mercury and more, has died, and Swan is mourning. Swan is volatile, angry, hyper…and 135 years old. She meets Wahram, a diplomat from the Saturn system, whose personality is the complete opposite—relaxed, accepting, enjoying life. Inspector Genette is an interplanetary policeman. Kiran is a young man from Earth who helps Swan. She, in turn, helps him leave Earth and immigrate to Venus. The fifth main character is Pauline, the cube (quantum computer) in Swan’s head. There are many other characters scattered through the book, but I believe these are the central cast.

The intricate plot twists and turns. Earth is in bad shape with political and environmental issues. It is the only planet in the solar system still struggling with poverty and social inequality. Swan and Wahram are trying to fix it with successes and failures. Someone tries to destroy Terminator, the city on Mercury, but most of the people escape. An asteroid habitat was destroyed previously, and all inhabitants died. These events appear to be related. Was Alex’s death murder or natural causes? Swan and Wahram work with Genette trying to find who is responsible for these disasters.

I could go on, but you should read the book. It’s long, but you could skip the extracts and lists and get the whole story. I recommend you read everything. Those extracts give history, explanations, and descriptions that enhance the story.

Dave Eggers — The Circle

This is a dystopian, creepy, novel. I can’t say I liked it, but it kept my interest to the end. To me it was a different kind of horror story, too close to the reality of where we are headed. I picked up the book because friends were talking about the movie, which I didn’t see. From what I understand, the movie didn’t exactly follow the novel and may have missed the point of the book.

I guess you could call the story a satire.

Satire definition from Oxford Dictionary: The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

I didn’t see much humor in the book, but the rest fits.

Mae Holland is thrilled when her friend Annie gets her a job at The Circle—a company that has become the ultimate monopoly in social media and the Internet. Think Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Instagram, Flikr, Tumblr, YouTube, government databases, medical databases, police records, real estate records, credit bureaus…anything that collects data about you and more…all lumped together in one company. Your life is available to anyone.

Mae is needy and wants to be loved and admired by the whole world. She accepts and enjoys the cult-like behavior required of her by The Circle. She ends up wearing a camera, which records everything she does and everyone with whom she comes in contact.

Mercer, an old boyfriend and a friend of her parents, sees all that is wrong about The Circle—the lack of privacy and lack of control of your own life. He tries to explain to Mae, but she can’t see it.

I could go on, but if this sort of book interests you, read it.

William Kent Kruger — Manitou Canyon

The story takes place in the Boundary Waters on the border of Minnesota and Canada in cold, raw, November. A man disappears from the middle of a lake, leaving behind an empty canoe and no sign of what happened to him or where he could have gone.

When the official search is called off, ex-Sheriff Cork O’Connor is asked by the man’s niece and nephew to keep looking. Even though Cork’s daughter’s wedding is approaching and the weather is threatening, Cork takes the job. When he doesn’t return and doesn’t call in for several days, his family and the current sheriff go looking for him in a float plane.

The story is full of gloom—the season, the weather, and Cork’s mood. He despises November; all bad things in his life have happened in November. He doesn’t understand why his daughter has planned a wedding in this gloomy month. But there is much warmth in the story, too—the connections between family and friends working together and even between the good guys and the bad guys. The author looks closely at the motivations of all the characters. Much of the mystery of this book is the “why” of what’s happening.

Interwoven throughout the novel is Native American lore and spirituality. It adds depth to an already interesting read.

Kim Stanley Robinson — New York 2140

Have you ever read a book that you didn’t want to end (even after 613 pages)? New York 2140 is that book for me. Many bestselling authors seem to lose their edge with later books, but not Robinson. In my opinion, this novel is his best yet.

The Atlantic labeled Robinson’s work as “the gold-standard of realistic, and highly literary, science-fiction writing.” This novel takes social, economic, political, and most of all climate-change problems into the next century in New York City. Imagine the streets of Lower Manhattan as canals, buildings collapsing from the constant tidal wash, and a hurricane to make things worse.

The book is not a fast-paced thriller, not a SF space adventure, not a murder mystery to solve but serious look at environmental and economic problems to resolve. It is about a community of very different individuals who combine ideas and work toward solving some of the world’s and humanity’s major problems. Many of those problems are with us today: the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the problems with the housing market, the out-of-control financial market, etc.

