Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Blackhouse by Peter May

Main character: Fin McLeod, a police detective
Location: Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides
Time period: Contemporary, with flashbacks to Fin's childhood
Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Fin McLeod thinks that he's escaped his childhood home in a isolated village on the Isle of Lewis.  He went to university, and though he didn't finish he did become a cop, got married, had a son.  But now his son is dead and his life is crumbling.  And because a particularly gruesome murder back on the island matches the MO of a case he had been working on, he is sent back to his childhood home to help with the investigation.

An interesting choice by the author is to write the contemporary sections in third person, but the flashbacks to Fin's childhood in the first person.  It took a little while to get used to this, but it does mean that we don't have to depend on chapter titles with time and location listed to know what takes place in the present and what is in the past. (Peter May must know readers like me who don't always pay attention to those headings.)  It also makes sure that we don't have any information that Fin doesn't have--for this murder has more connection to Fin than just a similar MO to a crime he's been investigating.

As the book went along, I was so much wrapped up in Fin's story that I often forgot about the murder that brought him there.  The real mystery was what happened to him.  Was it his experiences with the town bully, the bane of every boy's life and the murder victim? Or the romantic triangle between him, his best friend Artair, and Marsaili?  Or maybe that one time that he joined the traditional guga cull on a small rocky island.  (The guga is a bird that can only be hunted for 2 weeks a year and is considered a particular delicacy.)  Somewhere in his past the seeds were sown that lead us to the present crime.

This is a richly drawn picture of life in a bleak and desolate place and the people who stay there.  The wind, the scent of the sea, the smells of the boats and the guga hunt--reading this was a totally immersive experience.  It drew me in and I did not want to leave.  I highly recommend this book.

I read The Black House  as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Main characters:  Melanie, a gifted 10-year-old; teacher Miss Helen Justineau; Sergeant Eddie Parks; Dr. Caroline Caldwell;  and Pvt. Gallgher
Location:  England
Time period:  sometime in the not too distant future
Genre:  Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Horror

I quite enjoy stories that take a classic horror monster--in this case, zombies--and plays with the traditional tropes.  One of my favorites of this type of story is Scott Westerfeld's Peeps, which draws a comparison between vampirism and parasites and includes details of some real-world parasites and their effects of their hosts as illustration.

In this book, a fungus has infected most of the population and turned them into canabalistic "hungries."  Certain children though, like Melanie, seem to be unaffected.  While the hungries are brain-dead and mostly immobile unless they scent prey, these children of the hungries seem almost super-normal, with high intelligence, speed, and strength.  A group of them have been captured and taken to a research facility where they are taught a traditional school curriculum but are strapped in wheelchairs or locked in cells for the protection of the scientists, soldiers, and teachers who work at the facility.

When they are overrun by hungries, Melanie, her teacher Miss Justineau, lead scientist Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks and Pvt. Gallagher are the only survivors and begin a journey south to try to join up with another facility. 

Though there are some good action scenes, the main thrust of the story is a character study of these five survivors.  We are already primed to like Melanie--it is mostly her POV that we experience for the first part of the book--and we like Miss Justineau because Melanie loves and trusts her.  But Sgt. Parks and Dr. Caldwell start as Melanie's enemies--Dr. Caldwell because she has dissected the children to study them (and is about to dissect Melanie's brain when the hungries attack) and Sgt. Parks because he is the guard who enforces Melanie's captivity.  As they travel together and become more acquainted, Sgt. Parks becomes more sympathetic; he and Melanie never quite trust each other but they do gain a certain amount of respect for each other.  Dr. Caldwell never becomes sympathetic, but she does become more understandable.

It did take me a while to get into this book and I had to re-start a few times before I got acclimated to this new world.  By the time the hungries attacked, I was invested and really enjoyed the journey these five characters took.  I would recommend this to zombie fans who are not averse to re-interpretation of the zombie genre.

I read this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I Am the Mission by Allen Zadoff

Main character:  a teenage assassin whose real name is unknown; this time he's going by Daniel
Location: New Hampshire
Time period: contemporary
Genre:  YA Fiction, Action Adventure, Thriller
Series:  The Unknown Assassin
Sequel to: I Am the Weapon

After the events of the previous book, Daniel needs to take a break.  He goes off-grid, hiding in a summer camp.  But even with all his training and precautions, the Program finds him and he is extracted.  Mother and Father are unsure whether or not he is still loyal, so they subject him to a number of tests before being sent on another mission.  (Or is this mission just another loyalty test?)

This time, his target is Eugene Moore, leader of the survivalist Camp Liberty where he is indoctrinating teenagers to perform terroristic acts with an ultimate aim to bring down the government.  Following his regular MO, Daniel will use Moore's own children to get close enough to eliminate his target.  But of course things don't go according to plan; Daniel is cut off from the Program's resources and forced to improvise.  He is able to handle Moore's son, Lee, with little trouble but the daughter, Miranda, is another story.  Daniel's training in the Program apparently did not cover teenage girls and he is totally blindsided by her actions at the climax.

Again, I am reminded of the Alex Ryder series by Anthony Horowitz, but this series is much darker and more violent.  My sympathies are mostly with Daniel, though he does some things in this book that seriously shake those sympathies.  We do learn a little bit more about the Program, and how many other assassins like Daniel there are.  As Daniel becomes more isolated and less sure of who he can trust, he turns to Howard--the high school computer geek that he met in the first book.  I was so happy to see Howard again; he is refreshingly uncomplicated and totally loyal to Daniel.  However, that loyalty also winds up putting him in danger and Daniel is forced to choose between their friendship and Howard's safety.

If Howard is a recurring character that appeals to Daniel's lighter side, fellow assassin Mike is the recurring character of Daniel's nightmares.  Mike was instrumental in recruiting and training Daniel, but what is his true role in the Program?

I will be looking out for the next book in this series.

I read I Am the Mission as an e-galley from NetGallery.