IF YOU’RE NOT UNNERVED, YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION: NEW THRILLERS

If you’re in the mood for suspense, for being kept on the edge of your seat, for reading a book you can’t put down, that will keep you up late in the night because you just have to find out what’s going to happen next, then we have some new books for you at The Field Library!

lockdown

You may be familiar with Laurie King’s series of books featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Mary Russell, so you might be surprised to see her name on a contemporary thriller, but she has written other mysteries and thrillers set in the present, and she’s no slouch when it comes to ratcheting up suspense in the contemporary world. Her newest book, Lockdown, takes place in a middle school on career day, a career day nobody who attends will ever forget.  From the beginning of the book, when you see that the statement of the school superintendent is being given to the police, you know something terrible is going to happen at that school that day, but King keeps you on tenterhooks for most of the book, getting to know the characters and their secrets and problems, before she finally sets up the explosion that’s been hovering over the characters from the outset. Horrible lockdown situations in schools are becoming more and more frequent, unfortunately, but Laurie King puts you in the middle of one such confrontation and makes you fear for the people involved, and what more can you ask for from a thriller?

the switch

Joseph Finder, in his newest book, The Switch, sets up a situation worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Michael Tanner, an ordinary man, accidentally takes the wrong MacBook at airport security on his way home from a trip.  Curious, he opens it and discovers that this computer belongs to a U.S. Senator, AND that there are confidential files on that computer. When the Senator in question discovers that her computer is missing, she’s in a panic: taking those files was a violation of the law, and if this is discovered, her career is over. She sends her assistant to get the computer back from Tanner, and when gentle means don’t work, the assistant calls in a fixer whose methods are much less restrained.  The Senator’s not the only one out to get that computer; the agency from whom the files were stolen wants them back and has even darker methods of getting what it wants.  Tanner is on the run, a wanted man, with no idea of whom to trust, if anyone, his life in danger.

the ultimatum

If you don’t need your protagonist to be an innocent person, then Karen Robards’ new book, The Ultimatum, should be right up your alley. Bianca St. Ives, the protagonist of this book, is a thief, a grifter, a con artist, and very good at it. She is, at the beginning of the novel, running a multinational company with her father, swindling con men out of their ill-gotten gains, when things go wrong.  And by “wrong”, I mean she seems to have lost some critical government documents and two hundred million dollars.  Also her father got killed in connection with the job, so that’s definitely a bit of a problem.  Bianca’s father had been on the “Most Wanted” lists all over the world for years, and the U.S. Government doesn’t believe he’s dead even now,  and they’re out to get him, using Bianca as bait.  As all hell breaks loose, Bianca only has a fellow criminal to back her up, and it’s going to take all her skills to keep herself alive.

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PUTTING THE FUN IN DYSFUNCTIONAL: THE PEOPLE WE HATE AT THE WEDDING

When you’re in the middle of the dynamics of a dysfunctional family, and you’re dealing with the overwrought drama of family members, you probably think there’s nothing entertaining about it at all. However, when none of those people is related to you and you’re not responsible for any of the fallout, and when the misbehavings of horrible people are told by an author with a sense of the ridiculous and an eye for the inherent humor of people’s bad behavior, dysfunctional families can be quite entertaining.  If you’re in the mood for some schadenfreude, try The People We Hate at the Wedding, by Grant Ginder.

the people we hate at the wedding

Actually, putting a dysfunctional family into the high stress environment of a fancy wedding is a brilliant idea.  Many people go a little nuts in the stages leading up to a wedding, especially if it’s a big or fancy one, and if you’re a little off to begin with, the extra stress will bring out all the flaws and bad behaviors you try to hide.

 

In this case, the family consists of a mother, Donna, her son and daughter, Paul and Alice, and their half sister, the perfect Eloise.  Neither Donna nor Paul nor Alice is anywhere near perfect.  Donna, the widowed mother of the clan, likes to drink, smoke the occasional joint, and watch trashy television with her best friend.  Alice, in her thirties and still single, is working in a dead end job and having an affair with her boss.  Her brother, Paul, is living with his professor boyfriend who’s talking down the whole concept of monogamy as a heterosexual institution while flirting with undergraduates.  

