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. ]

Mangrove Lightning by Randy Wayne White

Mangrove Lightning

Randy Wayne White is always a quick fun read. I didn’t think this one was as good as previous novels. The sci – fi was a bit much. But I always like to see what the characters are up to in the newest novel. I’m going to recommend it, but it is not as good as past novels. If you haven’t been reading this series you would have missed a lot of background on the characters and even if that weren’t true this would not be a great as a first Randy Wayne White novel.

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

Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino Ilsand
This was far from my favorite Grisham – perhaps I’ve simply come to expect lawyers to play a major role in his books and there’s nary one to be had among the major players here. But, really, it was the plot that failed. I enjoyed reading about the theft of the manuscripts but the book just lost steam after that. I tried to inject some interest imagining Fernandina Beach, FL (where a friend of mine used to run a small bookstore) as Camino Island, and smiling at Bruce’s sartorial preferences as I recalled the guys I went to law school with in Georgia who lived for seeksucker and bow ties. And I enjoyed the antics of some of the secondary characters. But those just weren’t enough to generate my continued interest in the storyline. I enjoyed John Dunning’s Cliff Janeway series, also involving rare book collecting, much more.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Mary Hall
Rating: Not Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor's Blade

I enjoyed the fantasy novel Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell. The main character is Falcio Val Mond, the First Cantor (leader) of the Greatcoats. The Greatcoats were a group of wandering magistrates who are named for the coat that they wear (which served as armor and storage) and are now disbanded, distrusted, and ridiculed. The backstory is told with periodic flashbacks.

I enjoyed: the dialog (reminds me of the “buddy cop” style movie), learning about sword fighting (“first rule of the sword is put the pointy end into the other man”), the detailed fight scenes, and the plot twist as Falcio completed his quest.

I didn’t like how a couple things were wrapped up at the end with a surprise “intervention” (I’m being deliberately vague) and, although minor, a couple of times I had to re-read because I didn’t realize the book switched to the backstory.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it for people who enjoy fantasy/sword-fighting action. I will likely read more in this series.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book published by a small press.

The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

The Golden Lily

 

The second book in the Bloodlines series that continues the amazing plot lines started in the first book. It also is a great start to what appears to be the main romance of the series. The book is able to balance adventure and romance very well. It is also able to deal with prejudices that exist in this fantasy world and make them relate to the real world.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Taylor Horkan
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a color in the title