Saturday, July 24, 2010

A bright flare in a gray, post-apocalyptic world

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

The most powerful part of this story is what the author doesn't say.

A man and his boy are traveling alone in a post-apocalyptic world. The skies are filled with ash, the air is poisoned by fumes, meals are few and far between, and they must constantly be on the look-out for the bad guys - men who will kill and eat you. They constantly cycle between painfully hungry and one day away from starvation, refusing to give up and determined to get to the ocean where the man believes life will be easier. They have a gun with a single bullet but it becomes shockingly clear that the bullet isn't for potential attackers, but to give the man or boy the only true protection from this devastating world...death.

While there isn't a lot that the reader knows about this world - How did it become this way? How long have the man and boy been traveling? Where are they geographically located? - I think these unsaid facts are the most important part of the story. The answer to all of these questions is the same: It doesn't matter. Regardless of any external factor, the only thing the man and boy are concerned with are living another day, putting one foot in front of the other to take them one step farther down the road. The only thing keeping them going is their love for each other and their blind faith that there is some form of goodness still in the world and that they carry a part of that with them.

This book was not uplifting, did not inspire hope, and did not provide a reason to turn the pages. However, the powerful writing made you feel desolate, hopeless, and strangely determined to keep going in spite of those feelings; the hallmark of a truly phenomenal book is inspiring emotions that reflect the feeling of the story...and McCarthy did that brilliantly even though I didn't want to feel that way.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dear Ms. Greenlaw, get over yourself.

Seaworthy: a swordboat captain returns to the sea
Linda Greenlaw

Dear Ms. Greenlaw, get over yourself. Love, Nicole

After 10 years away from sword-fishing - 10 years spent lobstering on Isle au Haut - Linda has decided to jump back into the fray and captain the Seahawk with a hand-picked crew of four men who vary in their high seas experience. Understandably, she is nervous that she won't live up to the high standards and expectations she set when she captained for 19 years before retiring to land, but excited to see if she still has what it takes to bring aboard one of the most elusive and beautiful creatures of the ocean.

I was so excited to see a new autobiography by Linda Greenlaw; The Hungry Ocean continues to be one of my favorite books and her newest foray into nautical-themed crime fiction appears to have been a flop - why not return to her roots? I am so sad to report that this books lacks all of the charm, humility, and humor of her first two books and instead was like listening to a friend wax poetic on life and why they rock at it. Not only did she not catch fish, Greenlaw failed to do what she used to excel at - tell a heartwarming story that made you feel like you were there. I got so tired of reading how this trip was different from her career 10 years ago; how she "excels at", is "well known for", and "is one of the best at" any number of fishing skills; and the fishing details took a leading role when they should have been reduced to supporting cast. Less than a handful of short flashes of her prior warmth are the only things that saved this book from the dreaded 1 star rating.

If you are interested in a really good autobiography on fishing, definitely check out something by Greenlaw - but stick to The Hungry Ocean or The Lobster Chronicles and leave this one on the shelf.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Great mystery, juvenile relationship

Judgment in Death (In Death #12)
J.D. Robb

Surprise! There is a serial killer on the loose in NYC and Lt. Eve Dallas has to track him down. Oh, and of course her billionaire, mouth-watering husband, Roarke, is tangled up in the investigation. Plus, Eve and Roarke have to (yet again) overcome their personal issues with commitment to make their marriage work. And Eve has to face another little sliver of her past. Have I forgotten anything?

Obviously, the In Death Series has some trends that are present in all of the books. However, I thought this one was a cut above the rest because of the mystery - someone has a vendetta against some of NYPD's finest...or are they the finest? I also liked that the storyline was kind of two separate ones that wove in and out with each other at different points before coming together at the end. The bad guy wasn't overly obvious and it wasn't a black/white case of someone being a horrible person and deserving the worst the law had to throw at him.

While I thought the mystery portion was one of the best so far, I really need Eve and Roarke to move onto the next level of their relationship. I am a little tired of the bantering back and forth over the same old arguments. Also, there was a lot of hostility between them in this one and I thought that Roarke acted way outside of usually slick persona. Personally, I love their interplay but it is getting a little ridiculous that he is involved in every case Eve would be nice to see her tackle something on her own.

Regardless of the less sparkling portions of my review, I continue to love this series! Mainly due to the 1) above average series mystery storylines, 2) Roarke (yum), and 3) the fabulous supporting characters that are very well thought out and developed. The next installment is on my tbr.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dive into the Dark Life

Dark Life
Kat Falls

Sea level has risen even more than scientists predicted. The Rocky Mountains are now just a string of islands. People are packed into skyscraper cities and space is a coveted commodity. But beneath the sea surface, life flourishes....

Ty was born on the Atlantic seafloor, in Benthic Territory. His parents were trailblazers in this new frontier - his engineer dad helped design and construct the jelly-like homes that pulse in the underwater currents and his scientist mom helped perfect aquaculture techniques for fish and kelps. Together with the other families of the Benthic Territory, they grow the food that feeds the Topsiders now that intense ultra-violent light destroys life. Gemma is a topsider who has ventured to the Dark Life in order to find her missing brother, she desperately wants to reunite her family. Gemma and Ty set out to find Gemma's brother but come into contact with dangerous Outlaws, corrupt government officials, and mysterious occurrences among the teenagers of the Dark Life. Can they find the brother, save the Benthic Territory, and manage not to get killed in the process?

