Drowned

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Drowned
Therese Bohman

Publisher’s Blurb:

Drowned, set in the idyllic countryside during a short-lived Swedish summer, gets under one’s skin from the first page, creating an atmosphere of foreboding in which even the perfume of freshly picked vegetables roasting in the kitchen becomes ominous.

On the surface, the story couldn’t be simpler. A single young woman visits her older sister, who is married to a writer as charismatic as he is violent. As the young woman falls under her brother-in-law’s spell, the plot unfolds in a series of precisely rendered turns. Meanwhile the reader, anticipating the worst, hopes against hope that disaster can be averted.

More than a mere thriller, this debut novel delves deep into the feminine soul and at the same time exposes the continuing oppression of women in Sweden’s supposedly enlightened society. Mixing hothouse sensuality with ice-cold fear on every page, Drowned heralds the emergence of a major new talent on the international scene.

I don’t often include the reviewy parts of publisher’s blurbs, but for this book, go back and read it.  Now, I’m not sure how much say authors get in what goes into their blurbs.  I would kind of hope that they would at least get to approve them, but that might be my rose colored glasses speaking.  Regardless, this book is sold as an exposé of “the continuing oppression of women in Sweden’s supposedly enlightened society.”  Sure, I’ll grant you that the domestic violence aspects of the book are disturbing, but domestic abuse happens (much as I wish that weren’t a sentence I could truthfully write).  Do people really assume that Sweden is such an idyllic society that there’s no oppression or prejudice or violence?  Every country has domestic violence, some significantly worse than others (I’m looking at you honor killings).  I really bothered me that someone felt the need to call this an exposé, because it actually sells the book short.

This book is more than your average domestic dispute.  This is not an innocent woman who walked into a shitty situation and came out on the other end bruised and battered.  This is more complex that that because the female character walks into her sister’s abusive situation and craves it.  I’m not here to judge another woman’s preferences on how what happens in the bedroom, in fact, I fall firmly in the camp of do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else against their will.  However, it struck me as straight up bizarre to take a vacation to her sister’s house only to immediately fall for her husband.  Though I suppose that she did more than simply fall in love with her sister’s husband, she seems to fall in love with married life and the comfortable way that two people who’ve lived together for a long time move around each other.  I can understand looking at someone else’s situation, seeing the good, and wanting to find the same in your life.  It’s the physical replacement of that person in their life that creeps me out on every level, which could have been the author’s intent, but really reduced my ability to enjoy the story.

However, the one thing, the author did magnificently was use the subtle violence of Gabriel to build suspense.  She then combined this with the apparently awful weather of Sweden to create an environment felt oppressive and threatening.  (Keep in mind that I’m using the word oppressive there in that the weather felt oppressive, not necessarily in any other way.)  I loved her use of the senses to really bring the story to life, whether it be the cloying scent of flowers or the ominous ticking of the clock in the hallway, it was done superbly.

In the end, the story is a richly woven tale, but the subject matter is of the sort that is perhaps not for everyone.  If you find the blurb to be off putting, you might take that to be a hint.

3.5 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 3 Buffys
Character Investibility:  2.5 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 4 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4 Snyders
Language: 4 Feegles
Mystery: 2 Sherlocks

Book Links:  GoodreadsPublisher

The Drowned Cities

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The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker, Book 2)
Paolo Bacigalupi

Publisher’s Blurb:

Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die.

In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man–a bioengineered war beast named Tool–who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.

I would like to preface this with the fact that I haven’t read the first book in this series yet (though that fact will be changing in the very near future).  Having said that, this is one of those rare books wherein it’s completely unnecessary to have read the first book in the series. Normally when I discover that I accidentally picked up the second book of a series, I give it about ten pages and then put it down in frustration because I’m clearly missing something huge that’s happened that’s super critical to this plot.  In this book, there’s every indication that huge things have happened, what with the whole war-torn jungle that used to be America, but it doesn’t constantly remind you that you missed Book 1.  I’m actually really looking forward to reading Book 1 now given the deft hand that was evident in this one.

Now, to the story:  it’s amazing.  It combines the horror and pain of Vietnam with Iraq and adds in a sprinkling of Afghanistan, but in a future where science has created a perfect killing machine.  The irony is that even though it’s in the future, it feels like it’s set in the Dark Ages, that period after the fall of Rome when the whole of the world was plunged into chaos and plague.  The sheer brutality of the book was both visceral and compelling.  The truly terrifying part is that about half way through the book, I realized that this is totally plausible.  First one politician accuses the other of treason, and then the other fires back.  It’s easy to see the snowball effect there.  The brilliance of Bacigalupi’s writing is that he gave me that whole history, the accusations followed by the division, followed by the taking up of arms, and then chaos, he gave me all of that over the span of maybe two sentences.  He made me see my world implode with twenty five words (give or take).

