Thursday, December 18, 2014

Relic, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Relic is the first in a lengthy series of thrillers by Preston and Child, and quite the chilling read it is! It was first published in 1995, and as you see on the cover, at least one reviewer found it far superior to Jurassic Park!

It does feature a unique creature, as elusive as it is powerful and deadly, but it is not living out in the open; it is at home in the Natural History Museum in New York City, where it has apparently roamed the sub basements for years. Recently, however, it has developed a taste for the brains of human beings, and has begun to make it's presence known.

Reports of the murders attributed to a serial killer draw the attention of  the renowned FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast, who is assigned to the New Orleans office. The grisly museum murders remind him of a case he worked which went unresolved several years prior and he makes his way to New York to work with NYPD to resolve the case.  Pendergast is an agent with superior skills and analytical abilities reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes.

The museum directors are much more focused on an exhibit which is scheduled to open very soon, and do not welcome the intrusion of the police, the FBI, and the unwelcome rumors of a museum monster.  The exhibit is called Superstition and features fetishes, totems and sacrificial devices used by remote tribes in remote rain forests in pagan worship. In fact, it seems like the disturbance of some of the crates containing some of these fetishes which have been stored at the museum for several years coincides rather dramatically with the sightings of the mysterious creature.

But while the Museum Directors are intent on opening the show to recoup economically what they have already spent, one of the grad students who works at the museum is becoming more and more certain that the museum should absolutely not host so many people when their safety can definitely not be assured. 0

This book also introduces Lt. Vincent D'Agosta of the NYPD who works closely with Pendergast, and Margo Green is the intrepid young graduate assistant who is instrumental in solving the case, using up-to-the minute genetic technology to zero in on just what kind of creature they are dealing with.  Exciting to the very end...and then the epilogue compels you to check out Reliquary, the second in this exciting series.

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather

Death Comes For The Archbishop is an American classic featuring two French Catholic missionaries in the extremely foreign territory of New Mexico in the 1870's. New Mexico has just been annexed by the United States and the Catholic Church in Rome decides that they must send priests to that remote area to shepherd the Indians and Hispanics that were now only nominal Catholics; their forefathers having been converted when the Franciscan missionaries of Spain had passed through that land in the 1500's. The church of Rome recognizes that the future of the Catholic faith in the New World is at stake. The faith of the people has mixed with ancient traditions of the Indian people and is now diluted by the worldly conduct of many of the existing priests.

Father LaTour and his boyhood friend Father Vaillant are serving in Ohio when they receive the call from Rome.  It takes a year or two for them to receive the instructions to go and about that long to traverse the United States to get to the destination, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  But when they finally arrive, the Mexican priests refuse to acknowledge their authority. It takes a trip on horseback into Old Mexico to get the okay from the Bishop of Durango, whom the New Mexican priests recognize as authoritative in matters related to the church.

LaTour and Vaillant patiently work and serve, traveling all over the huge territory to make friends, to baptize children and marry folks who have been living together without the benefit of matrimony, as many priests charge confiscatory prices for these sacraments. They meet and befriend all kinds of people including the great scout Kit Carson.

The book is similar to a journal in that it is a more or less chronological listing of the events and interactions of these priests and the people they have come to serve.  Their patience, wisdom and perseverance in the face of great adversity defines these men and endears them over time to the people of New Mexico.  Ms. Cather's descriptions of the geography as the priests travel miles over mountains and desert land is so vivid that one can picture it's barren beauty vividly.

Ms. Cather's descriptions of Father LaTour's thoughts and behavior over the years of his life in New Mexico is a picture of what a mature Christian's thoughts and behavior should be.  Father Vaillant is a very different type of Christian...less intellectual; much more of a servant, but both are examples of what great faith in action looks like.  

And to think of all the years I spent seeing that title and assuming it was a murder mystery...thanks Book Club, and thanks Fay Guy, for leading a wonderful discussion  about a very significant piece of literature!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Blanche On The Lam, by Barbara Neeley

Barbara Neely has created an endearing and unlikely detective in Blanche White, a housekeeper for hire in the American South. One of her strengths of course, is that her employers always sell her short in the brains department. Blanche on the Lam is the first in a series and was originally published in 1992.  The reader meets Blanche in the courthouse where she has been charged with passing a hot check. This would not have happened, of course, if her employer had not left town without paying her, but the judge will not be persuaded by that.  

Through a quirky series of events, Blanche has a chance to surreptitiously exit the courthouse before being sentenced, which explains the book's title. Before long she has walked out of downtown and into a vaguely familiar neighborhood.  She may have worked in the neighborhood in the past. Before long a homeowner spots Blanche and assumes she is the cook the homeowner has requested from a local employment agency, and ushers her in to get lunch started before the family (and the cook!) take off for their country home.  

Couldn't have worked out better for Blanche, who certainly can't return to her mother's house without the certainty of a quick return trip to jail!  And it turns out this new employer may have plenty of secrets to hide as well.  How long before all the secrets begin to unravel?

Sleeping Dog, by Dick Lochte

Sleeping Dog, a crime novel first published in the '80's, introduces a precocious and persistent teen, a jaded detective who disdains kids in general, and tells how they become an effective crime fighting team in spite of the awkwardness and miscommunication that ensues when they meet. Author Dick Lochte uses the Same Story/Separate Perspectives technique to tell the whole story as it unfolds.