Eloise, their perfect half sister, has spent her life insulated by a cushy trust fund, going to expensive boarding schools, holidaying in Europe, and through it all has remained kind and decent (in spite of her upbringing).  Now she’s going to marry a rich Englishman, and the wedding will be in London, all high class and expensive, and her less than perfect family is invited.  They sort of have to attend, whether they want to or not, but this is a recipe for disaster, and the author gives us different viewpoints as the whole horror show unfolds.

 

After reading The People We Hate at the Wedding, your own family’s messes will seem so much more manageable.  

THE BESTSELLERS OF SUMMER: JUNE WITH WOODS, GRISHAM, PATTERSON AND STEEL

Maybe it’s because the days are getting longer and people are starting to go on vacation, take breaks from the usual routine of work and home, but, whatever the reason, a number of bestselling authors are releasing their latest books in June, so if you’re a fan, or you’re looking for a spectacular beach read, take a look at these new books coming to The Field Library this June.

indecent exposure

Stuart Woods brings back his favorite character, Stone Barrington, in his latest, Indecent Exposure (is it just me or does it seem as if Woods is deliberately trying to come up with risque titles for his books?  Fast and Loose, Sex, Lies and Serious Money,  and now this one?).  This time Barrington, a successful lawyer and former police officer, finds himself thrust into the limelight, mostly against his will.  There are all sorts of complications to being known and watched, both personal and professional, which Barrington has to figure out, but the biggest problem he faces is one particular woman who’s stalking him with a tenacity that’s starting to get frightening, and makes Barrington fear not just for his reputation and his nearly-nonexistent privacy, but for his very life.

camino island

Another heavy hitter, John Grisham, has a somewhat different kind of book in his Camino Island. Instead of writing about lawyers involved in various kinds of trouble, he turns his sights onto the world of books, of writing and selling, twisting together some pretty complicated threads, including a heist of some priceless books from a secret part of Princeton’s library (books which Princeton insured for twenty five million dollars), a bookseller who’s known publicly for his dealings in rare books, and known in more confidential circles for his ability to acquire stolen books and manuscripts for the black market, and a young, blocked writer who’s approached by a mysterious stranger to go undercover and find out more about that bookseller, worm her way into his life and learn his secrets.  Naturally, there’s more going on than the young author is aware of, and she soon finds herself in over her head, and that’s where the fun really begins.

murder games

Not to be left out, James Patterson enters the scene with a standalone book called Murder Games, in which an expert on criminal behavior discovers that his textbook on the subject was left at the scene of a grisly murder, along with a playing card that seems to be a clue pointing to the next victim.  The police detective in charge of the case persuades the expert to join her in the investigation as another victim is found with a playing card by the body.  It’s a serial killer and he or she seems to be playing a deadly game with the police and with the expert. Can a man who’s an academic expert in the criminal mind actually think enough like a criminal to catch a murderer?  Or will he discover his own criminal side in the process?

the duchess

Later in the month, Danielle Steel comes out with The Duchess, a historical novel set in 19th century England.  Angelique is lovingly brought up by her aristocratic father in the wonderful Belgrave Castle, learning how to take over the running of the estate someday.  When her father dies, however, her half brothers run her off the estate and practically deny her very existence.  Despite her desperate circumstances, Angelique is smart and beautiful, and she is determined to regain her rightful place in the world. In Paris, she founds and runs a very special house of pleasure, catering to the most aristocratic men and employing the most sophisticated and beautiful women.  Even though it seems the whole world is against her, Angelique is determined to survive, and even thrive.

IN OTHER LIVES: EVERY DAY

Here’s the premise: every morning you wake up in a different body. You have no way of knowing who this person is, or what their circumstances are, until you access the person’s memories. The only common factor is that the person is the same age you are. Your gender, race, economic status, language, could change from one day to the next. For one day, you live in this person’s body, experiencing all the person’s ups and downs. You have some agency, limited by your sense of fairness and responsibility to the person whose body you’re using. You can even give your involuntary host memories of what you did while in the host’s body.  What you can’t do is build a continuous life.

every day cover

A, the main character of Every Day by David Levithan, is sixteen years old and has been living this way as long as A can remember. Pronouns are difficult for A, who has no real gender but lives sometimes as a boy and sometimes as a girl, so for the remainder of the review I’ll use the third person plural to refer to A.

