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Book Review: The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

The Lost Ones (Nora Watts #1) by Sheena Kamal
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: William Morrow

Nora Watts is not the sort you'd call when you need help. She's in desperate need of help herself. Still, when the parents of the baby she gave up for adoption come calling, she's the only one with enough tenacity and single-mindedness to find her.

This was quite the read but what I found most compelling was Nora and the look in on homelessness, addiction and the invisibility of vulnerable communities (there wasn't even safe haven in hospital settings!). It's a harrowing take but one I was glad to have had the chance to take in. There's a bit of breath-taking action as well but for me, the best of the story was in the quiet moments with Nora's introspection that make this worth the read. I do admit that at some point, Nora's life borders on misery porn and wears one down but I felt that was a just feeling as a reader because homelessness and alcoholism struggles are bleak. The ending isn't so much happy as it is at an even keel and that felt like enough. I want to know more about Nora, her employers and even the homeless guy who lives in the alley she ran into a few times (I, like Nora, want to know who tried to take him away). That I ended up caring about seemingly random people who crossed Nora's path, was a credit to the writing and I remained hopeful for better things for Nora and all others who had dire situations and problems.

I'd recommend this and will be reading the rest in this series.

Summary: It's late. The phone rings.
The man on the other end says his daughter is missing.
Your daughter.
The baby you gave away over fifteen years ago.

What do you do?

Nora Watts isn't sure that she wants to get involved. Troubled, messed up, and with more than enough problems of her own, Nora doesn't want to revisit the past. But then she sees the photograph. A girl, a teenager, with her eyes. How can she turn her back on her?

But going in search of her daughter brings Nora into contact with a past that she would rather forget, a past that she has worked hard to put behind her, but which is always there, waiting for her . . .

In Eyes Like Mine (original title), Sheena Kamal has created a kick-ass protagonist who will give Lisbeth Salander a run for her money. Intuitive, not always likeable, and deeply flawed, Nora Watts is a new heroine for our time.

Book Review: Colony One by Tarah Benner

Colony One (The Elderon Chronicles #1) by Tarah Benner
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: Blue Sky Studio

I was in the mood for a space station story so I decided to give this a read. It's been in my TBR pile for a while and one of my resolutions this year is to whittle away at that more than I have in the past.

This was a good story and I already want to go on to the next book (thanks Kindle Unlimited!). The story is told from two POVs, Maggie a journalist who has just been replaced at her newspaper by AI and Jonah, a former soldier whose life is in a bad rut. Both are given the opportunity to work for Maverick Enterprises on the first civilian space station, Elderon also known as Colony One. Maggie's puff pieces are to cast the company in a good light to basically sell the station to the masses as a destination they'd like to visit. Jonah's joined the private Space Force and his prior skillset is suited. Before too long, the fact that the Space Force has more recruits than seems normal and the inclusion of a bot company in the mix, all start to raise questions in our resident journalist. Things on Earth take a turn and then it's an all-out page-turner to the end.

The story was a good one and I have to say the strength lay in the parts about technology and its influence, intrusion and utility in the lives of everyone. Maggie's mother, a nurse, is replaced at her hospital by a bot. The SPIDER technology felt too likely for my comfort. The food lab was fascinating and while initially, the meat making was a bit off-putting, I decided that I could eat it. I thought the "garden" was very cool. The Optix seemed probable, useful and more addictive than mobile phones (if that's possible). Another highlight of the story is the suspense and action that finally kick in at the 67% mark when some robots on Earth start attacking people. I had to smile at an instance of bots going off on a bunch of theatregoers at a showing of Terminator.

There's a lot here to recommend it but there were a few points that were problems for me. There is a very bad case of "snapping" eyes in this story. It's constantly happening and not only did I start to think this should be something people can hear, I wished very much for there to be another descriptor in use for sharp looks given. Hopefully, that wanes in the next installment. And there are a couple of moments of shenanigans I have to call. First, let me say that the story was very much flirting with being romantic suspense. We have Maggie and Jonah but there's also Tripp Van de Graff (who sadly didn't get a POV in this book though he'seemed most interesting) so there's a bit of an attraction triangle. Fine. But Maggie and Jonah, both had instances where they seemed not to know that those physical stirrings in their bodies meant they were attracted to each other. It rang false. They're not tweens and Jonah very clearly got laid almost as soon as we meet him. I'm not a fan of adults acting like they don't know things they clearly should know. Fortunately, the instances are sparse, just enough to annoy not enough to derail the story or entirely damage the characters. The bigger shenanigan offence comes in for Maggie. She's rescued by Jonah after several hours on the floor of an airlock, bound, beaten and gagged and she's pulled free from a bot's death grip around her neck which results in gashes on her neck that are bleeding at a good rate and more bots are in pursuit... but she takes a moment to note how good Jonah smells. Girl, what?! All the shenanigans called and it took me right out of the story.

I'm going to read the next book so definitely recommended. Come for the space station, stay for the suspense.

