Category Archives: head

Ethan Canin — A Doubter’s Almanac

If you are looking for a happy or loving novel, this is not the one. Milo Andret, the central character of this book, is an egocentric, offensive, mathematical genius and also an addict. But the writing is excellent, the story is gripping, and even the unlikable protagonist is intriguing.

The book skips backward and forward between times and places, yet somehow that’s not confusing. Part one is from Milo’s point of view (third person), and part two is his son Hans (first person). The fractured relationship between father and son (also a brilliant mathematician) weaves through the fabric of the tale.

The story is filled with fascinating characters and locations, but mostly it’s an account of the workings of the mind. It’s somewhat esoteric and at times philosophical, leaving the reader (at least this one) with unanswered questions. Are mental illness and genius related? Addiction and genius? Is the addiction genetic? How much of intelligence is inherited and how much is learned? And more…

But I do understand the mathematical mind better than when I began reading. At some point while reading, I had an epiphany—insight into the mind of my brother who was a mathematical genius and an addict. That could be the reason I found the book so interesting. I also have a few friends who are brilliant in their fields. Most are a bit whacko (or a lot). But aren’t we all somewhat weird from another’s point of view? Maybe the whole idea of mental illness is skewed. Could it be that we just don’t understand minds that are so different from our own?

I seldom reread a book. But this one will probably end up by my bedside to be read again.

Benjamin Wood — The Ecliptic

The setting for most of this novel is an artist’s colony on a remote island off the coast of Turkey where artists who have lost their muse have come to recapture their creative brilliance. No one knows the other residents actual names or backgrounds. There is no contact with the outside world. There are no clocks to keep track of time.

The protagonist, Knell, is a painter who has been living on the island for years. Her friends, other longtime residents, are a playwright, an architect, and a novelist. The story begins when a young disturbed man arrives at the colony and upsets the routine.

The novel explores the twisted mental state of Knell’s mind and her creativity. The second section of the book takes us back to her previous life in the London art world of the 1960s and what brought her to the island.

This is a well written literary novel. The characters are captivating, the settings are beautifully painted, and the twisted plot keeps you reading. But a warning—you may be disappointed with the ending. I’m not sure if I was or not.

e·clip·tic

/əˈkliptik/
noun     ASTRONOMY
  1. 1.
    a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the sun’s apparent path during the year, so called because lunar and solar eclipses can occur only when the moon crosses it.

Lisa Gardner — Find Her

Gardner writes excellent psychological mystery/thrillers. This one gets into the head of a kidnap survivor, Flora Dane. She is not the same person as she was before her abduction five years earlier. She deals with her trauma by chasing down villains who have abused or murdered other women.  She puts herself in harm’s way.

At the beginning of the story, she is attacked and left in a garage where she rummages through the abuser’s trash to find the tools to kill him when he returns.

Other interesting characters in the story are Boston Police Detective D.D. Warren, Flora’s victim advocate, and her mother who never stops loving her. D.D. is supposed to be on restricted duty due to an injury, but she needs to be in control of the situation and keeps going off on her own without informing her team. She doesn’t know whether Flora is a victim or a vigilante. Flora’s victim advocate is always there for her and joins forces with D.D. when Flora is kidnapped again.

A complex plot and the interesting characters kept me reading late into the night.

Barry Eisler — Livia Lone

Barry Eisler writes assassins as protagonists. I’ve read several of his John Rain, assassin, novels. Now he has created a new assassin or vigilante, Livia Lone. She is a Seattle police detective dedicated to bringing predators to justice. But at times when the system doesn’t do the job, she executes her own form of justice.

The story tells how Livia became what she is, both detective and killer. She was sold by her parents at age thirteen along with her eleven-year-old sister and was shipped from Thailand to the States with a group of people in a container. The men who controlled them abused Livia and she allowed it to protect her sister. After she attacked one of her captors, they took her sister, who was then returned to the container in a near catatonic state. Livia was separated from her sister in Portland, Oregon, and was “rescued” by a powerful man who adopted her and abused her. Her driving goal throughout her life was to find her sister.

Probably classified as thriller/mystery, this is truly a horror story—not in the horror genre, but the horror of human trafficking, the horror of the abuse that drives Livia to become what she is, and the horror of what she does to the predators. You need a strong stomach to read this, but it kept my attention and I was rooting for Livia.

Iain Pears — Arcadia

A delightful fantasy about time travel, which skips between times as characters accidentally or purposefully pass through to past and future worlds. Angela Meerson, a psycho-mathematician, has created a machine to take people to alternate worlds. She discovers that those worlds are all in her own timeline. Angela escapes her own time some two hundred years in the future to mid-twentieth century in Oxford, England and takes her notes with her in order to prevent the use of her invention. It is far too dangerous to be messing with time.

She creates a gate into imaginary Anter-world based on a fantasy written by her friend Professor Henry Lytten. She leaves the gate in Henry’s basement. One day In the 1960s, Rosie, a young teenage friend of Henry’s finds the gate and steps through.

