Category Archives: strange

Daniel Suarez — Change Agent

Singapore
Singapore

Kenneth Durand is an Interpol Agent chasing genetic crime in 2045. He is shutting down labs that create designer children for a price. Marcus Wyckes heads the cartel at the top of the black lab food chain. Otto, the “mirror man,” created to survive human disasters and repopulate the earth if humanity is wiped out, hates humans, and is Wyckes right-hand man. He injects Durand with Wyckes’ DNA, expecting Durand to die and be identified as Wyckes. But Durand lives through the DNA change.

We meet all sorts of characters, good and bad, as Durand travels through the underworld of genetics trying to find a way to return to his original self. The setting for the book is fascinating, starting in Singapore, traveling through Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar. Suarez takes us through cities, farm lands, and jungles. He extends today’s technology into the future with interesting devices and transportation. The author also covers many possibilities, promising and terrible, from the results of “editing” DNA in plants, animals, and humans.

Suarez is a NYT bestselling author, but this is the first of his books I’ve read. I could be tempted to read more.

J.T. Ellison — Lie to Me

This is the story of a marriage falling apart. Sutton and Ethan Montclair are both writers who claim to love each other, but they don’t trust each other. Their lives are full of hidden secrets and lies. Both writing careers are in trouble and their infant son dies of SIDS. Then Sutton disappears. The police think Ethan has murdered her, except Holly Graham who is lead in the case.

The plot twists and turns, and we know from the beginning that there is some female villain who is manipulating things, but we don’t know who or why.

This was a good read. The story kept my interest. But I wasn’t thrilled with the characters. Both husband and wife are very self-centered. Sutton has hidden secrets about her life before meeting Ethan. She runs away from her life. Ethan tries to drink away his troubles, many times more worried about himself than his missing wife. The reader should like or identify with in some way the protagonists. I couldn’t dredge up much sympathy for either Sutton or Ethan, even though a very evil person was destroying their lives. I liked Holly Graham, but she was not the main character.

I did read the whole book, which I won’t do if it doesn’t grab me in some way.

Samuel Bjork — The Owl Always Hunts at Night

Police investigator Mia Krüger and her boss Holger Munch head a team looking into the strange death of a young girl found posed in the woods on a bed of feathers. They discover a film of the girl in a cage, running in a wheel like an animal in order to get food. What sort of sick person would do this?

Maybe it’s the cold and the long dark nights or maybe it’s the books I choose to read, but it seems that whenever I read a novel by a Scandinavian author, they are filled with gloom. Norwegian Bjork fills the story with characters (good and bad) who are depressed or psychologically damaged. It’s set in the beginning of a long, cold, dark, Norway winter.

Even so, I enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns, the unraveling of a very strange murder, and even those bleak characters involved in solving the crime.

Science Fiction

I know people who like reading fiction but say they don’t like science fiction (SF). But how can you write off a huge genre that contains everything from literary to trash? There are so many subgenres in SF as there are outside SF—genres and subgenres combined.

I just finished another SF novel that kept me up until 4 AM to finish it—The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker. I started to write another post about science fiction and realized I had already done that, so I am reposting it.

Science Fiction posted Jul 29, 2014.
I love SF books. At least some of them. They cover so much ground. The range from great to boring. But isn’t that true of all novels? There are many genres within SF: Adventure, Space, Hard SF, Soft SF, Paranormal, Cyberpunk, Alternate History, and many more. Some cross over genres into romance, mystery, fantasy, or mainstream fiction. Now they are sometimes calling it speculative fiction, which appears to covers more genres than even science fiction.

I first wrote my novel, The Janus Code, as science fiction or speculative fiction in 1995. When the world caught up with my imagination, I edited it to bring it up-to-date and published it as a suspense thriller.

Getting back to why I started this post, I stayed up ‘til 4AM a couple of nights ago reading a SF book – The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. This is soft or social SF. I found the book fascinating for several reasons. One is the fact that it is a collaboration between three authors. Something that caught my attention was that the story was originally written as an iPhone app. Another reason is that they wrote in first person, but each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. You don’t see many books written multiple first person.

An interesting point is that these characters may show up in only one or two chapters or they may continue to appear throughout the book. This made the story a bit difficult to follow when I started reading. I kept thinking, “Did I see this person before?” But that didn’t last when I got into the story.

The plot: Children are born without language capability. It turns out to be a virus and more and more children are born with this condition.

I could get into the story and the characters’ reactions. I could tell you how it relates to the way people today respond to anyone who is “different.” I could tell you how the story progresses. Instead, I’ll let you read this very absorbing story.

I’ve started another SF novel – Mars, inc.: The Billionaire’s Club by Ben Bova, one of SF’s most accomplished and prolific writers. This is hard science fiction or maybe even mainstream fiction. The science is real; it could happen today. One man convinces a group of billionaires to finance a crewed mission to Mars. I can’t give you much more on this one because I’ve just begun reading.

For those of you who don’t read SF, give it a try. There are many variations and lots of good writing.

Tim Dorsey — Clownfish Blues

The protagonist of Dorsey’s twenty-plus books is Serge Storms, a psychotic serial killer who thinks up unique ways to punish or kill people who are hurting others. Coleman is a drugged-out sidekick to tea-totaling Serge. Clownfish Blues main plot (if it has one) revolves around the Florida lottery.

Dorsey skips between places, events, times, and people, so you don’t know where the story is going. Sometimes he seems to throw in characters from previous novels just for the sake of mentioning them, not to advance the story. Serge is unbelievable, Coleman is getting boring in his drunken stupor, the plots are thin, but Dorsey makes me laugh.

His stories are an exaggerated view of reality in Florida. The highways and byways visited by Serge and Coleman are real or based on real places. I enjoy the tours around the state.

So even though there are many things about Dorsey’s writing that I wouldn’t put up with from other authors, I enjoy his weird tales. As I said, he makes me laugh.

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.

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.

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.