Category Archives: Review

Review: Lady Astronaut Series

Lady Astronaut Series by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title:  The Lady Astronaut Series
The Lady Astronaut of Mars” – short story (free!)
The Calculating Stars
The Fated Sky
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Published: 2013 – 2018
ISBN 13:  9780765378385 & 9780765398949
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @maryrobinette
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  Fated Sky

Publisher’s Blurb:   (Calculating Stars):  … with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

(Fated Sky):  Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Mary Robinette Kowal with yours truly
WorldCon 76 – 2018

I am not kidding even a little when I say these books jumped to the top of my list of favorites.  And getting to meet Mary Robinette Kowal was a highlight of my WorldCon experience.  She really is kind, patient and generous.

The Lady Astronaut series is entertaining, even while discussing important topics like sexism, racism and, climate change, just to name a few.

And her publisher Tor has announced there will be two more books in the series.

The Calculating Stars
This book literally starts off with a bang.  A cataclysmic event which takes out most of the east coast of the US, and precipitates a space race to move the world’s population to another planet.

It’s an alternate history of the US space program set in the late 1950s and grapples with the big question we find ourselves facing now, “How do we save ourselves?”

Elma is a mathematician who ferried planes around during World War II.  She is smart, capable and, stubborn.  Her only visible flaw is that she’s a woman in that time period.  She has to fight so much just to have her contributions to the space program noticed.  She’s fine  out of the public eye as a computer.  But that’s not what she wants for herself, or her friends who also fly.

Part of Elma’s story is her social anxiety.  In school she was shamed for being smart.  One of her coping mechanisms is to count prime numbers.  But doing that doesn’t keep her from throwing up before she makes public appearances.  So she does what any sensible person would do, she goes to the doctor for help.

Miltown prescription in hand, Elma is better able to handle her anxiety.  It has to be kept a secret though, because open knowledge would cause those the men in charge to view her as an hysterical female and drop her from the program.

It would have been just as easy to not write this about Elma.  It’s already nearly impossible for her to make any headway on equality in the space program.  Giving her protagonist social anxiety, Kowal shows just how determined Elma is to make equality a realty.

The things the women have to do to prove their worth are demeaning.  Something most women would identify with, no matter their generation or profession.  And all the women striving to be in the space program paste their best smiles on and go through the paces.  They know there’s a lot on the line for so many reasons.

By the end of The Calculating Stars Elma has earned her place in the program setting up the Moon as a way station to Mars.

The Fated Sky
There’s a colony on the moon now, and Elma rotates on and off, flying shuttles to Earth and helping prepare for the next big step, colonizing Mars.

It isn’t until the director realizes that the navigational computer isn’t reliable and too hard to program that a woman is considered for the crew.  Elma’s highly visible profile as the “Lady Astronaut” makes her the choice to go at the expense of someone else’s place.  And living in close quarters makes it harder on everyone involved.

Seven people on a space ship to Mars.  There’s a lot of tension.  Affairs are revealed, old wounds are picked at, and Elma does her best to roll with it.  We finally see what’s been festering between Stetson Parker and Elma York in both books.

We also get to see the astronauts try to work through the personal issues which could very well be the downfall of the mission to Mars.  The best thing about Elma is she’s always trying to understand, and learn, when her privileged white background gets in the way.

By the end of the book, landing on Mars has become not routine, but is well on its way.

Review: River Queens

River Queens by Alexander Watson

Title:  River Queens
AuthorAlexander Watson
Published:  2018
ISBN 13:  978-1939710-857
Publisher:  Orangefrazer Press
Twitter:  @riverqueenbook

Publisher’s Blurb:  River Queens is at once a romance of men and the river, a fantasy come to life, an unparalleled adventure story, one of the best travel journals around—and a glad picture for our turbulent times.

I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review.  Thank you Alexander Watson!

Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant and the story of River Queens is so compelling I’m having a hard time finding my objectivity.  I want to write a fair review without seeming to shill for him.  But damn this book was good.  It’s one of the better ones I’ve read over the summer.

The book releases mid-October, they haven’t even gotten this one out yet and I’m already asking what he’s working on next.  That’s how much I want him to succeed and keep writing great books so I can keep reading them.

