Review: Ink and Bone

 

Ink and Bone

 

Rachel Caine’s new book, Ink and Bone: The Great Library, is the first in a trilogy set in an alternate world where the Great Library of Alexandria was never sacked, and information is truly power — in this case, the only power worth mentioning.  In a life where everyone across the globe has magical access to every piece of writing the great Alexandrian Library deems worth reading, personal ownership of books is forbidden.  Young Jess Brightwell grows up part and parcel of his father’s London-based black-market business, literally running precious contraband of real books–not mere copies–to buyers with the deepest pocket.  When his father sends him to train as librarian at the great library itself–becoming an inside source for original volumes, the rarest of the rare–Jess’s priorities become tangled, and he questions everything he’s ever known about knowledge and power, right and wrong, cowardice and courage.

I loved this book from cover to cover.  It is considered suitable for grades 8 and up, but there is plenty there which skews older (characters you like die bloody deaths galore).  The premise is fascinating and pertinent to our world of digital media and questions of ownership vs license.  The alternate Earth is interesting, complex and well-devised and the characters are as interesting as they are diverse, with the women as unapologetically awesome as their male counterparts (people who know me will understand this is huge in my enjoyment of a story).  Caine thoroughly explores the ideas of information, absolute power, and the corruption which follows hard on its heels, and cunningly weaves them into a plot which will hurl you forward like a feather in a hurricane.

For those of us who are audiobook inclined, I give the audio version of Ink and Bone, narrated by Jules Elfer, five gold stars all around.  The story was conveyed so well, that I bought the hardback for my husband (who read it in a weekend–and likewise loved it), and immediately pre-ordered the next book in the series.

July needs to arrive so I can find out what happens next!

 

 

The House of Shattered Wings: Hark! The Fallen Angels Sing

Title: The House of Shattered Wings

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Elevator pitch: A mysterious young man of unknown magical origin, stranded in Paris and captured by the most powerful fallen angel faction, is forced to hunt a supernatural killer.

Why did I pick this book up? Typically, I don’t read angel books. But I was willing to give fallen angels in an alternate reality 1930s Paris a chance.

Main Characters: Philippe is foreigner stranded in Paris trying to survive without calling too much attention to himself. Then he gets caught trying to mainline fallen angel blood, a highly addictive a powerful magic-inducing drug.

Isabelle has the most recent, but fading, connection to Heaven. She is the newest fallen angel who hits the pavement in the first chapter and nearly becomes savaged for her potent blood.

Selene inherited a broken faction when their great leader went for a walk and never came back. She is in over her head and is desperately trying to hold her faction together.

Madeline is the most capable alchemist in the city, but also a tormented angel-drug addict trying to forget the horrible things that have happened to her during her service to angels.

Thoughts and Musings
Have you ever watched a movie where the two hours leading up to the ending credits feel like prologue, and you think “This is where the movie should have started. Right here. This would be really interesting to see what happens next.” This story begins after The End.

The House of Shattered Wings is an aftermath story. It’s set in an alternate Paris during the 1930s where the fallen angels of Heaven have set up an empire, nearly destroyed themselves and everyone else in a civil war between factions, and their greatest leader has disappeared. The main events leading up to the story have already happened, and now the characters are dealing with the fallout. It’s like reading about Rome in the immediate years after its collapse.

Starting here is a big risk for the author to take. Whatever comes next has to be at least as compelling as all the backstory. I think against the odds, it works.

At its core, The House of Shattered Wings is simple who-done-it mystery. Someone/something is killing people and the characters have to find and stop the killer. Compared to the backstory, this doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. However, Bodard surrounds the mystery with layers on layers of complicated politics, questions of faith, conflicting relationships, and intersecting world mythologies. And as the mystery begins to unravel, it intersects with several pre-novel plotlines. This intersection helps keep the main storyline as compelling as the pre-book storyline.

House of Shattered wings is the first in a series, but it works as a solo novel. The ending has a satisfactory conclusion. When the next book comes out, I’ll pick it up.