 

A has, as a result of their strange life, experienced all kinds of lives, with families and without, with loving and indifferent and hostile parents and siblings, with friends or without friends, with all kinds of handicaps and abilities. A has no idea why they are living this life, but, knowing no other, they accept it as the norm and are reasonably adjusted to it.

 

Until one week, when everything changes.

 

Two things happen, either of which alone could make A’s life, already complicated, much more difficult.

 

First, A meets Rhiannon.  A is in the body of her boyfriend, Justin, and A falls in love with her as Justin seems incapable of doing. A woos her in Justin’s body, not telling her that A isn’t really Justin (and how would she know anything different?), knowing that the next day A will be someone else and will never see Rhiannon again, if all goes as it usually goes. A doesn’t want it to go as it usually goes. A wants to see Rhiannon again.  A wants to build a relationship with Rhiannon, despite A’s daily change of body.

 

Second, A uses the body of one Nathan Daldry to go to a party where A, as Nathan, can see and talk to Rhiannon. A cuts it a little close and ends up abandoning Nathan’s body by the side of the road.  Nathan, found by the police, reports that he was possessed, and the story hits the local news and then gets wider and wider publicity.  Worse, A didn’t clear A’s cache in Nathan’s computer, so now Nathan can communicate with A, which he does, in increasingly angry and demanding.  Nathan finds himself a minister who uses Nathan’s story to talk about Satanic possession, and A starts hearing more and more about this minister.

 

As A tries to balance their desire to be with Rhiannon, and to deal with Rhiannon’s decidedly mixed emotions about A’s continued efforts to be part of her life, and their fear of what Nathan and his preacher might do to A’s life, things get incredibly complicated, and I am not going to give more details because part of the fun of this book is seeing who A is going to be, and how A is going to encounter Rhiannon (and other significant people) over the course of the book.

 

A is a fascinating character, and you as a reader find yourself wondering how you would cope with a life like that.  There is no explanation given for why A is in this situation, or how or whether it could be changed, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and run with the concept, you’ll be swept up.  For the last half of the book, I kept wondering how, or even whether, the author was going to be able to resolve the story (there are few things that drive me crazier than a book that works well until you get to the end and then the climax is a total letdown), and I have to say that while I didn’t expect the ending to this book to be the one Levithan chose, it was satisfying and brought the book to a conclusion that worked.

 

For anyone who’s doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, Every Day qualifies for the category “Read a YA or Middle Grade Novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.”  Not that you need that incentive to read this quirky but wonderful book, but it is always fun to read something great and get credit for it as well.

CYBORGS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN: ALL SYSTEMS RED

You probably think you’ve heard this one before: a cyborg is attached to a mission of explorers on a distant planet, and the cyborg has detached itself from the governor that’s supposed to make it an obedient servant of the corporation that’s supplied the expedition, and there’s something not quite right about the expedition and the planet.  Sounds like the plot of many science fiction movies and stories, right?

all systems red

That’s sort of the premise of Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, but I can assure you, you have NOT seen this story before, certainly not with these characters.

 

All Systems Red is narrated by the self-named Murderbot, the self-aware cyborg that was originally supposed to be a security bot with (as it notes) limited education and controls from the Central Hub that keep it behaving in appropriate ways.  Murderbot has, before the beginning of the novella, hacked into the controls and disabled its governor, unbeknownst to the people for whom it’s supposed to be working.  

 

However, Murderbot doesn’t particularly want to destroy the humans it’s working with. It mostly wants to do its job, or the least amount of its job it can possibly get away with (which means not reading all the introductory information sent to it explaining what this mission is all about), keeping away from awkward interactions with humans, and absorbing as much of the downloaded entertainment it can (it is very fond of a particular serial, which seems to have hundreds of episodes and is a sort of soap opera in space).  Is that too much to ask?