Ahem ….

When I was in 6th grade, my family lived in Hannibal, MO.  The three things which stand out in my mind all these decades later are the mannequin of Becky Thatcher with ankle long blonde braids, the address at which we lived, and the Mississip’.

We were a nomadic family and so were only in Hannibal for one school year.  But the impression that big brown river made on me stays, and makes me homesick for a place I’ve overly romanticized in my childhood memories.

Which is to say, I can relate in some small way to the call of the river.  And that is what Alexander and Dale,  their spotted dog Doris Faye, and a left for dead 1955  forty-five foot Chris-Craft Corsair answer.

It starts in Texas where Alexander finds the wooden yacht, and ends with a refurbished beauty which they sail to Betty Jane’s home berth in Cleveland.

I was smitten pretty early on.  A gay couple is gonna fix up their boat and sail it into unknown territory.  In the South.  They are going to sail right into the belly of unallayed bigotry, and count on the kindness of strangers to help them along the way.

I knew it was going to be good when Watson relates the story of finding The King & I (later renamed Betty Jane).  The man who handles the transaction for the boat tells them, “They think wood boats just sink or break apart … for no reason.  That’s bull.  They fail ’cause somebody quit lovin’ ’em.”

This is a hard life they’re putting themselves into, and it becomes apparent they have enough love for all concerned.  Alexander and Dale go into this knowing it’s going to be one of the hardest things they’ve ever done, and they do it anyway.  And they keep doing it, even when it gets harder than anyone could have expected.

Watson does not sugar coat anything.  Nor does he dwell on the difficulties.  He writes about it all.  And there are some heartbreaking moments in this book.

Awkward’s in there too.  One that had I been within earshot, I’m not sure I could have looked either of them in the eye afterwards.  Watson doesn’t flinch in the telling.  Their loud argument has a good reason to be in the story, it’s not there as some sort of nod to, “See?  We’re just like straight couples, we argue too.”  Nothing in this book is done to make anyone feel Alexander and Dale are other than what they are.

And they are two men who love each other fiercely and work together to rebuild this boat and fulfill their dream.  The people they meet along the way, for the most part, are polite and helpful.  River folk in the South are friendly and say, “See ya down the river.”

Even when they question what two ho-mo-sex-u-als are doing in their river.  And there are several encounters that make me wince for the state of grace which cannot allow people to just be people.

Gods and goddesses what adventures these two have.  It makes me want to pay for adult beverages while they regale me with tales and tell me how they got through heartbreaking death, horrifying weather, and the sweltering humidity of life on a boat on a river.

There’s not a whole lot wrong with the way this book is written.  It’s elegant in a way that so few books these days are.  It’s evident Watson worked hard, and lovingly, on River Queens, but it doesn’t read like hard work at all.  It reads smoothly, like a lazy day on the river when all is right with the world.

I am grateful Alexander Watson reached out to me and asked I read his book.  And I look forward to reading more of his writing as it becomes available.  The country could use a few more gentlemanly intrepid travelers.

Review: Wrinkle in Time Quartet

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Titles:
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Many Waters
AuthorMadeleine L’Engle
Published:  1962-1986
Publisher:   Farrar, Straus, Giroux
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  WrinkleWindSwiftlyWaters
Publisher’s Blurb: Madeleine L’Engle’s classic middle-grade series,  A Wrinkle In Time, follows the lives of Meg Murry, her youngest brother Charles Wallace Murry, their friend Calvin O’Keefe, and her twin brothers Sandy and Dennys Murry. Beginning with A Wrinkle In Time, each novel features the characters encountering other-worldly beings and evil forces they have to defeat in order to save the world. The characters travel through time and space and even into Charles Wallace’s body in this beloved series that blends science fiction and fantasy.

A  Wrinkle in Time
For a teenage girl, a misfit herself living in the midst of a tumultuous dysfunctional family, A Wrinkle in Time was a gift.  What I saw at the time was the love of the family for each other, that I was enough like Meg to make me feel a little less alone.  Over the years, I remembered Meg, and her glasses, and the Mrs. W’s who swooped in and took her on a quest to find her father.

