Comment #1 Amanda Ramsay McNeill!
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Maui wedding planner, Pali Moon, wound up as a key witness against a drug ring, and now she’s been whisked into witness protection, sent to the small boring island of Lana’i, and right at the holidays no less! The feds seem to be taking their sweet time getting the case to court, and Pali is bored out of her mind, used to the hustle and bustle of wedding planning. When a small local bed and breakfast advertises looking for temporary help while they go to the main island to have their baby, it seems like the ideal situation. But when a famous guest’s fiancee turns up dead, Pali finds herself right in the thick of things again.
I picked this mystery up when I saw it on sale (for free) in the kindle store, in spite of it being midseries. The punny title made me think it was probably a cozy, and I know those series are totally fine to read out of order. I was right in that I never felt lost in the story due to starting mid-series, but I wasn’t right about it being a cozy. Pun-filled title aside, this is an easy-going mystery, ideal for a beach read, but missing the appendixes of add-ons such as recipes or patterns found in cozy mysteries
Pali is a three-dimensional character who jumps off the page, and the supporting characters, while not necessarily three-dimensional, each have enough different quirks and personalities that they are memorable. That said, Pali may be three-dimensional but she’s sure not likable. One example, she kisses someone on Lana’i, and then later finds out that her boyfriend may be cheating on her and flips out. But wasn’t she just cheating by kissing someone else? The hypocrisy left a really sour taste in my mouth for Pali. Characters don’t have to be likable, but in light-hearted mysteries where we’re supposed to be rooting for the non-professional PI, it really helps for them to be.
The mystery was fairly good. I certainly didn’t figure it out until right before the reveal, and the ultimate solution made sense. This is all I really look for in a mystery.
The setting was probably the best part. Bassett evokes (what I can only imagine is) the real feel of Hawaii. Each island visited has its own feel, Hawaiian culture is solidly represented with things like islanders calling all the elderly women “aunty” and locals being able to talk their way onto a ferry for free. What kept me reading the book was my desire to spend time in Hawaii, combined with a mystery I was interested in the solution to.
Overall, the rich Hawaiian setting and actually mysterious mystery make this a fun beach read. The main character is three-dimensional but could rub some readers the wrong way. Those looking for a traditional cozy should be forewarned that this book doesn’t come with any traditional cozy extras. Recommended to those looking for a light mystery set in Hawaii.
3 out of 5 stars
Science is moving forward to and through transhumanism to posthumanism, and no society seems to quite know how to handle it. China is using the tech in their armies, Thailand is interested in its use to enhance meditation and zen, and the US government banned many of the different treatments and drugs after they were used by cults to make cloned children into killing machines. Kaden Lane knows about the potential dangers, but he and his lab partners are still invested in making their brain nanotechnology drug, Nexus, work. It makes minds meld together, able to feel others’ suffering, and they think it will lead to world peace. Samantha Cataranes was a victim of a transhumanist mind control cult as a child, now she fights on the side of the FBI putting a stop to any science deemed too dangerous. When Samantha and Kaden meet, their worlds and worldviews start colliding.
I had honestly kind of forgotten what this book was about, beyond it being scifi, by the time I picked it up to read it. I thus was able to experience most of it as a surprise. It’s a book that’s a modern twist on cyberpunk with plenty of action to boot.
Jumping far enough ahead that some transhumanist elements already exist is a smart move. It lets the book think forward further than the initial transhumanist elements that it’s generally easy to see the advantages of, like fully functional robotic hands, into the grayer areas with things like cloning and mind control and making soldiers who are super-soldiers. This is a more interesting ethical dilemma, and the book doesn’t take very long to set up the world and get into it.
Nexus itself is a fascinating drug that combines nanotech and drugs. It’s easy to see that the author knows his science and has extrapolated into a possible future with a lot of logic based on current science. That’s part of what makes reading the book so fascinating and slightly frightening. It feels like an actual possibility.
The world building is done smoothly, incorporating both in-plot mentions and newspaper clippings and internal briefings to establish what is going on in the greater world around Kaden and Samantha.
The characterizations are fairly strong. Even if some of the secondary characters can seem two-dimensional, the primary characters definitely are not. Seeing a woman as the world-wise, transhuman strong fighter, and the man as the physically weaker brains was a nice change of pace. Additionally, the book embraces the existence of gray areas. “Bad guy” characters aren’t necessarily bad, and “good guys” aren’t necessarily good. This characterization helps tell the nuanced gray area story of the overarching plot.
