Category Archives: book reviews

Book Review: The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

The Scent of RainThe Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to say I enjoyed this book, but that’s not quite the right word. I read a fair amount of dystopian fiction and this novel, about a real-life dystopia, ranks with the most horrifying.

I appreciated the author’s research and the documentation she provided about the FLDS community in Colorado City. I did not know much about the FLDS until reading this book, and I think the author does a service by dramatizing and spreading awareness of the abuses that happen there. She is careful to distance this cult from mainstream Mormonism, who ended polygamy in 1890.

The author is especially strong when she writes about the paradoxes inherent in her subject: the women wearing modern athletic shoes under their prairie dresses; the happy face painted on a truck touting how happy the dour townspeople are; the beauty and timelessness of the mountains and cliffs surrounding squalor and venality; the affectionate little dog murdered by her blundering, clueless oaf of an owner. That these paradoxes are accepted as normal by the young people makes sense, because they are young and it is all they have ever known. But the adults in this tale remained mysterious to me. The author dropped some tantalizing hints of their earlier lives, dashed hopes, and buried dreams, but I wished for more.

The novel works on its own terms, as a thriller, although the pacing is a little off. I also thought that the author was trying to do too much in one relatively short novel. This story really needs to be about Rose Madsen. Rose stands also for the murdered Bonnie Buttars, for her disabled sister Daisy, and for all the girls and women who suffer oppression under this cruel system. Her escape gives them hope. Whereas Adan, Brooke, and Trak have their own stories–interesting, but separate. In this book everybody gets their happy ending, which warmed my heart but also seemed a little forced. It could have worked better as two separate books. The Adan/Brooke/Trak subplot could stand alone as its own novel about immigration and deportation, for example.

Or, in a more ambitious and longer project, this novel could explore what it means to be an immigrant and the true meaning of community. This material is rich and multifaceted and the story is not over. Rose and Adan escaped, but others remain.

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Book Review: Rebirth by Aaron Hodges

Rebirth (Praegressus Project #1)Rebirth by Aaron Hodges

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rebirth is an ambitious and exciting beginning to the Praegressus Project series. This series, by New Zealand author Aaron Hodges, is in the same vein as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, and other dystopian near-future fiction that puts teams of young adults through a series of brutal tests, the purpose and origins of which only become clearer to the protagonist and the reader as the story unfolds.  Continue reading Book Review: Rebirth by Aaron Hodges

Book Review: Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American RightStrangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to give the author credit for being one of the first avowed US liberals to delve deeply into the sociology of the American right. She began research for this book at least 6 years ago, long before lefties getting to know righties had become the cottage industry it is today. I’m a little late to this party, and I’m already tired of it. Continue reading Book Review: Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Near-future SF Author Spotlight: Aaron Hodges

Last year I decided I needed to read more indie science fiction and ecofiction. I didn’t want to write in isolation, and in keeping with my desire to focus on the writing journey as much as the finished product, I wanted to be part of a larger conversation. I added Book Reviews to my blog and hoped to publish a review a week. Well, that’s not happening, but I have been able to get out 1-2 per month. And along the way I have met some very interesting authors and read stories that I never would have encountered by sticking only to what gets traditionally published. Indie fiction is not usually as polished, or as formulaic, as what hits the mainstream press. It takes more risks, and fails more often. It is a wild ride that brings you right up against the uncomfortable and inconvenient truths of the writers’ condition. But that rawness–that raw courage–is a big part of why I still read and write books at all in this age of increasingly sophisticated electronic media.

Author Aaron Hodges
Author Aaron Hodges

One of these authors is Aaron Hodges, a kiwi writer of dystopian science fiction and fantasy. He hails from New Zealand, but his Praegressus Project series takes place in the mountains of central California, not too far from where I live now in Silicon Valley. It is set in the year 2052, after the fall of the USA and subsequent rise of the totalitarian Western Allied States.

I have been intrigued by stories of the USA de-uniting for years, with that interest accelerating and getting more personal after our 2016 elections and the social, political, and class divisions they laid bare. The novel American War by Omar El Akkad, about a second American Civil War, was published earlier this year to broad acclaim (read my review here). I talked with Aaron Hodges via email about his world-building, the de-United States, and his vision for the Praegressus Project series.

