Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Knots and Crosses

Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1)Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had not read Ian Rankin before, so decided to start with his first Inspector Rebus mystery.

The novel was first published in 1987 and it’s a bit of a shock to read a modern story that has no computers, no Internet, no cell phones, or any of the communications devices we use today. It makes for a much slower story.

Rebus is an Edinburgh police inspector struggling with what we would call today PTSD, a failed marriage, and keeping touch with a daughter he barely knows. We get to see the seedier side of the city where alcohol, drugs, and thieves flourish.

The story starts with the abduction and subsequent murder of two teenage girls and leads us into a search for the identity of the killer.

Rankin draws a portrait of a man who is fumbling through life and his job. The story is more about how he can continue to function day after day without breaking down than about his abilities as a policeman and how he solves the murders. It is disconcerting and defies expectations, while at the same time somewhat disappointing. The prose is strong if not elegant, but I found it a slow read, which is unusual in a mystery.

Rankin’s first book was a good enough read for me to try his second, but not enough to rave about it.

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Book Review: One’s Aspect to the Sun

One's Aspect to the SunOne’s Aspect to the Sun by Sherry D. Ramsey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From time immemorial, humanity has sought the secret to longevity and, ultimately, immortality. But what happens if you find that secret? Who does it belong to?

Sherry D. Ramsay’s novel explores that very subject with a compelling story that blends drama with ethics.

Luta Paixon, Captain of the starship Tane Ikai,is over ninety years old, but doesn’t look a day over thirty. Even with existing rejuvenation technology, this is extraordinary. Luta thinks she’s had a little genetic help along the way and that’s why she’s been looking for her biogeneticist mother, who disappeared when Luta was a teenager, as a source of explanation. Even if she’s been searching for fifty years without success, Luta is convinced her mother is still alive and could provide those answers.

When she hears a rumour that her mother was sighted on a distant planet, it leads Luta across the galaxy in yet another attempt to find her. This time, though, she’s accompanied by her dying husband and her resentful daughter and plagued by PrimeCorp who wants to study her. Her trek through the galaxy leads her to love, family, discovery and the big question: what would be the consequences if everyone lived forever?

Even though the subtext of the novel is weighty, Ramsay succeeds in leading us to the end seemingly without effort, thanks in part to her well-rounded characters. Luta, despite being a tough, no-nonsense ship captain, has the qualities and flaws that make her struggle with being a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a leader. The rest of the cast is interesting and real, each with a distinct personality and his or her own secrets.

The narrative flows smoothly, allowing the reader to focus on the people in the story, even though the technology sometimes seems a bit arcane for someone who knows little about space. The ethical questions she poses makes the reader think and takes this novel beyond space opera: this is speculative fiction at its best.

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Book Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven

The Dirty Streets of Heaven (Bobby Dollar, #1)The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first in a trilogy about a “working” angel named Bobby Dollar (angelic name Doloriel) who is an advocate for departing souls against hellish representatives. But things go quickly askew: he’s stuck with an advocate-in-training he doesn’t trust, he lusts after a beautiful demon, the Countess of Cold Hands, souls are disappearing before they get judged, and a monster older than death is chasing after him.

Dirty Streets is a gritty, sardonic novel as entertaining as reflexive. It’s not an in-your-face contemplation of good and bad, or whether God, Heaven and Earth exist, but Williams has created a three-level world so bureaucratized you start to question the definitions of what is Heaven, and what is Hell, and, by the way, does God really care?

This is the first Williams book I’ve read so I can’t compare with others, but this one was great fun to read and compelled me to seek his other novels. Oh, and warning: there is explicit sex in it. After all, minions of hell are involved.

A highly recommended read.

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Book Review: La Isla Bajo el Mar

La isla bajo el marLa isla bajo el mar by Isabel Allende

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The poignant story of Zarité, a black slave in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and later in New Orleans in the 18th Century.

I have read this book in the original language (Spanish), and Allende’s prose is simple and elegant, yet extremely vivid. The book is a mix of fairly detailed historical fiction and the slave Zarité’s voice, which brings an element of immediacy to the events. When she speaks for Zarité, Allende can shock us with the casual way the slave speaks of her treatment (e.g., her master extinguishing his cigar on her), and so gives us the utter helplessness of the slave.

But Allende shows us also the cost of becoming free–a fact that Haiti, in a way, has never recovered from–and, despite the inescapable disgust of slavery she creates in the reader, she also succeeds in making us see the slave owners’ point of view, in all its callousness, insensitivity, greed, and ignorance.

If I have one criticism it’s the slow pace of the book, maybe due to the detailed historical events she uses as parentheses to the story. It was sometimes a bit plodding, although it opened my eyes to the plight of the slaves at the inception of the slave trade.

Well worth the read.

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Book Review– Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska Looking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Move over Salinger, here comes John Green. This is a coming of age story that is truly contemporary and real, sans rose-coloured glasses. Green doesn’t skim over the concept that high-school teens know about -and often do- drugs, alcohol, and sex.

But Looking for Alaska is more than the “bad” things kids can get into. It’s about the search for self (Rabelais’ “Great Perhaps”) through being confronted with the realities of friendships, love, death, and the future.

A truly superb, daring novel.

Looking for Alaska has received many awards, including School Library Journal Best Book of the Year for 2005.
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