And within that world he gives you these characters of unflagging bravery and courage, even when they’re claiming to be cowards.  They live in a world where nothing is sure, but each other and themselves and he makes events turn around them and yet they still put one foot in front of the other.   It’s delightful to read.  When one thinks of the children of war, I usually look on with sympathy at the little ones who have been orphaned and are helpless in the face of wonton destruction.  Bacigalupi’s children of war are so much more than that.  Sure, they’ve been orphaned, but they aren’t helpless.  Mahlia listened to her peacekeeper father’s lessons on The Art of War and little Mouse knows where to forage for food in the jungle surrounding the Drowned Cities.  However, Bacigalupi used the brutality of the book to put his characters in danger over and over again and it made the book enthralling because he had gone to the trouble to make me care for them first.  Even Tool was never the animal that he could have been seen to be.  He was a warrior, albeit a wounded one.

I could gush about this book for ages, but there’s no need for that.  Pick up the book.  I really can’t recommend it enough.  It’s a gut wrenching tale that will grab hold of your brain stem and won’t let go.

4.5 ink bottles
Character Believability: 4.5 Buffys
Character Investibility:  4.5 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4.5 Snyders
Language: 5 Feegles
Mystery:  4 Sherlocks

Book Links:  GoodreadsPublisher

Book Trailer:

Apparently I’m taking the week off…

Wow, I have no idea how, but I’ve been told that it’s Wednesday.  Followed closely on the heels of that realization was the fact that I haven’t posted anything this week.  After I peeled my head off the desk, I went off and found this for you:

And the reason why I’m taking the rest of the week off: it took me two hours of strolling through the internet to get that and I have things to do.  If I turn on my computer, I’m toast.  Fair warning, although this film has been released in the UK, there is no US release date as of now.  Sorry guys.

Reviews will be back next week, with the usual wibbly wobbly schedule.

The Enchantress

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The Enchantress (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 6)
Michael Scott

Publisher’s Blurb:

The two that are one must become the one that is all. One to save the world, one to destroy it.

San Francisco:

Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel have one day left to live, and one job left to do. They must defend San Francisco. The monsters gathered on Alcatraz Island have been released and are heading toward the city. If they are not stopped, they will destroy everyone and everything in their path.

But even with the help of two of the greatest warriors from history and myth, will the Sorceress and the legendary Alchemyst be able to defend the city? Or is it the beginning of the end of the human race?

Danu Talis:

Sophie and Josh Newman traveled ten thousand years into the past to Danu Talis when they followed Dr. John Dee and Virginia Dare. And it’s on this legendary island that the battle for the world begins and ends.

Scathach, Prometheus, Palamedes, Shakespeare, Saint-Germain, and Joan of Arc are also on the island. And no one is sure what—or who—the twins will be fighting for.

Today the battle for Danu Talis will be won or lost.

But will the twins of legend stand together?

Or will they stand apart—

one to save the world and one to destroy it?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story, given the number of parallel plotlines that we left off with in Book 5.  And while I can’t say that my socks were completely knocked off, I will unreservedly say that this is my favorite book of the entire series, hands down.  Josh isn’t whiny at all, you guys.  In fact, he’s kind of awesome, but that’s not what makes this the best book.  No, in this story, Scott uses the parallel plotlines to build tension.  Everyone in one place is about to die? Yeah, let’s jump over here to this other place where other important things are happening.  And something important is happening everywhere.  Every page of this book feels like a dead sprint.  The characters are constantly moving with every ounce of their strength and being and it makes for such a compelling tale.

However, it’s not all hair-raising action.  Scott wove in humor here and there and it ratcheted to book up from really good to great.  The redshirts reference had me grinning from ear to ear and the fifteen year old in me laughed out loud at the thought of hearing the Imperial March when parents walk into the room.  Also, you don’t often get Sci Fi references in Fantasy, but after this, I want it to happen more often because it works.  Boy howdy, does it work.

The time travel dimension to the story had a part of my brain working overtime.  I realized at one point the number of decisions Scott would have had to have made in writing this book given the complexity of having people from the present going in the past, interacting with people they had known and loved in the future.  You see, even that sentence is muddled.  I would give you an example, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  Rest assured, where my writing is failing, Scott’s came through with flying colors.  There was never a doubt of who was where and with whom.  It’s astoundingly clear and without the use of any qualifiers.

The one thing I take issue with is when an Elder says that humans are essentially good.  While I’ve always hoped for that to be true, I know it isn’t universally true.  Stalin was not essentially good.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he thought what he was doing was for the greater good, but the truth is that you cannot be “essentially good” and be responsible for the brutal deaths of millions of innocent people.  It’s a nice sentiment, to imagine that we as a race are essentially good and I still like to think that the majority of human beings are, but the reality is that there are outliers.  It’s just too big of a generalization.  It exceeds the truth.

In the end, however, this story is a fast paced roller coaster ride of action, magic, and monsters.  I highly recommend it.

4.5 ink bottles.
Character Believability:  4.5 Buffys
Character Investibilty: 4.5 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 4.5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4 Snyders
Language: 4.5 Feegles
Mystery: 5 Sherlocks

Book Links:  Goodreads, Publisher

The Invaders

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The Invaders (The Brotherband Chronicles, Book 2)
John Flanagan

Publisher’s Blurb:

Hal and the Herons have done the impossible. This group of outsiders has beaten out the strongest, most skilled young warriors in all of Skandia to win the Brotherband competition. But their celebration comes to an abrupt end when the Skandians’ most sacred artifact, the Andomal, is stolen–and the Herons are to blame.