Summary: Maggie Barnes is at the end of her rope. She’s young and broke living in New York, and her newspaper job has been taken by robots. When she’s offered a job aboard the first civilian space colony, Maggie thinks it’s her lucky break.
For Jonah Wyatt, the Space Force is his last shot at a military career. After years of tracking down the members of a deadly cyberterrorism ring, he was discharged from the army and stuck toning the asses of LA’s elite. Now this disgraced combat specialist is headed to space.

At first glance, Elderon seems to be a futuristic utopia: Bots do the laundry, meat comes from a lab, and the latest technology expands the scope of human capability. But as Maggie digs deeper, she realizes that Elderon is not at all what it seems. When she receives a tip from an unknown source, she’ll go undercover to learn the truth and place herself in the crosshairs of an all-out war.

Book Review: Property: Stories Between Two Novellas by Lionel Shriver

Property: Stories Between Two Novellas by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: Harper

I've had this collection in my TBR pile for a while and am so glad I decided finally to read it. All are stories about the relationships people have with property. The property they own or don't, want or don't, inherit or bequeath, buy or sell, the list goes on. I found myself taking sides and also seeing opposing points of view with plenty of eye-rolling and laughter along the way.

The opening novella, The Standing Chandelier was very engrossing and the perfect lead-in to the collection. While I didn't love every story, my favourites, in no particular order, were the following:

Domestic Terrorism
The Royal Male
Exchange Rates
The Chapstick
Negative Equity

The closing novella wasn't my favourite but overall this was a great collection of short stories and as it elicited quite strong feelings in me about property, ownership and fairness, I have to give this a very strong recommendation.

Summary: A striking new collection of ten short stories and two novellas that explores the idea of property in every meaning of the word, from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award finalist So Much for Thatand the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Intermingling settings in America and Britain, Lionel Shriver’s first collection explores property in both senses of the word: real estate and stuff. These pieces illustrate how our possessions act as proxies for ourselves, and how tussles over ownership articulate the power dynamics of our relationships. In Lionel Shriver’s world, we may possess people and objects and places, but in turn they possess us.
In the stunning novella "The Standing Chandelier," a woman with a history of attracting other women’s antagonism creates a deeply personal wedding present for her best friend and his fiancΓ©e—only to discover that the jealous fiancΓ©e wants to cut her out of their lives. In "Domestic Terrorism," a thirty-something son refuses to leave home, resulting in a standoff that renders him a millennial cause cΓ©lΓ¨bre. In "The ChapStick," a middle-aged man subjugated by service to his elderly father discovers that the last place you should finally assert yourself is airport security. In "Vermin," an artistic Brooklyn couple’s purchase of a ramshackle house destroys their once-passionate relationship. In "The Subletter," two women, both foreign conflict junkies, fight over a claim to a territory that doesn’t belong to either.
Exhibiting a satisfying thematic unity unusual for a collection, this masterful work showcases the biting insight that has made Shriver one of the most acclaimed writers of our time.

Book Review: Negative Image by Vicki Delany

Negative Image (Constable Molly Smith #4) by Vicki Delany
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

This was a solid three-star for me until the last third of the book which catapulted to a four. What held the story back in my reading was that the murder mystery had Winters' wife at the center of the suspect list and she, in the three prior books is pretty much a blank of a character. Truth be told, by the end of this book, if I never read about her again, it won't really matter. As I write this review, I can't even recall her name (and it's been mentioned in all four books of the series!).

I felt the Charlie Bassing thread was becoming tedious because Molly was doing nothing about his escalating aggression. The rationale that she was trying to navigate the terrain as a woman in law enforcement went only so far with me because she knew Charlie's violent past and expecting he'd just stop or go away seemed lunacy. But then the last third of the book happened and I was ready to forgive all the prior tedium.No spoilers but the turn taken was very well done and it set up Molly for more growth in the future.

Also to the good here were the bits about the town and its residents. It adds to the patina of Trafalgar and to Molly's life as she moves through interacting. It's nice to see how some seemingly unrelated things related by people unrelated to the case come together to help find the solution. Also to the good was a very big surprise with a character that I never saw coming but will open up new avenues in many characters' lives.

I'll definitely continue with the series and do recommend this one.

Summary: As the mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, shakes off a long hard winter, famous photographer Rudolph Steiner arrives to do a feature on mountain tourism. Steiner is accompanied by his assistant and sexy young wife, but he has another reason for the visit: to reconnect with the woman who left him twenty-five years ago to marry another man. Twenty-five years ago she was young, beautiful, naΓ―ve, and an internationally known supermodel. Today Eliza Winters is no longer young, and definitely not naΓ―ve, but still beautiful and married to Trafalgar City Police Sergeant John Winters. When Steiner is found dead in his luxury hotel room, shot once in the back of the head, suspicion falls upon Eliza. John Winters is forced into the most difficult decision of his life: loyalty to his job or to his wife. As the RCMP dig into the secrets of both Steiner and Eliza, John Winters slowly comes to realize that he doesn’t know the woman to whom he has been married for twenty-five years as well as he thought he did. Unable to help the Sergeant, Constable Molly Smith has her own troubles: a series of B&Es has the peaceful town in an uproar, her overprotective Mountie boyfriend is fighting with her colleagues, and a vengeful stalker is watching her every move. When tragedy strikes at the heart of her own family, Molly can’t even turn to her mother, Lucky, for help.