Now, in 2018, on my second reading I notice how I’ve changed.  The book I remember hasn’t aged well but the portrayal of love, family, and a place for all misfits still resonates.

That longing to fit in never goes away.  But I’m a long way from the girl who sat on the floor in her closet and read, longing to fit in anywhere.   I no longer strive to fit in.  I love and accept who I am and often revel in the weird quirks I have which make others look at me quizzically.  It is not I who doesn’t fit in, it’s them.

Many Waters
Many Waters is a time travel fantasy story about the time just before the rains fall on Noah’s ark.  The title is a reference to the biblical verse Song of Solomon 8:7, “Many waters cannot quench love.”  It’s both a reference to God’s love for his people, and the love of the Murry twins and one of the characters have for each other.

Sandy and Dennys are described in A Wrinkle in Time as “ordinary.”  And they are, especially compared to the rest of the Murry family.  Extraordinary things happen to the twins in Many Waters, but their reactions are strangely ordinary.

While illicitly playing on their father’s computer, the boys wish to be in a place that’s warmer and less humid than their New England winter.  Zip, zap, zere, their wish is granted, and they appear in the desert in what is now Eastern Turkey.

Always logical and practical, despite the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace, they try to reason their way out of their predicament.  Surrounded by short humans (a point L’Engle makes repeatedly) who are characters from the Bible, seraphim and nephilim and, magical unicorns, Sandy and Dennys behave as though none of this extraordinary.

No matter, I was able to provide the sense of wonder for them.  Many Waters isn’t a strong story, nor does it add to the quartet, but I found it fascinating.  The bible only says God told Noah to build an ark, and that while following this directive, Noah was ridiculed by his neighbors.

What L’Engle does here is flesh the story out and explores one possibility of the events which led to the Flood.  I could buy into all of it, except the unicorns.  Really?

Magical unicorns who transport people across the desert and through time?  In the Bible?  One would think that a suspension of disbelief which includes time travel, angels and God talking to humans, unicorns would be just another magical element to accept.  I couldn’t.  The unicorns felt like a forced explanation of how Sandy and Dennys got from their cozy home to the desert in another time and place.  And the emphasis on the boys being virgins … just, no.

There’s a theory in Literature Criticism I’m just learning about called Reader-Response, which basically posits that a reader brings all their experiences with them to the book, and those experiences are how the text gets interpreted.

This definitely applied to my reading of Many Waters, because all my reading of ancient religions played a part in my interpretation of the book.  I was able to overlook the many faults of the story and find wonder in this imagining of Noah’s world.  It probably would have worked better if L’Engle had just left the twins at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Title:  American Gods
Author Neil Gaiman
Published: 2001
Publisher: Harper Torch
Twitter@NeilHimself
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming — a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in its direct path.

“This isn’t about what this is,” said Mr. Nancy.  “It’s about what people think it is.  It’s all imaginary anyway.  That’s why it’s important.  People only fight over imaginary things.”  (p. 427)

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a simple premise.  The old gods are dying as people forget them and create new ones.  As simple as that may sound, the story is rich and complex, exploring the relationship of people to their gods, and of the gods to their people.

Shadow Moon gets out of jail early to take care of his wife’s affairs after she and his best friend die in a car accident.  We later find out they were having an affair.  Shadow accepts this news numbly and spends the rest of the story allowing events to move him along.

On the plane home, he meets the persistent Mr. Wednesday, a somewhat shabby old man who keeps offering Shadow a job.  When Shadow finally accepts, he’s told that he’s expected to just do whatever Mr. Wednesday tells him to do.

Mr. Wednesday, later revealed as Odin,  is recruiting the old gods to a final battle with the new gods (Media, Technology, Drugs, etc.).  One of those meetings is with Mad Sweeney, an Irish leprechaun.  Mad Sweeney teaches Shadow how to retrieve gold coins from thin air.  It is one of these coins which Shadow places in his wife’s coffin as she is buried.  The coin brings Laura to life, and she follows Shadow on his adventures, offering a Greek chorus commentary along the way.

The final battle occurs when Shadow Moon offers himself as sacrifice after Wednesday is killed.  Shadow is hung from the Tree of Life (Yggdrasil) for nine days and nights.  During the tasks Shadow performs on his vigil, he learns that Mr. Wednesday and his former cell mate Low-Key Lyesmith (Odin’s son, Loki) have been playing a long two-man con meant to generate an all out battle between gods so the old gods would die in Odin’s name, making him powerful once again.

Shadow returns to the battlefield, explaining this to the gods, who all disappear.

And yes, of course, I have oversimplified the story.  American Gods is nearly 600 pages long.  In preparing for this review, I visited many websites which go into the story, the characters, the symbolism, etc. more deeply than I do.

I’ve been interested in ancient religions for quite some time.  Finding authors who give the gods a different spin is really entertaining. Richard Kadrey does it to great effect in his Sandman Slim series.  Kevin Hearne with his Iron Druid ChroniclesAmerican Gods is top of the heap for me.

Having read it twice, and expecting to read it many more times, the surprises of the familiar never stopped.  And as with all good stories, I just followed along.  Or, as Shadow Moon says,

I feel like I’m in a world with its own sense of logic.  Its own rules.  Like when you’re in a dream, and you know there are rules you mustn’t break.  Even if you don’t know what they mean.  I’m just going along with it …” (p. 90)

It’s not necessary to be familiar with all the gods to enjoy this story.  There were many I didn’t know,  like the Slavic god Czernobog and his relatives the Zorya Sisters, the story never faltered.  Mr. Wednesday was up to something and he was involving everyone he ever once knew.

The concept of people creating their gods and bringing them from their home land to a new land is intriguing.  It seems obvious to me now.  Even the Christians did it.  But we often overlook the diversity of the United States, missing the stories of so many who have come in the hope of a better life.

Of course we brought our gods with us.  The gods are the familiar, the tether which we hold on to as we try to make sense of the unfamiliar surrounding us.  This idea shouldn’t be new, nor should it be shocking.

If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor.  Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all …

Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.  (p. 508)

Neil Gaiman uses this idea in American Gods, to illustrate how each of us has a story, and it’s often different from our neighbor’s story.  New gods shove their way in, pushing the old gods aside.  This is one of the most fascinating themes in the book.  How does your god differ from mine?  Is mine a new god, or an old one?  And have I morphed mine into something different in order to survive the times in which I live?

This is the beauty of Gaiman’s work.  He touches on these ideas in all his books.  And American Gods focuses on it with charm and wit.

Review: Bollywood Invasion

Bollywood Invasion by Ricardo Alexanders

Title:  Bollywood Invasion
Author:  Ricardo Alexanders
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 97819811590193
What’s Auntie Reading Now? Picture

Publisher’s Blurb:The story starts from modern-day Brooklyn. sixteen-year- old John Palmieri is living an average life until one day he is hit by a bus and wakes up as Raj Scindia, a prince in India, in 1958.

Suddenly, he finds himself with riches and power beyond his wildest fantasies. Brooklyn is readily forgotten. He makes out with his hot teacher; he tells about the future; his new life becomes a constant stream of debauchery till he meets “the one”.

 I received a copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review.  Thank you Ricardo!

Listening to his iPod, riding fast because he’s late, John gets distracted by the girl he likes and gets in an accident with the school bus.  When he comes to, he’s no longer in contemporary Brooklyn, he’s in 1958 India and is the Maharaja Kumar (son of) the Maharaja (governor).

This is the beginning of Alexanders imaginative tale of a world in which the Beatles don’t exist and John creates the Indian version to gain fame, and the attention of the girl he loves.

It’s not a deep story.  Teenage boy discovers he is wealthy beyond his wildest dreams and takes advantage, becoming a bit of an arrogant pig at first.  This is not unexpected, after all, if you woke up in a strange time and place to discover that you could have whatever you wanted due to the social class you were born into, wouldn’t you act the same way?

John discovers that not only is he wealthy and comes from a powerful family, he’s not really expected to study in school.  In fact, his doppelganger has quite the reputation, including an affair with one of his teachers.

Then he meets Ankita, and everything changes.  He forms the Beetos with his friends to gain her attention and then prove himself worthy of her to her father.  Using his memories of the songs he listened to on his iPod, they write songs and gain a following.  They become very famous, and wealthy, but it doesn’t bring John the peaceful life with Ankita he expected.

To Beatles fans, there are many familiar moments in Bollywood Invasion.  The most chilling is Alexanders’ retelling of John Lennon’s assassinationMark Chapman isn’t the only one looking to ease his pain.

As John comes back to his own time and place, he thinks he’s just had a bad dream and hurries off to school where a new girl joins their class, and her name is distinctly familiar.

Ricardo Alexanders’ writing style is earnest.  This story means a lot to him, as do the Beatles.  It’s an interesting idea of setting them and their origin story in India.  There are many, many details about the trajectory of the Bee-tos which come straight from Beatle history.  Some of them can be quite unsavory, but none of us should flinch from them.  Especially because, at its heart, Bollywood Invasion is a love story, in which Ricardo Alexanders explores what it means to want to become a better person for the one you love.  It’s a detail worth exploring.

Review: White Trash Zombie Series

White Trash Zombie series by Diana Rowland
    • My Life as a White Trash Zombie
    • Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues
    • White Trash Zombie Apocalypse
    • How the White Trash Zombie Gets Her Groove Back
    • White Trash Zombie Gone Wild
      Author: Diana Rowland
      Published:  2011-2015
      Publisher:  Daw
      Twitter:  @dianarowland

What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures: LifeBluesApocalypse

Zombies are so not my thing.  Vampires, demons, other supernatural critters I can mostly do.  But definitely not zombies.  Until I discovered Diana Rowland, author of the Kara Gillian Demon series, also wrote a white trash zombie series.  And I loved this one almost as much.

The best thing  is the trajectory its main character, Angel Crawford, takes.  From white trash loser addict living with her alcoholic father to becoming an important part of the Zombie Tribe/Mafia, holding down her job at the morgue (free lunch) and getting it together enough to pass her GED and get into college.

Angel juggles this while trying to keep it a secret from the non-zombies in her life.  She lives in a world where zombies are mythology, not actuality.

What I didn’t like was when Rowland carefully laid out the rules for being a zombie and then ripped them to shreds.  Late in the series, one of the main characters inhabits another body belying the “has to be bitten to become a zombie” rule.

Which completely resets this character’s story, confuses the hell out of the reader, and blows up what could have been a really interesting  subplot.  Congresswoman meets zombie and falls in love … didn’t see that one coming.

(All the endearments and nicknames used in this series nauseate me.  Zombie Mama and Zombie Baby are just creepy.)

Book 1 – My Life as a White Trash Zombie
Meet self-described white trash loser Angel Crawford.  She’s in the hospital recovering from being left on the side of the road after a car accident the night before.  She remembers being drunk and high, but she doesn’t remember the accident, and certainly can’t figure out why there’s not a scratch or bruise on her.

She receives an anonymous note telling her a job at the morgue is waiting for her and she has to keep it for 30 days or she’ll be turned into the police.  Angel reports to work and discovers she has no problems with handling dead bodies but is a little squicked out when her stomach growls at the sight of brains.

Eventually, we learn that Angel left the bar with a stranger who tried to rape her and there was an accident.  He died, and Angel lives, getting turned into a zombie.  She receives anonymous notes and packages to help her acclimate to her new reality.

A string of murders reveals a killer who believes the only good zombie is a truly dead, beheaded zombie.

At the end of the book, Angel has made a remarkable turnaround.  No longer able to get high due to the regenerative power of her zombie “parasite,” she has to face the hard truths of her life.

Angel’s very likeable.  It becomes clear that she was handed a nasty life and figured she was going to be a loser the rest of her life, just like her alcoholic father.  Before zombie, there was no reason to even try to do more than just survive by taking low-wage jobs she frequently quit or was fired from.  Drugs, sex and alcohol were how she numbed the pain.

After zombie, she begins to see it doesn’t have to be that way.  Changing won’t be easy but it’s the only way now.

Book 2 – Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues
Angel’s kept her job at the morgue and gotten into the rhythm of being a zombie.  She’s discovered the person who turned her was someone she knew from high school and is now a detective with the local law.  Oh, and they’re a couple now.