To find redemption they must track down the thief Zavac and recover the Andomal. But that means traversing stormy seas, surviving a bitter winter, and battling a group of deadly pirates willing to protect their prize at all costs. Even Brotherband training and the help of Skandia’s greatest warrior may not be enough to ensure that Hal and his friends return home with the Andomal–or their lives.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m not sure if it’s possible for me to dislike Flanagan’s books.  He has this brilliant ability to strike just the right tone of earnest effort in his characters combined with genuine humor overlaid upon a bed of grave danger that makes it impossible to do anything but flip page after page after page.  And I’ll give you that that’s probably why I love it so much.  His stories are driven by his characters in the way that life is driven by people.  Nothing’s going to happen in the greater world outside of basic survival unless someone stands up and starts building houses or, in this case, takes the ship that he built with his own hands and the handful of peers that he solidified into a crew and leaves home to fight to return what was stolen.  Flanagan’s characters have the uncanny ability to grow into everything that I want them to be.  Sure, he’s kind of falling into a pattern of who the brains of the operation is versus who the amazingly skilled warrior is, but it doesn’t come off as contrived, but rather an acknowledgment that some of us are better at some things and others at other things.  It simply acknowledges the diversity of human skill and it’s done in a way that is subtle.  I never once stopped and thought “oh, har, har.  I see what you did there.” No, instead I stayed in the story, 100% focused on what was going to happen next.

As to the story, I can’t lie, Thorn kind of stole it for me.  His form of dry humor and his indignation over losing a battered old sheepskin were fantastically endearing.  Let’s be honest, the story of this book would have floundered had Thorn not been there to quietly steer it from the background.  The boys of this tale are delightful and smile-inducing, but they would have devolved into bickering children if Thorn hadn’t stepped in to focus them and bring them back to task.  Granted, I was hooked as of the first word on page one, Thorn or no Thorn, but he lent the story an edge of quiet humor that kept not just my eyes glued to the page, but my heart as well.

There’s not much more I can say except for this; this story is a classic Flanagan tale of growing up, honor, courage, friendship, and loyalty.  It’s harrowing at times, but in a good way, making the words disappear and instead building a world for you to live in, at least for 430 pages. Compelling doesn’t quite do it justice.  It’s enthralling.

5 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 5 Buffys
Character Investibility:  5 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 5 Snyders
Language: 5 Feegles
Mystery:  4.5 Sherlocks

Book Links:  GoodreadsPublisher

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce Book 1)
Alan Bradley

Publisher’s blurb:

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

Adorable.  I know that Flavia, would cringe at my use of the word to describe her, but it’s the perfect one to use.  She is adorable.  The stereotype of the plucky Brit has always struck me as endearing and Flavia is the concept of plucky embodied.  Everything about her made me want to smack her dad in the head and tell him what an amazing kid he has.  Item the First, she’s a massive chemistry nerd.  She uses archaic names of chemical compounds to calm her nerves (“Butter of Antimony…Flowers of Arsenic”).  I’m not going to lie, if I’d been able to learn about chemistry the way Flavia does, I would have a whole different viewpoint of the topic. Item the Second, she uses “scissors” as a curse word.  Any eleven year old in the world who uses the word scissors as a curse word gets an automatic amazing award.  Item the Third, she named her articulated skeleton Yorrick.  Do you see what I’m getting at now?  I wasn’t this cool when I was eleven, but retroactively I totally wish I had been.  If the Doctor were to ever show up in Flavia’s life, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

As to the story, it’s surprisingly compelling.  It falls along the lines of a typical Agatha Christie novel (and not just because of the time period in which it’s set).  There’s a minimal amount of gore.  The plot centers almost entirely upon intrigue and Flavia’s progress in wading through it, with a small subplot regarding a fantastic prank she played on her sister.  (Seriously, if I had been half as clever as Flavia, I would have gotten away with so much more stuff.)  Like a cozy mystery, the cast of characters that revolve around Flavia are both eclectic and marvelous.  Throw in the fact that you’re in Britain in 1950 and the fact that the oddball histories of the characters are all marred by WWII, and you find there’s an odd sort of realism to the story. The tension and urgency of the story are wrought almost entirely by Flavia’s persistence.  Her tenacity is downright charming and it certainly goes far to keeping the story moving along at a reasonable clip.

In the end, this story is a perfectly lovely tale of murder and the plucky eleven year old who sets out to solve it.  I can’t tell you how thankful I am that this whole series is out so that I can pick up the next one tomorrow.

4.5 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 5 Buffys
Character Investibility:  5 Doctors
Pace/Urgency/Tension:  4.5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4 Snyders
Language:  4.5 Feegles
Mystery:  4.5 Sherlocks

Book Links: Goodreads, Publisher

Book Trailer: