Thursday, May 28, 2015

Seveneves

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
HarperCollins: 5/19/2015
eBook review copy, 880 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062190376
http://www.nealstephenson.com/

My Thoughts:

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson is a thought provoking science fiction disaster scenario and space saga covering 5000 years that is very highly recommended. This complex, epic tale is the kind of end-of-the-known-world science fiction that many of us crave. As someone who has grown weary of reading various novels that are only part of a series, let me go on record right away saying that I appreciate and applaud the fact that Stephenson gave us the complete story all in one massive book containing three parts rather than spreading it out over three books.

Seveneves opens with "The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designated A+0.0.0, or simply Zero." The moon fragments into seven large pieces that Scientist Doc “Doob” Dubois gives the school-children friendly names of Potatohead, Mr. Spinny, Acorn, Peach Pit, Scoop, Big Boy, and Kidney Bean. There are already smaller fragments of the moon falling to earth as meteorites, but, as these larger pieces begin breaking up into smaller pieces, Doob has figured out that eventually this fragmentation will lead to an event he calls the White Sky. "The system of discrete planetoids that we can see up there now is going to grind itself up into a vast number of much smaller fragments. They are going to turn into a white cloud in the sky, and that cloud is going to spread out."

A day or two after the White Sky event, the Hard Rain is going to occur. The Hard Rain is actually a meteorite bombardment that will set the earth on fire and sterilized the surface. The only way for humanity to survive is to go underground, or go into space. Humanity has approximately twenty-five months to prepare. They propose using swarming behavior observed on earth to create an ark in space called the Cloud Ark. They need to send up genetic samples of everything on earth, including humans, as well as chosen representatives from each country in a habitat to connect to the International Space Station, or Izzy, the place where the Cloud Ark will form. Roboticist Dinah MacQuarie (and many robots) and commander Ivy Xiao, along with others are on Izzy and now must anticipate new arrivals before the Hard Rain destroys life on the surface of the earth.

The quality of the writing is above reproach. Stephenson does an admirable job incorporating lots and lots of hard science, ballistics, sociology, genetics, politics, robotics, and more  into the novel and he makes all of the myriad of intricate details interesting. Along with the hard science there are also little snippets that provide a measure of comic relief at the beginning of the disaster, like the names of the seven fragments of the moon mentioned above or the website: astronomicalbodiesformerlyknownasthemoon.com or the roach motel for boys (which you will understand if you read it.) As I said, the novel is divided up into three books, with book three taking place 5000 years in the future. I really didn't have a clear clue what the title meant until over half way through the book, at which point it became clear just before the start of book three. At almost 900 pages, it takes a time commitment, but it is worth it.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Knopf Doubleday: 5/26/2015
eBook review copy, 192 pages

hardcover ISBN-13: 9781101875896
My Thoughts:


Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is a beautifully written, very highly recommended novel about two seniors finding companionship and friendship with each other. 

Set in Haruf’s fictional Holt, Colorado, it opens with:
"And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark. They lived a block apart on Cedar Street in the oldest part of town with elm trees and hackberry and a single maple grown up along the curb and green lawns running back from the sidewalk to the two-story houses." 


Addie and Louis have known each other for decades. They are both in their 70's and lost their spouses years ago. Addie is calling Louis to ask if he would consider coming to her house sometimes to sleep with her. Not for sex. She is "talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst." She thinks she "could sleep again if there were someone else in bed with me. Someone nice. The closeness of that. Talking in the night, in the dark." They both understand her offer, and what it means, as they both take pills to help them sleep now and then end up staying up too late reading anyway and wake up groggy. The companionship is the key to helping them both get through the long, lonely nights. 


Though he is nervous, Louis takes her up on the offer and their friendship - and the small town gossip - begins. While they try to ignore the talk about their affair, it really means friendship for them both and having someone to talk about their life with, mull over the past with an amicable listener. Addie has a surviving son in Grand Junction and Louis a daughter in Colorado Springs, but neither is there, available to talk. As the gossip flies around town, the word of their "affair" gets back to their son and daughter, neither is pleased about their arrangement.


This is an impressive novel that, despite its diminutive size, is poignant, engaging, and heartbreaking. The writing is simply incredible.  In Our Souls at Night writer Kent Haruf has left the world a wonderful final contribution to his body of work.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North
Penguin Publishing Group: 5/19/2015
eBook review copy, 288 pages

ISBN-13: 9780399173394
http://www.sophiestark.com/
 
My Thoughts:

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North is a highly recommended novel that exposes the truth behind the artist.

Acclaimed filmmaker Sophie Stark is an enigma, even to those who know her best. This haunting novel tells us about the life of Sophie through the voices of six different individuals who knew her best. Each chapter is the voice of one of these six individuals, while not a word is heard directly from Sophie. What we gather and learn about her character is all filtered through the experiences of others. 

The six voices include: Allison, Robbie (Sophie's brother), Jacob, Daniel, George, and Benjamin Martin. Allison was romantically involved with Sophie and the story of her family became Sophie's movie Marianne. Robbie is ever protective of Sophie and in college helps her with her first movie, Daniel, a documentary of her obsession with college basketball player. Sophie makes a video for musician Jacob and they get married briefly. She betrays him when the story of his mother becomes her next movie, Woods. Daniel was the college basketball star in her first movie. George is a successful screenwriter who Sophie uses for his contacts and makes the movie Isabella. Benjamin Martin is the film critic whose reviews of Sophie's films are included between each chapter.

It is clear that Sophie is an enigma even to those who know her best. We know that Sophie has always been a loner and found it difficult to connect with other people. She was born as Emily Buckley, but changed her name. She unapologetically uses people and their lives to further her art. Does she really feel love or care for anyone besides herself and her vision? She is driven and focused. Her vision for a film and her creative process supersedes all personal relationships. Clearly she is talented, but what cost does she extract from those around her while working on her films? Is the final creation of art enough to excuse personal  betrayal? Must a great artist always be tortured?

North's writing is excellent which helps make The Life and Death of Sophie Stark an engrossing literary story puzzle. The individual stories each add some essential pieces to the puzzle and work together to make a more complete picture of who is Sophie Stark. They don't explain everything. This is a puzzle with missing pieces. What North leaves us with, after these stories from those who knew her, is that the legacy Sophie Stark has left behind is her films that, presumably, might fill in some of the missing holes and help explain her life.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group for review purposes.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On the Burning Edge

On the Burning Edge by Kyle Dickman
Random House: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 304 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780553392128

My Thoughts:


On the Burning Edge by Kyle Dickman is a highly recommended, in depth look at the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott, AZ., and the Yarnell, AZ., wildfire that claimed 19 of their lives.

Dickman, a former hotshot, spent five years fighting wildfires in California. His insider's knowledge and viewpoint give us information about the group and how they train and interact. While providing the information on a brief history of wildfire firefighting teams,  and how a hotshot team trains and works fighting wildfires, he focuses mainly on the Granite Mountain Hotshots. He then gives us a well-researched inside glimpse at each of the members of the team. Dickman carefully covers each member of the crew and even includes their last text messages sent to loved ones.

The wildfire in Yarnell was sparked by a lightning bolt and quickly turned into an inferno that eventually devoured more than eight thousand acres in northern Arizona. Anyone who has ever seen a wildfire take off will understand the terror and unpredictability of a wildfire. Those of us who have done so, have also watched and applauded the dedicated crews coming in to fight those fires. While the actual firefighting portion of the book may seem scant, On the Burning Edge is a memorable and heartbreaking account of the men who fought the fire.

I remember vividly when living in the west seeing a lightning strike hit a nearby mountain and then almost immediately seeing smoke arise from the mountain. It is a horrifying feeling to watch a fire take off and know your family could be in the path of a wildfire. Furthermore, these fires seemed to be a yearly occurrence. So many people across the USA depend on the hotshots and crews of dedicated firefighters from across the West to come in and fight the fires. (A shout out to those flying helicopters and dumping flame retardant on the fires too.)

Dickman does a good job presenting the information and telling the story of the tragic event. It is also a story of warning and caution. With the increased population and well publicized  decrease in the water supply in the West, there are certainly going to be an increase of fires that threaten populated areas and more young men will be in harm’s way fighting the fires.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Forgotten Room

The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child
Knopf Doubleday: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385531405
http://www.prestonchild.com/

My Thoughts:

The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child is a highly recommended thriller.
Yale professor Jeremy Logan is an enigmalogist or an investigator who specializes in analyzing phenomena that have no obvious explanation. He has been asked by Gregory Olafson, the director, to come to the Lux to discreetly investigate what could have led to the erratic behavior and horrific suicide by one of their distinguished doctors, Willard Strachey. The Lux is a think tank located in Dark Gables, a seaside mansion in Newport, R.I. Ten years earlier Jeremy was asked to leave the Lux based on questions about his research.