The beginning of the book was weaker than the middle and the end. The first chapter that has a character testing out Nexus by using it to land sex with a hot woman almost made me stop reading the book entirely. It felt like some pick-up artist douchebro was imagining a future where tech would make him irresistible to women. Frankly, that whole first chapter still feels extremely out of place to me now. It doesn’t fit into the rest of the presentation of the character throughout the book. It feels like an entirely separate story altogether. I would encourage potential readers to skim it, since it barely belongs, then get to the rest of the book.
After the first chapter, the next few chapters feel a bit overly rose-colored lenses at first. Almost as if the author sees no gray areas and only the potential good in humans. Thankfully, this is mostly the rose-colored lenses of a main character that quickly fall away for the more nuanced storytelling of the rest of the book. But it did induce a few eye-rolls before I got further along.
The middle and end of the book look at human potential for both good and evil within the context of both science and Buddhism. It’s fascinating stuff, and makes a lot of sense since quite a bit of modern psychiatry is working hand-in-hand with ideas from Buddhism, particularly about meditation. This is where the more interesting insights occurred, and also where I felt I could embrace the book a bit more.
Each of us must walk our own ethical path. And together, men and women of ethics can curb the damage of those without. But for you…if you keep vital knowledge from others, then you are robbing them of their freedom, of their potential. If you keep knowledge to yourself, then the fault is not theirs, but yours. (loc 5597)
Overall, this cyberpunk scifi that mixes transhumanism and posthumanism with nanotechnology, fighting big governments, and Buddhism tells a fascinating tale full of gray areas that will appeal to scifi fans. Some may be turned off by the first few chapters that lack the nuance and likeable and strong characterization of the rest of the book, but it’s worth it to skim through the first few chapters to get to the juicier middle and end.
4 out of 5 stars
It’s time for the sixth giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf. Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.
What You’ll Win: One ebook copy of The Running Game by L. E. Fitzpatrick.
How to Enter: Leave a comment on this post stating what is the first thing you would do with your powers if you were telepathic.
Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL
Contest Ends: August 26th. Two weeks from today!
Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebook sent to them by the author. The blogger is not responsible for sending the book. Void where prohibited by law.
Rachel is a doctor in the slums outside of London. It’s not a great place to live, but it’s safer than a lot of the other options available. She’s also a Reacher with telepathic powers. Since she was a young girl, she learned to hide her abilities and always know her exits so she could run at any time. But when two brothers show up, one a wounded Reacher, and tell her a mobster sent them looking for her, she has to decide whether to run again or trust the brothers.
Near-future dystopias will never cease in their appeal to me, and so I was fairly quick to accept this one when I was choosing ARCs to read for 2014. The book offers a grim dystopia but far less running than one would imagine from the title.
The book establishes the overall dreary setting of a dystopia fairly quickly. Rachel’s work at the hospital and commuting home from it is dirty and grimy. Society is clearly barely functioning, a fact that is smoothly and clearly established. It takes a bit more time to learn more about the over-arching world, and the fact that Rachel is a “Reacher,” a person with some form of telepathic powers. For some reason, the government is seeking to eradicate all Reachers, whereas the church, which is illegal, views them as angels sent from above, metaphorically speaking. It’s an interesting world but our view into it is quite narrow, so there’s a lot of questions left unanswered.
Rachel is a good, strong character who is well-rounded in spite of knowing little of her backstory. The brothers, on the other hand, are kind of annoying and two-dimensional. They and the general crime lords/corrupt cops feel much more cookie cutter than Rachel does. In a way, they drag her down. It’s hard to root for her when she chooses to cast in lots with this bunch.
Similarly, the plot focuses in on what feels more like a standard crime thriller plot, rather than a dystopian one. It’s a good crime plot, but it’s not a dystopian one. The title implies a much more dystopian style book, such as Rachel using her powers to outwit the government and start a new colony or something like that. Instead it feels a bit more like an urban fantasy style crime plot that just so happens to be surrounded by society breaking down, somewhere out there. I think marketing it as a running game, rather than as the crime mystery plot it really is hinders the book a bit. Readers who would like an urban fantasy style futuristic crime novel might miss it, because it sounds so dystopian. The title and summary give the vibe of a Logan’s Run or Maze Runner style book, when that’s not what it is. What it is is a perfectly good futuristic crime novel, but that’s not what it sounds like.
