Category Archives: reviews

Black by Ted Dekker

Black

I read book #0 (Green) of the series with mixed feelings, so I wanted to try book #1 (Black). The fantasy story takes place in two time-periods (current and future) and I really like how the action in both time periods is weaved into one story via the main character, Thomas Hunter – the author does a good job keeping you interested about activities in both timelines. The overall idea and plot is interesting, but I continued to have trouble relating to characters and their actions.

I did enjoy Black more than Green and I think it is a much better series entry point, but I still think the book and the series are “okay”. I’ll go with a fairly weak “recommended” for those who like this type of fantasy.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one word title.

The Competition by Marcia Clark

The Competition

I first received a copy of a Marcia Clark book free from Amazon. I was totally surprised at how well written it was (yes the Marcia Clark from the OJ Simpson trials). This book did not disappoint me. It starts off with a school shooting, similar to Columbine, but with more deaths. And the shooters continue to try and out-do every other massacre, including the movie shooting in Aurora. As LA prosecutor Rachel Knight tries to connect dots along with her friend, Bailey Keller, the shooters still remain on the loose. Just when you think you have it figured it out, something happens to blow that theory away. It kept me on my toes until the end. My rating is highly recommend.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by Shelley Clark
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

The Oprhan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale is about two women during the Second World War one of whom is a Jewish circus performer and another who took a Jewish baby from a rail car at a train station and they have to work together at the circus to survive.

I enjoyed the relationship between the two main characters; they had two opposing but believable personalities. I also liked the themes of atonement and survival that are in the novel. The end of the novel was also something I didn’t expect and it left me in tears.

The only problem I have with it is that one of the women has a lover that is kind of stalker-y and it makes you a little uncomfortable.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

A Single Spy by William Christie

A Single Spy

This is the best book I’ve read all summer and may turn out to be my favorite for 2017. The main character, who is difficult to love but fascinating to follow, is a Soviet orphan who takes the street survival skills of the Artful Dodger to a far meaner and more violent level. As a teenager, he’s recruited by the Soviets to impersonate the nephew of a senior Nazi official in Germany. After arriving in Berlin, he later joins the German army, where he becomes an intelligence officer. He winds up spying in the Middle East FOR the Germans, but at the same time, he’s spying ON the Germans for the Soviets.

Building a plot around a double agent can be tricky; I’ve read other “spy thrillers” where I’ve had to double back to make sure I haven’t lost the thread. But Christie does a great job keeping everything straight, which lets the reader focus on one of the best aspects of the book: all the spying and intelligence “trade craft” that Christie works into the plot. Although I seldom read a book twice, I might be compelled to read this a second time just to savor its cleverness. The ending is marvelous but I can’t say more about it without giving too much away.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Mary Hall
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Published in 2017

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Fledgling

Alas or Hooray… we are living in a world where the relevance and popularity of Octavia Butler is on the rise! Her Kindred has just been adapted to an excellent graphic novel, Dawn (the first book in the Lilith’s Brood series) is becoming a TV show, and Parable of the Talents is currently reality. (not to spoil that dystopian book, but there’s a populist president brought into office by white supremacists chanting “Make America Great Again”)

Butler published Fledgling in 2005, just a year before her death. The book’s protagonist is named… well she can’t remember, at least for a while. She wakes up in terrible pain unable to remember anything, except that she is HUNGRY. What’s she hungry for? Well, turns out she’s Butler’s take on a vampire, so she’s hungry for blood. But Butler’s version of vampires (Ina) don’t necessarily kill for blood, instead cultivating extended families of human “symbionts” to feed off of. In turn, the humans gain supernatural health and longevity, and there’s a lot of sex too (it is a vampire story, after all).