Once he arrives, Jeremy discovers that the doctor wasn't the only one behaving erratically. He thinks that Strachey's behavior may be related to his oversight of the renovation of an unused wing of the mansion. While investigating, Jeremy discovers a secret room in that wing. The secret room contains equipment from a project that doesn't seem to have any documentation on it. It seems to be from something that may have been called Project Sin that was conducted in the 1930's.

Jeremy has keen insight into people and as he interviews the residents you will wonder if the cause of the problem is related to the paranormal or if it can be explained by science. It is clear that whatever has caused the problem is still ongoing and Jeremy may be in danger himself if he can't figure it out soon.

The writing is excellent, as usual, and Child will grab your attention and hold it to the end. The chapters are short and quick, which made this an excellent book to read in quick bursts here and there as time permitted during the day. I found myself reading it pretty quickly as the mystery and plot were compelling and Jeremy is a likeable character.

Jeremy also appeared in The Third Gate and Deep Storm, but this is a stand-alone novel that can be enjoyed without reading about any of his previous investigations.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Housebreaking

Housebreaking by Dan Pope
Simon & Schuster: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 288 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476745909
http://www.danpope.com/

My Thoughts:


Benjamin Mandelbaum, a man in his mid-forties, has just been kicked out of his house by his wife Judy after she suspects he has had another affair. After two previous affairs, this suspected third marks the end of their marriage. Ben takes his dog and moves back home to live with his father, Leonard, in Wintonbury, a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut. Leonard, 84, has started dating again, much to Ben's surprise.

Ben claims to miss his family, but once he discovers that an old high school crush, Audrey, has moved back to town and is now living just up the street with her busy lawyer husband, Andrew, and troubled teenage daughter, Emily, that point seems to escape him. Ben and Audrey start having an affair almost immediately after meeting. But there is a whole lot more trouble brewing behind the scenes and everyone seems to have secrets they are keeping and information they are withholding.

The quality of the writing is excellent. Pope manages to give each character tells their own story in their unique voice, explaining their unhappiness and revealing shocking secrets. Adultery looms so large in the plot of this dark drama featuring a plethora of dysfunctional lives in two families that it was overwhelming for me. I wanted the adults to snap out of it and start looking at the consequences of their actions. Pope does manage to infuse a little humor while presenting us with this collection of very flawed people. Housebreaking by Dan Pope is recommended.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hyacinth Girls

Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel
Crown Publishing: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 304 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780553418057

My Thoughts:

Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel is a highly recommended, powerful novel about bullying.


"Do you know your children?"


That is the question Rebecca, the guardian of 13 year old Callie,  wants the parents of other teens to ask themselves. She has a billboard made that features Callie's face and the pointed question erected in hopes that someone will take notice. But to tell us the story of what has happened, Rebecca goes back six months to an incident where Callie was accused of bullying another student, Robyn. Callie denies the accusations and Rebecca rallies to her side, defending her.

As she relates the story behind the billboard, Rebecca also reminisces about the past. She has been a part of Callie's life since her birth. She was best friends with Callie's mother, Joyce, and took over as her guardian when Joyce died. Rebecca and Joyce called themselves the "hyacinth girls" and were inseparable for a time. Rebecca does her best to understand what Callie is experiencing while at the same time she is recalling past betrayals in her friendship with Joyce. But Rebecca doesn't really understand at all what Callie is going through or what role she has played in the drama unfolding.

The narrative is separated into separate sections where the story is told first from Rebecca's point of view and then Callie's point of view. The story gets much better and acquires some depth once we can read Callie's thoughts. It's not that Rebecca's character is awful, but she seems rather simple and naive. Once Callie's voice is given, at over half way through, the narrative takes on more depth. Included throughout all sections are short numbered installments detailing the history of Callie's interaction through messages and texts with Robyn, the girl she was accused of bullying.

While the writing is quite good and the story timely, I've lowered my rating one star simply because of the length of the first section told in Rebecca's voice. The true reality of what is going on doesn't come to life until you start to read Callie's story. As most people know, teens keep secrets and you will likely suspect that there are secrets, but won't quite understand the whole story until later, even the story of Callie's childhood and her parents. This is a novel that deserves some attention. Mean girls have always existed and nothing seems to change that equation. (Look at Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye.)


 Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Crown Publishing for review purposes.