Book Review: Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ (4 stars)
Publisher: Tor.com

This is my first read of 2020 and it was a good one! The world has gone through something called the Scouring where environmental upheaval leads to almost complete societal collapse and pretty much an extinction event and that has left humans with a final generation and one plan to save the future. There are two timelines that play out and converge here and I thought it was well done (and I'm not usually one for time travel stories). I felt the beginning was a bit slow but near the middle things really picked up and by the end, I wanted to know what happens next.

As this is a novella, there's not a lot of time to get deep into the characters but there was enough here for me. I was pulling for Valentina, Tatiana, Antii And Vikram, I felt the weight of Dr. Cho's project and I'll forever wonder what was going on with Miguel.

I've read other books by Reynolds that I've enjoyed so I was fairly sure I'd enjoy this. Recommended.

Summary: Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future. Alastair Reynolds unfolds a time-traveling climate fiction adventure in Permafrost.
2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.
2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head... an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.
Does she resist... or become a collaborator?

Book Review: Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany

Winter of Secrets (Constable Molly Smith #3) by Vicki Delany
My rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ (4 stars)
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

A pretty good mystery overall. The question of why Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth was driving with the corpse of a friend, Ewan Williams before having an accident that plunged his SUV into the frigid river on a snowy night, was terribly engaging. I liked this one better than the first in the series and found that the beginning hooked me and before too long, I couldn't put this one down.

Constable Molly Smith was better drawn here as were the remainder of the characters who also appeared in the series opener. I felt a good many of what I felt were first book awkwardness were worked out. I found Lucky, Molly's mother a lot more agreeable but her annoyance at her daughter's chosen profession seemed dialled back so that helped. I do still find Winter's home life with the model wife a bit tepid but it wasn't overdone and actually was well woven into the relevance of the story. This story had a few threads of misery and I was surprised and impressed the story didn't shy away from what seemed the inevitable end. That alone garnered an extra star from me.

I will say this one had so many mentions of melt in your mouth shortbread that it stoked a craving in me that's months too early. It's my own fault for reading a book set during Christmas to NYE at the onset of autumn. If you're looking for a cozy-ish procedural, this is a good one. I'd recommend this one over the first book in the series.

Summary: Siblings Wendy and Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and their friends are in the peaceful mountain town of Trafalgar, B.C. enjoying a two-week vacation of skiing, drinking, drugs, and sex. But tragedy strikes when two of the group crash through the ice into the frozen river. It's Christmas Eve and the snow-storm of the decade has settled over the town. Constables Molly Smith and Dave Evans have a busy shift attending fender-benders, tumbling pedestrians, and Christmas tree fires. Then, at the stroke of midnight, they are summoned to the scene of a car accident: a vehicle has gone off the snowy road into the river. Police, coroner, and medics all agree it was an accident. But when the autopsy reveals a shocking secret, Molly and Sergeant John Winters are plunged into a world of sexual predators, recreational drugs, privilege, and high-living. Meanwhile, stalker Charlie Bass-ing is out of jail and looking for revenge, a handsome Mountie is giving Molly the eye, and her mother, Lucky, is cheerfully interfering in the investigation. And all Molly Smith wants to do is ski the powder....

Book Review: Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup

Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
My rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ (2 stars)
Publisher: Doubleday

You know you're in trouble when the murder mystery couldn't save it.

The summary drew me in but sadly this did not ultimately deliver. There's a murder and six suspects who had motive and opportunity so the fun is in the teasing out the threads and following the leads to figure out whodunnit. I feel that the story lost its way at the suspects pov level and everything that sprang from that was tainted. To be fair, I did enjoy a few of the suspects' narration but cannot forgive the thoroughly unbelievable mess that was the sole American. Even if everything else had been perfect, he was so glaringly off, his existence would have thrown me out of the story and cost this a couple of stars. As it happens, he wasn't the only problem and by the time I'd arrived at the end (which was both preachy and a let down), I didn't feel like I'd read the book I was told this was. At least it was over.

I love books that can take me to a place and through a wide cast of characters either closely or tenuously connected to one another and provide an immersive, cohesive and satisfying story. I'm going to recommend Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire here, in case that's your thing. Read that. Skip this.

Summary: There's a caste system even in murder.Seven years ago, Vivek 'Vicky' Rai, the playboy son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, murdered Ruby Gill at a trendy restaurant in New Delhi simply because she refused to serve him a drink. Now Vicky Rai is dead, killed at his farmhouse at a party he had thrown to celebrate his acquittal. The police search each and every guest. Six of them are discovered with guns in their possession.
In this elaborate murder mystery we join Arun Advani, India's best-known investigative journalist, as the lives of these six suspects unravel before our eyes: a corrupt bureaucrat; an American tourist; a stone-age tribesman; a Bollywood sex symbol; a mobile phone thief; and an ambitious politician. Each is equally likely to have pulled the trigger. Inspired by actual events, Vikas Swarup's eagerly awaited second novel is both a riveting page turner and an insightful peek into the heart and soul of contemporary India.