Not that this is going to help entice you to read this book, but I’d like to say one of my favorite things about this book is the fact that everyone in it KNOWS there are vampires in culture. This is one of my greatest pet peeves about most genre films/books. The zombie apocalypse comes (like, say, in the walking dead) and nobody, nobody, nobody, has any idea what a zombie is. They’re always, “whoa, if you get bitten who knew you’d turn?” Anyone whose ever seen a zombie movie! Zombies, werewolves, and vampires as recognizable to modern Americans as Michael Jackson. Case in point— Thriller. So I find it refreshing that when our protagonist and her humans are trying to figure out what/who she is, they pour through hundreds of years of vampire folklore. Because scrubbing that from the universe while playing on this folklores tropes is just wrong. Butler even drops a lame Bella Lugosi joke, which even her characters find lame! Awesome.

Like many of Butler’s novels, the plot moves forward as an initially unsure protagonist gains skill and confidence to lead her community through struggle. The protagonist learns her name and finds that she is the product of genetic experimentation. The social mark of this experiment endangers and empowers her.

Overall, this is not my favorite Butler novel, and frankly I think a large part of that is that the main character appears to be only 10-11 in human years (but is really older, because… vampires), yet still is object of a lot of sexual desire and has a lot of sex (again, because vampires). Fine and good, but… yuuuuuuuck and eeee… it was just too much for me. I don’t really see the point, given the books interest in polyamorous relations.

Go read it– and all of Butler’s other works, too.

Availability: USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended

The Late Show By Micheal Connelly

The Late Show

This new novel introduces Detective Renee Ballard. Micheal Connelly is the master of police procedurals, and The Late Show is a great read with multiple plot lines and many twists and turns. The new character was well developed and hopefully we will see more of Detective Ballard. I don’t like to give storylines and plots away. I like people to be surprised, but I never figured out who the killer was until the end

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by Shelley Clark
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

The AlienistOk– this review is more or less a joke review. That’s because, in the eyes of Kaitlyn and myself, The Alienist by Caleb Carr on audiobook is a joke book.

Full disclosure, our displeasure is our own (read: Kaitlyn, who downloaded it) fault. We downloaded an abridged book, and so what should have been 18 hours was only 4 hours, and those 4 hours were about as interesting as an episode of Criminal Minds. That’s not to be mean to Criminal Minds— we watch that all the time when we don’t want to think or really pay attention to our electricity use. And yes, in moving we canceled cable, but still… Shemar Moore, Paget Bruster, Joe Montegna, and the rest really do a nice job on this formulaic police procedural in the trappings of pseudo-scientific psychobabble.

And, if you listen to the abridged audiobook of Carr’s Alienist, which is set to become a TV show on TNT later this year, that’s exactly what you’ll get. “Alienist,” back in the later 19th century and into the 20th, was what we now call “psychologist.” The story of The Alienist tells a fictionalized story of the clandestine first use of psychological profiling in the tracking and arrest of a serial killer in New York City. So yes, it really is Criminal Minds, if you picture Penelope Garcia looking up information by going to the library. So like The Nick, a Showtime show about doctors and their drama set in New York at the turn of the 20th century, the Alienist is a period piece that we already know the story to. A sadistic, but abused and misunderstood killer evades a wily band of profilers until he doesn’t.

The promise of such a story is that we get to learn about the theories, methods, and mores of psychology in its formative years. That sounded great! But it turns out if you abridge a novel, you monster you, you pull out all the interesting and informative things about the period and make an episode of Criminal Minds that, while admittedly entertaining, is derivative drivel.

Here’s hoping the TNT show eschews that strategy when bringing Carr’s book to the screen.

Kaitlyn has refrained from contributing to this joint review as she is actually going to go read the book. I, on the other hand, am refusing to spend any more time on anything referencing this. Oh, and Teddy Roosevelt was a character and he actually was the police commissioner of NYC. There– we DID learn something!

Recommend—– THE FULL VERSION!!!

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio), USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommend the full audio version.

[Your editor burst out laughing at the Criminal Minds comment because that is exactly the way she watches the show. ]