She’s attacked in the morgue and a body goes missing.  Of course, Angel’s blamed and gets suspended.  Everyone, including her zombie boyfriend and his uncle, head of the local zombie mafia believe she did it.  We’re only in book two of the series so it’s too soon to believe that she’s not the pill-popping, alcohol swilling white trash loser everyone already knows.

Determined to prove her innocence, Angel goes on the hunt and discovers a horror chamber of a lab experimenting on zombies.  Run by Saberton Corp., which is looking for a way to militarize zombies and get a contract from the government.

Angel is abducted by the director of the lab, Dr. Kristi Charish, and forced to undergo experiments, one of which is to make another zombie, Philip.  This has all kinds of consequences in later books, and lays the foundation for one of the main conflicts going forward.

Book 3 – White Trash Zombie Apocalypse
The movie makers are in town and shooting their zombie movie at the local high school.  Angel nearly gets run over by a car and is saved by Philip but he disappears before she can thank him.  Later, he forcefully holds her down while someone steals some of her blood.

The main thrust is that Saberton unleashes their experimental zombies into the midst of the locals dressed as zombie extras.  It gets ugly, and not just the skin falling off kind of ugly.

As things get sorted out, Angel becomes a more integral part of the Zombie Mafia/Tribe, respected by the godfather, Pietro.  Her ascent into the inner circle is fast.  Still insecure about her place in the world, Angel works hard to earn and keep their trust, which sets up the rescue from the devastating flood at the end of the book nicely.

And Marcus, her boyfriend, still can’t seem to understand that making decisions for Angel is the exact wrong thing to do.

Book 4 – How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back
Uncle Pietro represents the knight in shining armor who rides in to rescue Angel with his wealth and power.  This is less a judgement statement, than an observation that nearly all of us wish for a rich fairy godfather to ride in and save the day.

At the end of book 3, Angel and her dad have lost everything to a flood.  Pietro rescues them from the roof of their home in a helicopter and offers a no-interest loan to get them into another.  Angel is appropriately awed, humbled and fully accepts wanting to do the work it takes to have earned so much trust.

It’s been a year since Angel was turned into a zombie and she’s now passed her GED and is taking classes at the local community college.  Along the way she’s learned she’s dyslexic and is developing processes which allow her to learn, and retain, the information.

Angel’s helping out in Dr. Ari Nikas’ lab, who’s trying to find a way to resolve the mess Saberton’s lab made of Philip.  When Dr. Nikas steps outside the lab, he disappears.  So does Uncle Pietro.

Road trip!  From Louisiana, Angel and her compatriots drive to New York City to rescue both Tribe members and kick some Saberton ass.  The plot is chaotic and messy in this one.

Mostly it’s running around New York City fighting, getting caught, escaping, kicking the wrong ass, then finding the correct ass to kick, nefarious deeds and at least one Saberton who becomes what he’s exploited the most in his life.

Adding to the mess is the bit of deus ex machina which allows Pietro to use a skill that shreds all the carefully explained methods of become a zombie to bits.  Wow, okay.

What this does is upend the interesting subplot of romance between Pietro and the Congresswoman, who knew he was a zombie.  That has to be completely discarded.  The lie that Pietro is dead is allowed to stand as fact.  Which, frankly, frustrated me.

One of the tenets I use when reading, and reviewing, is to meet the book as it is, not as I would have wanted.  Rowland makes that difficult in book 4.  Authors are allowed to upend everything, books are their creations, not mine.  But still ….

Angel gets a good taste of big city life and being around people who want to help without expecting anything in return.  Which is handy since everyone who’s not Angel seems to have tons of money with which to fund their operation.

Rescuing their Tribe members and getting back on track to take down Dr. Charish to keep her and Saberton from doing more nefarious things takes a lot of energy.  Angel and her tribe wind up back home, but her addictive personality raises its ugly specter.

Book 5 – White Trash Zombie Gone Wild
It’s true.  Once an addict, always an addict.  Any addict is one action away from giving in to it again.  Angel knows this,  but when she figures out it somehow counters her dyslexia, she really doesn’t want to give it up.