 

Well, apparently so, because it turns out that there’s danger afoot on the planet, and Murderbot has an obligation to keep its humans alive.  Not, it would assure the reader, because it cares about those humans, but because otherwise it would get into more trouble if it let them go and get killed.

 

This is a novella, not a full-scale novel, so (a) it’s a really quick read, and (b) there isn’t as much world-building and character development as you’d be able to get in a novel.  However, Murderbot is such a great narrator, funny in a dry way and sweetly awkward around humans (and the humans it’s with are, for the most part, lovable in their own ways as well), the book is a great read, and I was delighted to see that this is going to be the first in a series. I, for one, will look forward to spending more time with Murderbot and whatever other humans it finds itself with.

HONEY, I BROKE THE TIMELINE: ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS

This is the second in what may turn out to be a continuing series of review posts following up on preview posts, and just because the first one (and this one) have to do with time travel books, don’t worry, I won’t be limiting myself to time travel books in the future.

all our wrong todays

Back in February of this year, I wrote a preview of All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai (see WHICH 2016 DO YOU WANT: ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS ), a book in which our protagonist comes from one version of 2016 and ends up in another version, which turns out to be our 2016, which to him seems like a dystopia.  When I wrote the preview, I thought the premise was intriguing and different, but, as always, what the previews tell you about a book is not enough to give you a real feel for the book itself.

 

In this case, intriguing as the premise was, the book was much better.  The preview, and the jacket copy, fail to give you a sense of how rich and funny the book is, how enjoyable the voice of the main character is, and how the author manages to jump from humor to sorrow in a virtual blink of an eye, not to mention how the characters change but remain recognizable from one version of the future to the other.

 

What I really liked about the book was the narrator/protagonist, Tom Barren. In the reality in which he was born, he was the son of a genius scientist father and a miserable, self-sabotaging mother.  His father’s major project, to which he’d dedicated his whole life and all his brilliance, was time travel.  Considering that in this world there’s no energy shortage, no pollution, no imbalance of wealth, no war, where everybody more or less works in laboratories of one kind or another, what else is left to conquer but time itself?  Tom’s father may be incredibly brilliant, but he’s a complete jerk of a father, the sort who pays attention to no one but himself and his work, not even noticing all his wife does for him until she’s killed in a freak accident.  Possibly because of his odd family situation, Tom always feels out of place, a loser, a stranger to the wonders of his world, which colors the way he tells his story (with a wry sense of humor that led me to laugh out loud more than once, especially in the early stages of the book).  His mother’s death unmoors him totally, and his father, in an effort to get Tom out of his hair (more or less), gives him a job as an alternate chrononaut in the time travel project.  This brings Tom into contact with Penelope, the almost perfect young woman who would have been an astronaut except for a tragic flaw and who is now going to be the first time traveler in history.

 

Except that, thanks to Tom, that doesn’t happen, and he ends up going back in time himself, which is actually the cause of the splitting of the timelines.  I’m not going to describe how this happens (the twists and turns are part of the fun), but it feels perfectly reasonable when you’re reading it.

 

He wakes up in our 2016, where everything is different, not just the world itself (and it’s fun to see our world which we take for granted through Tom’s eyes), but Tom’s immediate world, his professor father and professor mother, and his sarcastic sister who didn’t even exist in his original reality.  It turns out that Penelope also exists in this reality, though she, too, is very different from the driven woman he knew in his 2016.  Here, he’s a famous, successful architect (building things that would have existed in his original reality), kind of a jerk with women, but otherwise doing well and well-adjusted to the reality he lives in.

 

For various reasons (and again, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your fun by explaining them, because they are not what you would expect in a time travel novel), Tom sets out to find the genius who set his world on its path, and who he stopped from doing the same in this world, and when he finds the man, that’s when the really fun paradoxes and mind twisters come in.

 

It’s entertaining, it’s mind-boggling in a good way, and the characters are terrific.  It’s a fast read (you have to keep reading to find out what’s going to happen next, because you can’t imagine where it’s going) and a wonderful one.  You don’t have to be a science fiction fan to enjoy this book: give it a try and see for yourself.