Review: Gone, Baby, Gone

Gone, Baby, Gone
Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gone, Baby, Gone is the fourth of Dennis Lehane’s series with PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennero. Fourth, and so far, arguably, the best.

While the story took me a good 50 pages to get into, once Patrick and Angie take the case, that of a missing child, the emotional stakes skyrocket for both reader and characters. And it just never stops. There are more twists and turns to this plot than an dirt road winding through a treacherous ravine, but always the twists were logical, and always completely believable. At one point, I set the book down, thinking, “I have no idea how they’re going to make it out of this one.”

In Gone, Baby, Gone, our central characters’ strengths are given a generous hand, but so too are their flaws. Mistakes are made, good people falter, bad people triumph, and the reader is left trying to decide if justice was done; if the truth was worth holding up to the light. In fact, while he’s busy breaking his characters’ hearts, he’s breaking ours as well. The subject matter, the endemic neglect and abuse of children in America, hits everyone with the weight of a freight train, and none are left unscathed even if some are left standing. Lehane asks hard questions, and expects his reader to at least think of possibilities.

Yes, it’s a mystery. Yes, it’s a thriller. And yes, Gone, Baby, Gone is so much more. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Lehane just keeps getting better and better. I am in awe.

Review: A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro, #1)A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think the Boston Sunday Globe said it best, “Harsh and chilling … an absolutely terrific story.”

This is the third Dennis Lehane story I’ve tucked away and I have to say, the man can write. I only put the book down to get some sleep, and finished it as soon as I could the next day. The story is solid, his characters deep and never dull, the locations as defined as his characters. And even if I was pretty sure how the ending would come out–and I was right–I still wanted to know Kenzie and Gennaro would get there.

This was written 15 years ago, and yeah, I know, I’m behind the times.  Happily, for a reader who doesn’t know much about the current Boston, the story has weathered very well.  I don’t know how much has changed locally in the better part of a generation, but the topics Lehane hits go well beyond local, and well beyond our own neighborhoods, and they still seem as rampant today as they ever were.

I’m looking forward to Kenzie and Gennaro’s next case, which I’m going to start … right about now.  Time for some more of Mr. Lehane’s excellent storytelling.

Has anyone else on my FL read much of Lehane?  If so, what did you think of him?  If you haven’t, what has stopped you from reading his work?

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Review: The Treatment

The TreatmentThe Treatment by Mo Hayder

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mo Hayder’s book, The Treatment is the second in her series with DI Jack Caffery, and shows Ms. Hayder’s growing command of the procedural thriller. Technically? This book is an incredible example of its genre. The story is tight, interwoven, complex and incredibly compelling.

It’s also incredibly brutal.

I only made it halfway through the book before I had to call it quits. I was so caught up in the story, even with tensely anticipating how much worse it could get for both present and past crimes–and yes, situations COULD get worse, and often do in her books–that Hayder’s storytelling continually sucked me back in. Eventually, though, I found the crimes depicted were so heinous and the suffering of the victims so drawn out, that I put the book down. Did I want to know if the victims made it out? Yes, because in the world of DI Caffery, there’s no guarantee that good, or even justice, prevails or that anyone makes it out alive. Even so, I didn’t want to steep my brain in the torment of the victims for another 150 pages before some sort of resolution might occur. I consider myself fairly hard-core when it comes to murder in crime novels. With this one, though, my wallowing in torment reached its limit.

The three stars reflects me having to put it down, but for sheer effectiveness in writing, for the ability to make you care for the victims–and even for the enormously flawed Caffery himself–I wish I could have given Mo Hayder’s The Treatment the full five stars. The female characters are extraordinary strong and strongly-written–victims, cops, girlfriends–and that’s always a bonus for me in the male-dominated cop-thriller genre (or any genre, for that matter). Also, Hayder’s themes of family, individual bravery, and the stranglehold of personal history are rich and compelling. They simply weren’t enough to get me through the rest of the torment-steeped pages.