KLA: You are from New Zealand. What made you interested in setting your book in a future North America with a defunct United States?

AH: This was actually more of a pragmatic choice than anything. The majority of my readers are from the States, so I decided that would be the best place to set the story. Unfortunately, I have only ever visited the west coast, so I decided to base the majority of the story around that region. Which meant the west coast obviously had to end up being the victors in the civil war!

KLA: I have also been working on a novel that is set in the former USA, which has federalized into different regions. I live here, so I have been inspired by things I’ve read around the Presidential elections. Red state/blue state maps are very popular, for example. What made you divide the USA into the regions you chose?

AH: There was definitely a bit of red/blue state stuff going on! It’s never explicitly stated, but something in 2020 led to California ceding from the union – after which Washington, Oregon and a few other states out west promptly followed. However, as that sort of split was more historical than anything by the time the series begins. I wanted to highlight another division that takes place all over the world even today – the divide between rural and urban populations. I wanted to show a world where the population- and wealth- drain from the countryside into cities had reached a breaking point, and explore the sort of characters that come out of that.

KLA: How is climate change working in your future world? As the century progresses I would have expected Sacramento to get warmer and drier, not colder as depicted in your first chapters. What weather patterns could account for this?

AH: It’s actually a common misconception that climate change means warming all year round. While internationally temperatures may be increasing, on a local scale the effects are far less predictable. Climate patterns such as El Niño and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) have a much greater impact on local climate than climate change, and exactly how climate change affects these patterns is very much a black box (i.e. we have no idea how it will end up impacting them!)

Sorry that got a little technical😆! Climate was a big part of my science degree back in the day. Basically, the effects of climate change depend on location, and can have seemingly opposite results. For instance, California is likely to see an increase in droughts AND heavy rainfall events such as tropical cyclones over the next century. Likewise, summers may get hotter, but inversely winters may also get colder. Then you throw in something like a La Niña year, which means less rain and colder temperatures and…things get complicated😆!

KLA: I have degrees in biological science, and often I think the biology in science fiction is pretty unbelievable. But I thought your explanations of how the Chead are formed were quite good and plausible. Even though they are speculative, they make sense and didn’t throw me out of the story. Did your background in biology inspire this part of the plot? How does it inform your writing generally?

AH: Haha–well it’s good to hear my memory from genetics hasn’t completely failed me yet! I actually first started thinking about this project during my Genetics 202 class, when we were discussing homeotic genes and how a virus could be used for genetic modification. I found it all fascinating, and thought it would be interesting to write a scifi novel with genetically modified humans that were still grounded in some science.

For the rest of my work, such as my fantasy series, my studies in geography and environmental science were more important for the world building. Having a bit of knowledge about how mountains/forests/oceans affect local climate was very useful in developing a new world that might almost work in reality!

The final book in the Praegressus Project series, Retribution, is scheduled to be published next week, and this post is part of a blog tour in celebration of the series’ completion. During the blog tour, the first three novels in the series – RebirthRenegades, and Retaliation -are free. There will also be a Goodreads giveaway for three paperback copies of Rebirth, ending December 25th. Look for my blog review of Rebirth in the coming days!–KLA

Book Review: Muir Woods or Bust, by Ian Woollen

Muir Woods Or BustMuir Woods Or Bust by Ian Woollen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Muir Woods or Bust is a gonzo-esque romp through the near future. More hopeful and humorous than its dystopian cousins, it is like an On the Road for gamers and Science Fiction nerds. I had a little trouble suspending disbelief in the road-trip plot, at first. Even in context it seemed like something out of an earlier time, as if two aging losers–one of them a widely recognizable former TV star–would really be able to get away with all this with zero negative consequences. Still, once it got going, the action and the colorful characters that they encountered kept me turning the (virtual eBook) pages. As the trip unfolded, I also stopped viewing Gil and Doyle as aging losers, which was, of course, the point.  Continue reading Book Review: Muir Woods or Bust, by Ian Woollen

Book Review, Catalyst Moon: Breach, by Lauren L Garcia

Catalyst Moon: Breach (Catalyst Moon Saga Book 2)Catalyst Moon: Breach by Lauren L. Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I reviewed Book 1 in this series, Catalyst Moon: Incursion, I wrote “I’m glad I read this book, and I do want to know what happens to the characters. But I wish I didn’t have to wait so long to find out.”