Serendipity Renn Dahlquist lives with her grandmother, a key cast member of a popular soap opera. Her dad is deceased; her mother has a series of men in her life and long ago ceded the care of her child to her own mother, actress Edith Van Dine, aka Aunt Lil Fairchild. Serendipity enjoys a great deal of independence. She loves her grandmother and Groucho, the dog her dad had given her so long ago. She is of course distraught when she returns home from school to discover that Groucho is missing.

Leo Bloodworth is a seasoned private investigator. The local police department detective gives Serendipity his name, admitting that the missing dog will never be a priority for them. His real motive is probably to annoy Bloodworth, but regardless, Serendipity is not to be put off.

The plot twists and turns, introducing several interesting characters from seedy business people to Mexican gang members to local tv personalities who may not be all they seem to be.  The book snagged several nominations for mystery book awards and, at the onset of a new millenium, was named one of the 100 Best Crime Novels of the Millenium by  the Independent Mystery Booksellers of America.

Fun to read, with interesting characters who experienced Life Before Cell Phones and still managed to solve some crimes! There is a second in the series, Laughing Dog, which sounds like a promising read as well.

Golden Son, by Pierce Brown

Second of the Red Rising trilogy,  Golden  Son
follows Darrow as he successfully infiltrates the most elite caste in the universe. His body has been surgically enhanced so that he can move with ease in this society of powerful warriors.  He is the chosen agent of a mysterious group of rebels whose mission is to bring equality and freedom to every caste.

He makes loyal friends as well as incredibly powerful and dangerous enemies, but sometimes the lines blur as to which category some "friends" belong to.

The book is full of individual combat and enough interstellar battles to fulfill the thrill quota of techno-caused explosions for most every action fan.  As tempting as it is to actually become the Gold that he appears to be, Darrow remains faithful to his roots, remembering who he truly is. He begins to slowly empower capable members of other castes, but resentment among the Golds who notice this begins to smolder, which gives readers plenty of Conflict and Battles Royal to anticipate in Book III!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Secret of Raven Point, by Jennifer Vanderbes

Historical fiction at it's heart-rending best, Jennifer Vanderbes delivers a harrowing tale of  World War II as experienced in a Mobile Hospital Unit in Italy.

In 1943, Juliet Defresne's young life is altered suddenly when her family receives an official letter stating that her older brother Tucker is missing in action. She makes a decision to take an intense nursing program and enlist in the military as soon as she graduates high school.

The last letter she receives from Tuck contains a cryptic message about The Secret of Raven Point, which is a stand of trees near their childhood home.  Years earlier, she and Tuck had rescued an injured raven, nursed it back to health and returned it to the wild.  She has no idea what he is referring to.

Her unlikely quest to find her brother is a maddeningly slow process, but along the way she sees the horror and chaos of war, and learns much about her own inner strengths.  She sees nobility in some doctors and nurses, despair in many hapless Italians who are victims by virtue of living where the war is happening, and the agony and grief of the hospitalized soldiers.  Juliet is younger than most of the folks she works with but she is industrious and hard working.  She is given the responsibility of caring for a Private Barnaby, a young man who had served in the same unit as Tuck! But her "good fortune" is tempered by the fact that he apparently has attempted suicide, and is too traumatized to speak, even after supposedly successful surgery.

The author has done an incredible amount of research, enabling her to tell the tale as confidently as if she had interviewed the actual participants.  Her descriptions of winter in northern Italy, the hardship conditions in the hospital units, unexpected encounters with Germans, and even the terror of walking where mines have been buried are incredibly vivid.  The horrors of war can wreak havoc on the psyches of the soldiers, but the reader comes to care enormously about the people, both major and minor characters, who are part of this tale.

A great read, The Secret of Raven Point will be referred to as a classic before long, and likely will be a movie even before that! Get it; read it; let's talk about it.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clark

Cat Novak is the only child of a scientist and his wife.  Dr. Novak and his family live in a rural area in eastern North America in the aftermath of an unspecified  world-changing event. Science and technology have survived and prospered in the intervening years.  Novak is able to work from home, even on lunar projects, with a complex computer system.  There are still cities and towns, but the education systems and services are nothing like they used to be.

The Novaks made a decision to home school Cat, but in actuality, her education plan has been fairly relaxed, that is until her dad brings Finn home and introduces him into the household as Cat's new tutor.  When Cat meets him, she feels that he looks human but perhaps he died and is now a ghost.  He is actually an android whose expression at rest is not animated at all, but she comes to value the companionship and friendship he offers.

Her parents get uncomfortable with the relationship as Cat matures into a young teen.  The decision is made to enroll her in the public high school in the nearby town so that she will be exposed to kids her own age. Her teen years are anything but ideal, but Finn is unfailingly dependable, a guardian that never fails her, no matter how many bad decisions she makes.

Finn is certainly not the only robot in the world.  In fact the robot population has exploded after so many human lives were lost in the catastrophe of a generation or two ago, in order to rebuild destroyed communities.  The robots have become indispensable to many and perceived as a threat by many others.  There are even Rights Groups fighting to better the conditions and expand the privileges of robots. Many find it offensive that the robots are considered property instead of individuals.

As Cat grows up and leaves her parents' home, she still maintains a relationship with Finn, though he remains with her dad as a valuable research assistant.  What she feels is love, but Finn, in response to her question, says he does not believe that he is programmed to be able to love.

As unlikely as this love story is, it is compelling and almost impossible not to root for this unlikely couple. In fact, Finn is the most endearing and noble character in the book.  I liked it, and if you enjoy science fiction and cyborgs mixed with a little romance, this might be just right for you!