The story, which takes place mainly in three times, is full of interesting characters. The plot twists and turns, but it all resolves nicely in the end. The settings for the different times are interesting and easily pictured in my mind. There is imagination and humor.

From the front flap text: “If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly change the past?”

Jessica Chiarella — And Again

What would you do with a new perfect body? Four terminally ill people are part of a trial program for FDA approval. They are given new genetically perfect clones of themselves—no disease, baby smooth skin, perfect vision, no wrinkles or even freckles.

This sounds like science fiction, but I wouldn’t classify it as such. It’s the story of four people and how they adapt (or don’t adapt) to their new chance at life. How much of your identity lies in your physical body?

Talented artist Hannah’s new body lacks the ability to paint. Politician David fights bad habits from his old life. Beautiful actor Connie tries to reenter the business after five years away. Connie, completely paralyzed for ten years, tries to find her role in a family unit that doesn’t include her.

An excellent first novel.

C. J. Cherryh — Visitor

This novel involves first contact (actually second contact) and negotiations with an alien race (kyo) of star travelers. Bren Cameron, human representative of atevi (another alien race who have allowed humans to share their planet), arrives at the space station Alpha to communicate with the approaching kyo. Bren is translator and the bridge between, the atevi, the kyo, and three distinct groups of humans—each with their own language, culture, and social norms. His task is to learn why the kyo are contacting them, to learn the kyo’s language and customs, and come to a peaceful agreement between all.

The intricate plot involves understanding why the kyo are seeking out the human/atevi civilization. Ten years earlier, they attacked another space station, Reunion. One of the human groups currently residing in Alpha Station are refugees from Reunion. Hopefully Bren can prevent another confrontation. But he doesn’t know what actions or motivations caused the attack.

I hadn’t read any Cherryh novels in a few years. At the beginning of this story, I found it difficult to get into her very detailed writing. She follows her characters comprehensive thoughts—observations, calculations, anxieties, pleasures, planning, random thoughts, etc. But the book grabbed me when I got into it and kept me reading until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.

Cherryh’s approach to science fiction is at the human (or alien) level.

Great read!

Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter — The Long Earth Series

I just finished reading the fifth and last of Pratchett’s and Baxter’s science fiction series collaborationThe Long Earth, The Long War, The Long Mars, The Long Utopia, and The Long Cosmos. Sadly, Terry Pratchett died before the last book was published.

“Long Earth” is the name given to an infinite series of parallel worlds, which can be reached by a “stepper.” Each Earth is slightly different, and if you step far enough down the line, the differences become extreme—different flora and fauna, different atmosphere, gravity, even a gap where the earth no longer exists. But homo sapiens only exist (before stepping) on Datum Earth, the name given to our original earth.

This is a saga with a varied cast of characters. Joshua Valienté is a natural stepper who doesn’t need a device to step between worlds. Lobsang is an artificial intelligence who travels the Long Earth with Joshua. Sally Linsay is a natural stepper and the daughter of the man who invented the “stepper” box. Sister Agnes is a nun who was Joshua’s caregiver at the orphanage. Then there are the trolls, a hominid species with natural stepping abilities who left Datum Earth long ago. The “Beagles” are a canine intelligent species inhabiting Long Earth. There are more characters and groups of characters, but I won’t try to list them all.

Each book has more than one story line and plenty of imagination. You can read any of the series as a stand-alone, but if you want the whole picture, you will want to read them in order.

Robert Crais — Suspect

I! Love! This! Book!

I don’t usually read two books in a row by the same author, but after reading The Promise, I went looking for Suspect. I wanted to read more about LAPD K-9 cop, Scott James, and his German shepard partner, Maggie.

Scott and Maggie are both suffering from PTSD. Five hooded men shot Scott and killed his partner and two civilians almost ten months earlier. He refused to take medical leave and opted to join the canine corp. He finds Maggie cowering in a crate. Scott’s sergeant, Dominic Leland, has scheduled her to be sent home due to problems adjusting to training. Scott and Maggie connect. The sergeant reluctantly lets him take the dog home, giving them (man and dog) two weeks before another evaluation. Leland doesn’t believe either will make the grade.

New detectives assigned to the case where Scott was injured invite him to help. Frustration and anger keep leading him into trouble.

The best part of this book is the growing relationship between Scott and Maggie—how they help each other recover. Excellent writing. Possibly Crais’ best novel.

Irene “Susie” Smith — Angel of Tears

Angel of Tears
This story of a young girl, Summer, growing up in Detroit is a rewrite of an earlier novel. There are some added details and an epilogue. I enjoyed every minute of it, especially Summer’s connection with her neighbor, an old albino woman.

Irene’s characters are believable and likeable (except those who are not so nice). Her story flows and keeps you reading to the end. Her descriptions of Detroit in the fifties takes you back to another time.

The author writes from the heart. She makes me laugh, she makes me cry.