The marine biology aspect of this book had me instantly requesting it from the library - Falls describes a fantastic undersea world that mixes cool and unusual marine facts (bioluminescent anglerfish) with futuristic fantasy elements (liquigen for underwater breathing) that has me ready to don my dive suit and hope to find a secret underwater society to join! In addition to that, I found the story itself to be action-packed, heartfelt, and in-tune with young teenagers. The plot wasn't overly complex (as is common with YA books) but I found it more complex that most and a couple of twists took me a while to figure out. I truly hope this is only the first of several books about Dark Life.

When global climate change causes the East Coast to slide into the Atlantic Ocean, I want to permanently move into the Dark Life!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I wish the characters would have done more soul "searching"

The Search
Nora Roberts

When the highlight of a book is the main character's dogs, it is probably not going to rocket onto my list of all-time favorites.

Fiona is the sole survivor of a serial killer. She managed to overcome her abductor, escape with her life, and put him behind bars - but not before he managed to destroy her life. But Fiona is a fighter and she slowly fought to get her life back, a life she enjoys as, now eight years later, she lives on Orcas Island off the coast of Seattle and runs a dog training school out of her home. She also established a volunteer canine Search and Rescue squad to help find people who have gotten lost in the woods that dominate the island. Life is going well until copycat murders begin occurring, which makes her wonder if she will be the final target; and a handsome artist, Simon, moves in down-the-way, which makes her wonder if she is ready for the feelings he brings about that she hasn't felt in nearly a decade.

Okay, synopsis done. Now, my thoughts. My big problem with this book was the manner in which the two leads - Fiona and Simon - handled their feelings. I think NR wanted to create characters who were down-to-earth, not overly romantic, and realistic about their relationship and its challenges. I appreciate all of those aspects and it could have been a nice change from typical romance novels. However, and this pains me to say, NR went too far and developed the characters into blunt, no-romance people who were either too confrontational or too forgiving. We never got any kind of background on Simon so he just came across as a soft-hearted ass with no reason as to why and Fiona, for some reason, found his bullheadedness wildly entertaining.

As for the mystery, there wasn't a lot to it. We know from early on who the culprit is and, despite a few minor surprises, why he is doing it. However, the police are not privy to this insider information but we don't have a lot of insight into their actual investigation so this comes off as more like the tracking of an individual as opposed to a mystery. That was okay, it didn't bother me too much, but the motive wasn't incredibly complex and I would have enjoyed just a little more there.

But, then there were the dogs! Fiona had three labs (a yellow, chocolate, and black) that she trained as S&R dogs and they were total show stealers. Throw in Simon's puppy, Jaws, and I was ready to go out and adopt a pack on my own! I thought the parts that described Fiona's training classes were interesting and the S&R portions were wonderfully described. On the non-canine side, there were some great supporting characters including Sylvia, Fiona's stepmother, and Mai, vet/fellow S&R/best friend.

Overall, a solid novel by NR, which I enjoyed and read cover-to-cover in two short days. However, as far as her novels go, it will be filed away with books likeTribute and Carolina Moon instead of reaching the favorite list like Midnight Bayou and Black Hills.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Anthropological fiction of the early Pleistocene

Clan of the Cave Bear
Jean M. Auel

An interesting anthropological fiction that tells the story of the end of a line of Australopithecines (a.k.a. Lucy-like) and the rise to dominance of Homonids (a.k.a. us!)

An earthquake orphans Ayla, a 5 year old hominid, and she wanders aimlessly for days before being found by Iza, the powerful medine-woman of a more ape-like race Australopithecines. Iza fights to save Ayla's life and the clan spiritual Mo-gur and leader reluctantly allow for the small girl to live with them despite her ugly, deformed looks. As the girl grows into a tall, lithe, blond woman with relatively little body hair and physical strength but a remarkable ability to make logical conclusions, she becomes a member of the family of Iza and The Mo-gur. However, not everyone is happy with her presence and some are determined to have her cast from the clan.

I greatly enjoyed the use of man's evolution as the premise for a story. I thought the situations, personal qualities, and rituals of both the Clan and Ayla created an interesting juxtaposition between the two evolving cultures and why one race was destined to become extinct. The author vividly described a world that seemed much more primitive that ours by describing long extinct creatures of the early Pleistocene while weaving in descriptions of extant plants and animals that have survived the last 2.5 million years. However, some of the descriptions of the Clan rituals and surrounding environment were a little long and I found myself skimming over lists of fish that were caught, plants that were collected, etc.

While I enjoyed this book, I don't believe I will be finishing the series and am perfectly content with the complete story I just read. If you are at all interested in anthropology, I recommend The Clan of the Cave Bear.

Side Note: This book was recommended to me through the Romance Recommendation Challenge associated with Book Tag Bingo. The romance tag is quite large within the lists of tags but I completely disagree with that classification! There was absolutely ZERO romance in this novel even though there was plenty of familial love and description of relationships among Clan members.