Meanwhile, FBI agents are making appearances at Tribe owned funeral homes asking questions.  And the Tucker’s Point Zombie Fest gets under way, featuring the film shot at the high school, High School Zombie Apocalypse.  It’s supposed to be fun until a flash drive containing evidence of real zombies surfaces.

High on V12, Angel starts hallucinating, leaving her vulnerable and ashamed.  This is where her pre-zombie life and after-zombie life couldn’t be more stark.  Her old habits kick in and she figures she’s back to being a loser which could include losing the trust of the people who have become her tribe.

She is completely flabbergasted, and embarrassed, when the tribe continues to treat her with respect and dignity and insists on helping her.  Which allow her to regain her self-respect and go after the flash drive and the man who’s bent on outing the zombies.

This plot’s a little messy too, but it hangs together in the face of swamp escapes, drunk starlets, and a newly made zombie who’s reluctantly part of the resistance against Saberton.

There’s a big set up for book 7 which is the last in the series, so everything should be wrapped up in a nice bow.  I hope so, Angel deserves a grand exit after all the work she’s done in the series to improve herself and earn her education.  I’ll always have respect for Diana Rowland for making Angel the kind of woman who dumps her man because he can’t stop telling her what to do with her life.

Review: Zer0es

Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Title: Zer0es
Author:  Chuck Wendig
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062351555
Publisher:  Harper Voyager
Twitter: @ChuckWendig
Publisher’s Blurb: Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab-Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. Calling themselves “the Zeroes,” they must spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, at a secret complex known only as “the Lodge.”

… North Korea is like the crazy little brother that keeps kicking over the neighbor’s potted plants and dropping flaming bags of dog shit on their doorstep.  You protect them because they’re your brother, but in private you drag them over the coals for acting like such an epic asshole.  (p. 274)

I came to Chuck Wendig through the Miriam Black series.  Miriam is one of my very favorite urban fantasy protagonists with her dark secret power which has driven her to a life of self-sabotage which makes most of us look sane and normal.

None of the characters on Zer0es come even close to being as interesting.  Not even the AI called Typhon.

And while I enjoyed Zer0es as the perfect mind candy getaway, the story of five disparate hackers forced to make the choice between prison or hacking for a unknown government project read like a Michael Crichton thriller without all the horrifying deathly side effects.

I really wanted to like this book on a level other than a Lord of the Flies-esque survival of the best hackers against each other, conspiracy minded players with a cult like belief they’re on the righteous side, and a terrifying Ai which could have come from any wetware scenario.

The writing is smart, and often times thrilling.  And as I said farther up, it’s a great afternoon read.  But for me, it read like “been there, read that.”  That’s not Wendig’s fault, I’ve probably been reading voraciously longer than he’s known how to string words together.

There are other books written by Wendig which interest me.  I’m looking forward to catching up on Miriam Black.  Zer0es just sort of missed the mark for me.

Review: The Armored Saint

The Armored Saint
by
Myke Cole

Title: The Armored Saint
Author:   Myke Cole
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 9780765395955
Publisher: Tor
Twitter:  @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb:  In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Her wounds sang out with every movement, but it was an old song to her now, sung so many times that she knew the words by heart.  She was good at hurting.  (p 186)

I blame Scalzi again.  He’s also one of the reasons I read Richard Kadrey, and have a never-ending wish-list culled from his Big Idea feature.

Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is more than just a coming of age story.  It’s about family, right and wrong, identity and, love.  Heloise may only be 16 but she is badass in so many ways, and has become a character I want to know better.

Set in a medieval village ruled by a heavy-handed religious government called the Order, The Armored Saint is the story of Heloise, a teenager who questions everything she’s been taught.  And you know how dictator governments hate that, especially in women.

Myke Cole wrote Heloise for me.  For the woman who questioned things and didn’t understand why she was treated so harshly.  Only Heloise is surrounded by those who love her, and while conflicted about her questioning, protect her from being hunted down and killed by the Order.

Wizardry is not allowed.  Period.  Wizardry opens the portals for demons to crawl through.  Anyone who’s different gets killed.  Including, and especially, the mentally ill.  The man, Churic, normally quiet and described as “simple,”  has a fit one day.  Frothing at the mouth, purple skinned, eye bugging fit.  Which is seized upon as evil by the Order.  And the neighboring village, Heloise’s village is called upon to Knit Churic’s village.

