Monday, July 24, 2017

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

I'm going to skip today's Monday Malarkey post because I need to finish up my last two review posts and get started on my break. Monday Malarkey will return in September.


The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein is described on the cover as "hard science fiction". I didn't read that description till I was well into the book because I'll often skip reading synopses on book covers or flaps when I'm about to read a book, for fear of spoilers (yes, I have had books ruined by the cover description). So, by the point I read that, I'd already come to that conclusion on my own and was mentally searching for a comparison. The best I can come up with is The Martian. If you had no trouble reading between the lines (or just skimming) during the more technical portions of The Martian, you'll probably be just fine with The Punch Escrow. On to the storyline.

Joel Byram was on his way to Costa Rica in the year 2147. His wife Sylvia had already teleported to their vacation destination and he was following along when something went horribly wrong. Now, there are two Joel Byrams. One is in New York and the other in Costa Rica. The Joel in New York knows that his wife's employer, the owner and developer of teleportation devices all over the world, is trying to kill him because he has learned important information about teleportation that could ruin the business. The second Joel is slowly discovering the truth. When Joel's wife Sylvia is kidnapped, both Joels are determined to find and save her. But, will one Joel have to die to save Sylvia and the other Joel?

That's a serious simplification. A lot happens in The Punch Escrow - it's a wild ride - but the vast majority of the details are, I think, spoilers. So, I'll stick to generalities. The book takes place in the near future but is described in past tense, left as a message for people in Joel's future. At the beginning of the book, you meet the Joel in New York. A woman who works with Sylvia has helped Joel escape but now he's trapped by several people who claim to be travel agents. Clearly, they're not telling the truth, but is Joel in danger or are they trying to help him? What exactly happened that resulted in the creation of a second Joel? And, what has Sylvia been hiding from him?

Two separate groups object to the practice of teleportation in this future world. One is the members of the Levant (the region) and the other is a group called the Gehinnomites. I have to admit that I got those two muddled in my mind, a bit, but basically one objects on religious principles but I can't recall if the other does - they have similar objections. The religious objection is that humans are being literally taken apart at an astronomically small level in order to send them to their destination and then reassembled. Surely, no God meant for his creation to be disassembled and reassembled. The truth of teleportation, it turns out, is worse than that. But, you'll have to read the book to find out. It's really a fascinating concept but I can't bear the thought of ruining it for anyone.

Highly recommended, especially to science fiction lovers - The scientific descriptions are believable if, at times, hard to follow for the non-scientific mind. As in The Martian, The Punch Escrow is an adventurous book with a sense of humor that forces you to either really think or read between the lines. Sometimes, I confess, I got totally lost, but it usually didn't take long till I figured out what was going on. And, I had so much fun that I didn't mind the fact that I occasionally couldn't follow the science perfectly. There are a lot of Star-Trekkish aspects to this future world that are super fun, like a device much like the replicator in Star Trek, people-moving drones of various sizes, implanted apps, and self-driving cars with personalities. Joel's job is interesting, as well. He's a "salter", paid to confuse apps, and can do his job while walking around the city, since the implanted apps basically mean everyone is wired into a globalized computer system.

Much like The Martian, I loved the storyline - the idea of how teleportation works in this future world and its implications, the reluctant hero(es) vs. the villainous corporation, the fast-paced rush to the final life or death struggle, and the existential question that underscores it all. I also loved the fact that there are plenty of light, humorous moments. An entertaining read with a creative but plausible future world.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fiona Friday

So pretty with the azaleas blooming behind her.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig



Before I get into a description of How to Stop Time, I need to warn the Americans that it has not yet been released in the U.S. and it looks like you've got a good, long wait. But, the cover above is so much better than the American cover (if Amazon's image is correct) that you might want to do what I did if you appreciate the cover above. I ordered from Book Depository because I absolutely could not wait for the American release. Had I known about the ugly American cover, that would have just solidified my decision. Why are British covers always so much better looking?

Tom Hazard was born in France in the year 1581 and he's still alive, thanks to a condition known as "anageria", which hits at puberty. Those who have anageria age slowly. So, while Tom has been around for over 450 years - long enough to have hung out with Shakespeare - he appears to be closer to his late thirties. Tom discovered early on that he had to avoid settling down for any length of time and try not to develop any meaningful relationships because his slow aging has always been a danger to him and those around him. He's often depressed and anxious, but he made a promise to stay alive and he has kept his promise.

At the end of the 19th century, a man named Hendrich changed his life. Hendrich is several centuries older than Tom and has created an organization for the protection of their kind: "albatrosses", he calls them. "Mayflies" are people who age normally and they can be dangerous to albatrosses. In the early days, it was superstition and fear that caused the danger. In modern life, it's concern that they'll be kidnapped and become victims of experimentation. Since Tom joined Hendrich's society, he has been obligated to move every 8 years, occasionally bringing new people into the society and killing those who know too much. 

Now, Tom has decided to return to London, where he spent his younger years. He finds a job teaching history and naturally he's able to bring history to life in a unique way. But, no matter how hard he tries, Tom can't avoid the pull of the gentle French teacher who has extended the hand of friendship and he must wrestle with the life-long question that he's had to suppress: Is life even worth living without love? 

First things first: I love this book so much that if I could, I'd reread it right now. I want to go back to the beginning and travel through time with Tom, knowing what's going to happen to him in the end.

As you follow Tom, you leap back and forth in time, slowly learning about the experiences that shaped Tom. I think what amazed me the most was the way the author portrayed Tom's life so naturally - even the occasional friendship or run-in with a famous historical character. I've read many books in which historical characters played a role and most of them didn't quite work in some way or other. They just felt off. None of Matt Haig's portrayals gave me that sensation. And, Tom . . . you can't help but root for him. He's so very, very human. Nobody writes about what it means to be human, to live with anxiety and depression and grief and love and everything else that makes us what we are, quite like Matt Haig.

My absolute favorite sentence is a very short one: Grief tilts you. 

How to Stop Time is a beautiful story. The beginning is a bit on the melancholy side. Tom was recruited by Hendrich in 1891 and he's tired of moving every 8 years, tired of being lonely, sometimes to the point of wishing that he'd never agreed to keep on living (a promise he made early in his life). He's experienced heartbreak and love, discovered that things really don't change all that much because people forget the lessons of the past, and he longs to find the missing daughter who inherited his condition. But, the ending is uplifting in just the way I hoped it would be.

Highly recommended - How to Stop Time is a new favorite that has earned a place of honor on the good shelves. An absolutely perfect gem of a book with a protagonist whose emotions will tug at your heart, prose that will give you much to ponder, and absolutely flawless pacing.

Side note: The movie rights to How to Stop Time were sold months before the release date and Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as Tom Hazard. It's going to be every bit as painful waiting for the movie as it was waiting for the book.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Getting a late start, here, because I fell asleep during the news and took a surprisingly long evening nap.



Recent arrivals (top to bottom):


  • The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga and
  • The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso - both purchased. It's true that Amazon snagged me during Prime Week (but I only bought these two books, nothing else)
  • The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones - for review from Putnam (Penguin Random House) 


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang

I'm also on the verge of finishing How to Stop Time by Matt Haig, but even with a mere 20 pages to go, I can't count it as finished till I'm done because I'm weird that way. 



Posts since last Malarkey:




Currently reading:


  • How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  • The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

Both of the books I'm reading are utterly captivating but I am focusing on How to Stop Time (about a man who ages slowly and has been alive 450 years) and I'll return to The Punch Escrow (futuristic sci-fi), after I finish -- tonight, that is. How to Stop Time got priority because it's one of my most anticipated books of the year and it is every bit as magical as I hoped it would be. But, The Punch Escrow is loads of fun, too, so I'm excited that I'll be getting back to it, tonight. I'll review both before I leave for my summer break. If I can fit everything in (I also want to read and review Brave Deeds by David Abrams before I go), I plan to shut down by Friday. If not, I'll extend my stay a bit till I'm done.


In other news:

It's getting oppressively hot and humid, here, the time of year that you begin to feel trapped indoors because it's dangerous outside (much like being trapped indoors by the snow to avoid frostbite, for those of you in colder climates). I'm looking forward to autumn. Hope those of you in reasonable climates are enjoying your weather. I would very much like to be in Alaska, right about now. :)

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Fiona Friday - Izzy Bunny

Look at those big ears! I love those ears.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang


Joe Bell is close to one of his final stops on the Underground Railroad when he's discovered by two men in search of escaped slaves for the reward money. After Joe is badly hurt in a confrontation and injures one of his pursuers and a beloved dog, he makes his way to Mary's house.

Mary Willis is college-educated and has very liberal opinions for a young woman. She's been hiding escaped slaves in the family barn for some time when Joe shows up, injured and feverish. Because of his confrontation with the "copperheads" and the injuries they sustained, there are two very angry men who want to find Joe, not to mention his owner, Yates Bell. It will take special courage and subterfuge to nurse Joe back to health and help him escape to Canada.

Mary's brother, Leander, has never learned to accept responsibility. Expected to work on the family farm, instead he spends much of his time drinking and hanging out with friends at the shack he built. When he's sent to town to manage his father's lumber business, he is not particularly successful. Then he meets Isabel. His problems are compounded after she introduces him to opium and convinces him that she can help him make a fortune.

When war breaks out, the young men of Town Line all sign up for the army, led by Leander. Back home, Confederates are helped to escape to Canada, where they're able to regroup and return to war; and, Town Line becomes the only town in the Union to secede.

What will happen to Joe and Mary? Will Joe's lengthy stay get them both caught? When Leander joins the army, will he finally become disciplined? What will become of the many slaves who are escaping to the North when the people of Buffalo, New York begin to clash with them over concern that the influx of strangers will mean the loss of their jobs? Will the Confederates of Town Line be able to do serious damage to the Union?

My thoughts . . . 

That was quite a big synopsis because there are quite a few threads in The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. I skipped at least a couple of the subplots. At the beginning of the book, the story is almost exclusively about Mary, her part in the smuggling of slaves to Canada, and Joe. I'd say at least 1/3 of the book is primarily about them, although there is a bit of set-up regarding Joe's owner, Yates, and Harry, the man whose dog is killed.

But, as The Hidden Light of Northern Fires progresses, the number of different threads grows. Some, I didn't fully understand. Why, for example, does Isabel choose to have Leander join her posh but drug-addled life? What is her purpose? Did she plan to just use and discard him?

There were also some characters who disappeared early on and reappeared toward the end of the book. One writes letters home but is otherwise not spoken of till his return.

At the beginning, I could barely stand to put down The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. I liked Mary, her father Nathan, Joe, and Charles (a family friend). I cared about what would happen to them. Leander was simply a wastrel - the Branwell Brontë of the Willis family. Henry is a dubious character. I never knew quite whether to love or hate him. And, there are a number of simply despicable people - a parson who doesn't mind helping the Confederate escapees who go through and finds ways to get free labor and easy money, a Marshall without a conscience, a Confederate spy who is not past cheating the people he lures into "business".

Eventually, the quantity of violent characters and the body count started to wear on me. The book centers on some historical events, like the secession of the town, the riot between Irish dock workers and freed slaves, and the secret connections that helped both Confederates and escaped slaves make their way to Canada. Those were interesting but the violence tired me and by the last third of the book, I began to just want to get the reading over with.

Recommended? Not recommended? I just don't know. I loved both the beginning and ending. I liked the setting and the fact that I learned something new (that there was a single city in the North that seceded from the Union). I liked the fact that two of the characters who appeared unredeemable actually turned out okay in the end. And, I liked the overall storyline until that last 1/3 or so. But, I found the last 75-100 pages utterly exhausting because of the violence and the sheer quantity of nasty characters. I rated the book 3.5/5 and have considered knocking it down to 3 stars, which would be an average read. But, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires was so promising in the beginning, grabbed me so hard, and ended well enough that I'm not sure I can talk myself into penalizing it too much for the parts I disliked.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy


While I was taking a shower and trying not to get water all over the giant taped-up crack, I couldn't get out of my head the fact that my father had been in love with a tomato-eating blond when he was a thieving teenage bowler who had harbored secret dreams. Would I ever be able to look at a tomato the same way again? Or a bowling ball? Or even listen to B. Springsteen for that matter?

~ p. 169

Just Fly Away is a Young Adult novel about a 15-year-old whose life is turned upside-down when she discovers her father has a child he's never mentioned. The fact that her half-brother is only 8 years old means her parents were married at the time of little Thomas's conception. Upset by her father's betrayal, Lucy begins to spend more time at a friend's house, where she falls for her friend's brother, Simon, and eventually seeks out little Thomas for reasons even she can't explain. But, knowing where he is and what he looks like is no help. When Lucy loses her temper and is rude even to Simon, who has been endlessly patient with her, she decides on the spur of the moment to run away.

It takes about 115 pages to get to the part where Lucy runs away and I think that is the book's biggest downfall because once she leaves New Jersey, Just Fly Away starts to really become interesting. Lucy is unsure where to go, at first, but then she remembers her paternal grandfather in Maine. She's only met him once but surely he'll be happy to see her.

At her destination, Lucy gets a fresh perspective on her family, the truth about her father's past, the way she's treated her boyfriend, and how to fit a new family member into her world. Meanwhile, she's enjoying the rugged Maine coast and getting to know her grandfather. But, then tragedy strikes and the lessons she's learned become even more crucial.

I bought Just Fly Away primarily because I so thoroughly enjoyed Andrew McCarthy's travel book, The Longest Way Home, when it came out in 2012. His travel writing is excellent and I presumed he would find a way to incorporate travel into his fiction. The first 115 pages were slow and full of teenage angst -- to the point that I had to sit back and think about how I would have felt if I found out my father had cheated and had a third child tucked away somewhere, just to keep myself going. It didn't take a lot of pondering to realize that I definitely would have been devastated and thrown into the same sort of emotional chaos Lucy experiences -- especially during the tender early teen years. That helped me stick out the slower parts in anticipation of the time when Lucy ran away.

I did think there were occasions when it was clear that the author was a male writing from the perspective of a female. It's hard to imagine any female never even mildly obsessing about her clothing, even when she's been wearing it for two days. If I were her, the first thing I'd do at Grandpa's? Look for the detergent and ask for money for a second outfit so she could get out of that stinky underwear. But, I liked the book enough, in the end, to give it 4 stars out of 5.

Recommended - The writing is a little simplistic; in trying to capture the teenage voice, at first I thought the author may have gone overboard. But, once I became accustomed to it, I thought the style worked. The second problem was that it took a long time before the story moved from "Confused teenage girl drifting away from her family and close to a boy" to "What will happen when she runs away?" When Lucy leaves town, that's when Just Fly Away becomes interesting, the pace picks up, an entertaining character is added, and the story veers into territory that the author clearly understands: how travel can clear one's mind and help a person come to resolution. While the first 1/3 is slow, it's definitely worth sticking out the slower beginning for the latter 2/3 of the book.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.