The novel is phenomenally well done, and maybe someday, when I don’t find my buttons pushed, I’ll read the second half of The Treatment.  I’d love to find out what happens, and how deep into the abyss Jack Caffery has to descend before he and the victims find a way out.

… unless everyone ends up dead.

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Review: Gone

GoneGone by Mo Hayder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gone, by Mo Hayder, is the fifth book in a series featuring Bristol DI Jack Cafferty, and the first of hers I read. Despite four books of back story, I felt no lack or loss for jumping in at the wrong end, as Hayder gave just enough relevant information to offer a bit of depth and context without flogging a reader with past events.

This book is a harrowing journey down a swift river, and there were several times I got off the ride only to jump back on as soon as I could. Hayder’s villain is given a slow reveal, crafted of skillful slight-of-hand and an accumulation of small tells. The danger is real and ever-present, and she never, ever gives you a guarantee of who is going to make it home at the end of the day.

Gone hooked me so thoroughly that I immediately started on Hayder’s first book in the series, Birdman. Comparing the two shows just how far Hayder has come as a writer, and how effortless her prose now seems to be. I plunged through Gone because I felt I must. Not knowing  the ending was unthinkable.

If you like police procedurals and thrillers, British or otherwise, read Gone. But make sure you have an open weekend to do so, because you won’t want to put it down.

Review: Birdman

Birdman

Birdman by Mo Hayder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mo Hayder, as many reviewers pointed out, is not one to shy away from a high body count, nor to make her characters go through the wringer. AWESOME! This procedural thriller is not for the fair or faint-hearted, but for those who want their crime gritty, their heroes flawed and their plots deep and interwoven, Ms. Hayder is the writer for you.

The only reason I didn’t give this 5/5 stars is because I felt that one of the deaths was there for the shock value rather than plot furthering. Still, it’s close, and I gobbled this thriller up with a spoon.

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Review: Mystic River

Mystic RiverMystic River by Dennis Lehane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What did I think of Mystic River? I wonder why it took me so long to read this story, or to discover Dennis Lehane.  That’s what I think.

Many of us have seen the movie based off the book directed by Clint Eastwood. I never did. Hit too close to home, that fictional loss of a daughter, Katie. Ten years later, those bugaboos are gone, and the story found me again.

Setting aside 10 years of technical improvements that date the story somewhat, the plot sweeps you along, dumping you in with the main character when they are 11 years old, and not spitting you back up on shore until it’s all said and done thirty years later.  Lehane deftly weaves together the lives of the three men, their families and their neighborhood in Boston.  Their choices, old and new, become time bombs, never quite forgotten, ticking away.

Lehane’s prose is descriptive, rich, and sometimes sentimental without ever becoming maudlin or mawkish. He has an almost-gentle way of holding up and exposing the characters’ dark sides that is nothing less than brilliant. It’s clear he knows his location, and his research was extensive. There were no missteps, no time when I grew bored with the storyline, no point where I put down the book to do something more interesting. Mystic River is 448 pages of fabulously gripping storytelling.

Cannot wait to read some of his other works. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about a new-to-me author. What took me so long??

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Review: Cop Hater: 87th Precinct #1

Cop Hater (87th Precinct #1)Cop Hater by Ed McBain

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cop Hater was written close to fifty years ago, and it shows it’s age.  Pot-boiler procedural? Hard-boiled procedural?  Some of both, I think.  It was one of the first cops-in-the-squad-room mystery books published, and it spawned a whole new subgenre for mystery–one I enjoy greatly.  Usually.

For me? I think this first book needed a better editor, and I found the language to be surprisingly florid for such a slim word count.    Beyond those points, the plot was tight and the characters memorable.  I’d need to be in a specific kind of mood for this specific kind of story, and it’s not a mood I get into often.  I’d rather curl up with Dennis Lehane or Laurie R. King.  Still, I have a much later 87th Precinct story on my shelf–#16, to be exact.  I’m curious to see if anything has changed in McBain’s style over the years.

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