Robinson does it all. His settings, real and imagined future, let you feel you are living in a drowned NYC. His characters with their distinct personalities absorb your interest. The way these people, all living in the same building, get to know each other, rely on each other, collaborate to solve the city’s problems, makes an intriguing story. Overlying all of this is Robinson’s optimistic view of human character and our ability to make things work.

New York 2140 is my favorite read of the year (and more).

Mark de Castrique — The Singularity Race

Not too far into our future, several companies and governments are on the verge of creating the Singularity, the ultimate in Artificial Intelligence (AI). What if they create a machine mind that can surpass human intelligence, can control all of our communications, and has no moral values?

Scientists from around the world are meeting at a conference in Washington, DC. Prime Protection, a private security company, has the job of protecting the scientists who are being threatened by an anti-technology terrorist group. Ted Lewiston, the head of Prime Protection, asks Ex-Secret Service agent Rusty Mullins, to protect Chinese scientist Dr. Li and her nephew—one last job before he retires. A team of assassins storms the conference, killing top scientists and Lewiston. Mullins manages to save Dr. Li and nephew Peter.

Lewiston’s wife convinces Mullins to investigate who is responsible for her husband’s death and scientist/genius/billionaire Robert Brentwood wants Mullins to protect Dr. Li who is starting work at his company working on Apollo, his company’s AI. Brentwood’s goal, and the reason he hired Dr. Li, is to create a subconscious and morality for Apollo.

The plot twists and turns, leaving you trying to figure out who are the good guys and bad guys. Are Mullins, Dr. Li, and Peter protected or prisoners? Murder, kidnappings, missing scientists, Mullins’ family threatened…

Fast-paced and intriguing, the book kept me reading. I have to admit there were a couple of places where I thought Mullins missed the obvious or came to a realization a little late. I enjoyed the ride and will go back for more from author de Castrique.

Amy Gentry — Good as Gone

Thirteen-year-old Julie is abducted from her home in the middle of the night as her ten-year-old sister Jane looks on in fear from the closet. Eight years later, Julie shows up at her family’s door. That’s the beginning and the end of two stories. The current story moves forward through mother Anna’s eyes as she begins to doubt that the girl who appeared on her doorstep is her daughter. And the story of Julie moves backward through the eight years as Julie takes on one persona then another to the time when she left her home.

This thriller is about the two women and how they deal with tragedy. A mother who drinks and hides from life, ignoring the daughter and husband who are still with her, cannot except that the returning daughter is lying and might not be who she says. The daughter who does whatever it takes to survive—changing names and life stories as she moves from one situation to another— is always running, always lying to herself as well as others.

As a writer, I found the point of view (POV) in this novel interesting, The Prologue is the only place the author uses sister Jane’s POV—third person past. In Chapter 1 we jump to the mother Anna’s POV—first person present. When the story shifts to Julie and her various role’s POV it’s third person past, until the last part of the book where it’s Julie’s POV—first person past. It sounds confusing but it works.

The book grabbed my attention and held it to the end.

Alexander McCall Smith — Precious and Grace

I’m not sure The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of novels fits in any genre—maybe cozy mystery. If you are tired of reading fast-paced thrillers, this book will slow you down. It’s a relaxing pleasant read.

The protagonist, Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner and founder of the detective agency in Gaborone, Botswana, has a unique personality unlike any I’ve encountered in other novels or in real life. She sees the positive in life and in the people around her, overlooking others faults and misbehaviors, especially those of her “partner,” Mma Grace Makutsi. Even though Mma Ramotswe owns the agency and hired Mma Makutsi as a secretary, Grace self-promoted herself to assistant detective and now co-director, even insinuating to a client that she started the business. Unlike Precious, Grace is not tolerant of others real or perceived faults. But Precious doesn’t like to argue; she would rather relax with a cup of tea.

The plot revolves around a Canadian woman who was born in Botswana and left when she was eight years old. She wants to reconnect with her past and is looking for the house she lived in and the woman who cared for her as a child. This is difficult because the Canadian only has a very old fuzzy photo and Gaborone has grown and changed much in thirty years. No crime involved there, but there are subplots.

A part-time assistant of Mma Ramotswe, Mr. Polopetsi, becomes involved in a pyramid scheme. Precious takes it upon herself to unwind Mr. Polopetsi from the tangle into which he’s naively fallen. And there is also a stray dog who keeps showing up that Precious feels needs a home.

As I said in the beginning, this is not a fast-paced thriller. This is a gentle, people oriented, relaxing novel.