Overall, this is a quick-moving tale of futuristic crime with a dash of telepathic powers and an easily imagined setting. Fans of near future, fantasy, and crime will enjoy seeing the three intertwine. Those looking for more of a scifi or dystopian focus should look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Miriam Black is on her own once again after sending her truck driver boyfriend to the curb. She’s taken to periodically messing with fate by killing the killers she sees in her visions of the deaths of the people she touches. When she gets an offer on Craigslist to read someone’s future death in Florida, it comes at a time when she can’t pass it up, as a recently homeless person. She heads to Florida figuring she might also tackle the demon of her relationship with her mother. Two birds, one stone. But Florida ends up being much more than a quick job and a quick visit.
I snatch up a new Miriam Black book the first chance I get because I so love the prose style of the books (I’m uncertain if Wendig’s other books read similarly, as I haven’t read any), and I also love Miriam as a character very much (I would definitely run the other way if I spotted her on the street at night). This third entry in the series didn’t disappoint, although I periodically wondered if Miriam’s bad-assness would be sacrificed for character growth.
The urban fantasy world of Miriam Black continues to be slowly fleshed out in this book. We meet a couple more characters with supernatural abilities, not exactly Miriam’s but similar in that they function in the mind. We also start to understand what might cause such a thing to happen. And how Wendig presents this information is beautifully crafted. It is a part of the story, a wonderful example of showing not telling.
Miriam doesn’t just cause chaos and get away with it, and this book fairly clearly exists to show us that Miriam is not invincible, even if she may sometimes seem it in earlier books. She’s a tough broad with a mental gift brutally acquired, and she’s trying to figure out how to function and do the right thing in this incredibly fucked up situation where she is battling unknown forces, particularly fate.
The plot forces Miriam to confront two bad specters from her past: an ex lover and her mother. I was fine with confronting the ex lover, and how it went down made sense. I was incredibly wary of her confrontations with her mother. Her mother was established as a fundamentalist abusive ball of shit in the previous books, and I was deeply concerned that Wendig was going to try to either make it seem like it was all in Miriam’s head or offer redemption for her. And the plot does sometimes dance on the edge of doing one or the other of these. But the way Miriam reacts to her mother in their confrontations help keep it grounded and realistic that not all mothers are great people. In one confrontation she tells her mother,
Don’t act surprised that I have this cyanide cocktail in my heart. Like they say on that old dumb-ass drug commercial: I learned it by watching you. (loc 1824)
On the other hand, an awful lot of the plot revolves around Miriam saving her mother from her untimely death at the hands of a kidnapper. I just have a hard time believing, especially given the vitriol Miriam has felt for her mother this entire time, that she would actually care that much if her mother dies. I get it that Miriam might very much not want the kidnapper to get away with it, because she hates him and he’s fucking with her, but I don’t think Miriam would actually get misty-eyed at the thought of her mother’s untimely demise. It felt forced instead of being Miriam. That said, the plot does manage to stick to its guns enough that Miriam comes out of the situation still seeming like her cyanide-filled self, so I can’t fault it too much for veering that close to the edge.
I would be amiss not to mention the fact that his book establishes the fact that Miriam is bisexual. Of course, she refuses to use the term herself, and I’m fairly certain no one actually ever calls her bi. Normally a bi character refusing to call herself bi would drive me batty, but Miriam refusing labels fits 100% into her character. She doesn’t see the need to label who she fucks and other characters’ attempts to figure her out are met with disgust on her part but that’s how she feels about everything about herself. Yes, I wish more functional non-cyanide cocktail hearted characters were bi, but I also am pretty darn happy that a character I enjoy so much is bi. Plus, scenes of Miriam banging a woman were an unexpected utter delight.
The plot does a great job of being both a single book conflict and something that ultimately propels the overarching plot forward, which is exactly what one hopes for from a series book.
The writing style maintains its gritty sharpness that the series has enjoyed from the beginning. Both the narration and the conversations are a pleasure to read. Passages like those listed below are peppered throughout the book, accosting the reader with the knowledge that we are in Miriam’s world now.
Meetings are like black holes: they eat up the hours, they suck in the light, they gorge on his productivity. (loc 92)
I’m a certified bad-ass indestructible bitch. The sun tries to burn me, I’ll kick him in his fiery balls. I don’t need no stinking suntan lotion. (loc 2787)
Overall, this book brings most things readers have come to expect from a Miriam Black book. A gritty female main character with hard-hitting prose and a plot with a touch of the fantastic and grotesque. Some fans might be a bit disappointed by the direction Miriam’s relationship with her mother goes, but all readers will be pumped by the ending and eagerly anticipating the next entry. Recommended that fans of the first two books pick this one asap.
4 out of 5 stars