Knitting is an horrific ritual, forcing those from one village to kill their friends in a neighboring village.  But it is in the Knitting that Heloise feels the power of all those questions, and the shoddy answers rise.  Her rebelliousness leaps out, putting her own village in danger, especially her father.  But she can’t help herself, what’s been going on is wrong, and evil, and she won’t stand for it any longer.

She may be 16, and small in stature, but girl is fierce.  And I love that Myke Cole wrote her to be the conflicted, flawed, insecure, brave hero she is.  She resonates through my very being and, I imagine, everyone who has ever questioned the status quo and been shunted aside.  Heloise is for those of us who want to be brave, but aren’t sure how.  She leads the way by living her truth, confusing as that may be.  She does it out of love.  And Cole shows in this brutal story that it is love which wins.  Whether he intended to or not, that’s what I got.

Heloise’s village hides her from the Order, and she comes out swinging.  The neighbor who hides her builds war-engines for the  Emperor to be used by his most fanatical officers in the army.  They are giant man-shaped machines, powered by seethestone, driven by men to grind everyone in their path to so much pulp.  (And while seethestone has a perfectly acceptable scientific method for working behind it, it seems a lot like magic to me.)

It is Heloise, broken and battered, and unwilling to give up the fight for those who have died at the hands of the Order who uses a war-engine to its most brutal advantage.  She is doing it for those she loved who died brutally, for those who could die brutally, and for herself.  Because, this shit will no longer stand.

In just over 200 pages, Heloise drives us through a paradigm shift.  From submissive to the Order, to mad as hell and refusing to put up with anyone’s nonsense anymore, she stands for what she believes in.  Which, of course, is in direct opposition to what the Order orders her to believe in.

Battered and bruised, Heloise becomes the sainted one who will lead the rest into battle.  At least, that’s what her neighbors tell her.  “No,” she says, “I’m not the hero you’re looking for.  I’m not brave or strong or anything.  I’m broken and hurting, and scared by the brutality I’ve been witness to, and have committed.  You’ve got the wrong girl.”

The rest of the story comes in the next two books, and I am so looking forward to following Heloise on her quest, standing by her side as I continue to heal from my own brokenness and find ways to say, “This shit will not stand,” in my own life.

Thank you Myke Cole, for this book and the books to come.  And thank you for Heloise, the hero we all need in this time and place.

Review: Spook

Spook by Mary Roach

Title:  Spook:  Science Tackles the Afterlife
Author:  Mary Roach
Published: 2005
ISBN-13: 9780739467298
Publisher:  Norton
Twitter: @Mary_Roach
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb: “What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that’s that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my lap-top?” In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die.

This could also be titled Mary Roach Travels the World in Search of an Answer Which Doesn’t Exist.  The book starts in India with Roach trailing a doctor collecting anecdotes about reincarnation in search of proof that reincarnation actually exists.  It ends in a hospital at University of Virginia with a tablet computer mounted to the ceiling facing away from the operating table beneath it.  The researchers hope to prove out of body experiences by having a subject astral project and tell what’s on the computer screen.

Inbetween she travels to England to take classes to learn to be a psychic, gets a cold reading from someone, and discusses spiritualism along the lines of The Witch of Lime Street.  Roach’s snobbish tone arrives at the same place we all do, there is no scientific proof for what happens after we die.

Believers gonna believe, skeptics gonna question; ain’t none of us got a lock an answer which makes universal sense.  And while I didn’t mind the process Roach used to satisfy (or not) her curiosity, I did mind that while asking her questions, she was not so openly mocking those who believed in something with no proof.  That’s why it’s called faith, Mary, it can’t be proven.

My own reading, and conversations, have led me to the same conclusion many have, there may be something bigger than all of us at work (something I choose to believe in), but there’s no definitive answer to what happens next.  In the end, it isn’t what one believes or doesn’t, it’s how one behaves in the present that matters.  Chances are we won’t know what happens next even as it’s happening.

So good for Mary Roach for getting to go interesting places to ask questions about an interesting topic.  If only she’d been willing to set aside her preconceptions for the duration.