It turns out I didn’t have to wait very long at all. Book 2, Breach, is here, and it’s significantly better than Book 1. Continue reading Book Review, Catalyst Moon: Breach, by Lauren L Garcia

Not A Scientist

My blogging friend PJ Lazos at “Green Life, Blue Water” has a great blog about a great-sounding book, Not a Scientist by Dave Levitan. It is about how politicians misuse and abuse scientific facts. It also sets the story straight, giving you the real facts behind some recent political whoppers.

Unlike the politicians profiled, I am a scientist, and I don’t think I could have re-read all these examples again without the process driving me crazy. I’m glad Dave was able to hold his nose and compile them (and the debunking of the various political falsehoods) into one volume. PJ was also able to meet the author in person at a recent book festival in Collingswood, NJ! As she writes in her blog, “knowledge is power. Read Not A Scientist and get on with your powerful self.”

Green Life Blue Water

Not A Scientist

Did you go to the March for Science on Earth Day? Did you feel the swell of pride for all the people who lent their support in favor of science? Do you worry about the current state of science in America, especially when politicians are holding the purse strings? Then Not A Scientist, How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science by Dave Levitan is your next read. Not a Scientist is loaded with examples of real life politicians ditching the facts, disputing the evidence, and generally disrupting the scientific status quo on topics of which they know little to nothing about.

Today, there is an ever-growing divide between science and politics. Maybe it’s because the problems are too big, the solutions too expensive, the public loathe to change. There’s little disagreement in the scientific community that humanity is on the brink of critical mass, a 6th…

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Review: Xenotech First Contact Day by Dave Schroeder

Xenotech First Contact Day: A Story of the Galactic Free Trade Association (Xenotech Support, #0)Xenotech First Contact Day: A Story of the Galactic Free Trade Association by Dave Schroeder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this short introduction to the Xenotech series. It was quick and fun and it made me laugh. These books would make a good read-aloud book for families because the humor works on both kid and kid-at-heart levels. I am curious how and whether the author will be able to sustain this pace and tone through an entire book series, but he seems to have enough depth of life experience to draw on to make it work. I’d also like to see him take a few more risks and let a darker, more serious side show in his work too (a la Douglas Adams). That would be hard to do in this short intro but would give more depth to longer works. A promising beginning to what looks like a fun series!

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Book Review: The Time Table by Caroline Mather

The Time TableThe Time Table by Caroline Mather

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this independently published book to review as a member of the Book Review Directory, where my blog is listed. The writing style is fluid and a little formal, which fits the setting, and the formatting is clean and error free. I read it in about an hour on a plane, and it made the flight time pass quickly.

The Time Table is about a billiard table, built from slate cut from a Standing Stone in the British Isles, which serves as a portal through which people can travel through time. The author spends just the right amount of time and effort on explaining how this works—that is, not much—and gets right to the stories, which are all set in attractive periods of English history, including the present day.

The book works well as a collection of loosely-related tales centered around the billiard table and the London house where it has been located since the early 1700s. Quite a few people end up going through the table—so many that one is a bit surprised that it’s still a secret in 2016.

Overall the pacing of the stories is pretty good, never draggy, but sometimes the kissing starts surprisingly quickly and without much warning. There is a lot of kissing, caressing, and stolen, smoldery looks, but nothing more. The sexism of past ages is invariably dealt with or mitigated by the love of good men, and the table itself is always a force for good, helping its hapless humans work through their modern and not-so-modern dissatisfactions. The author’s optimism about love, relationships, the power of conversation, and the possibility of living happily ever after, is refreshing.

I don’t usually read time travel romances, so others more familiar with the genre might be less forgiving of some of this book’s foibles than I, but I found it to be a delightful break from heavier reading fare, like a tasty chocolate bon bon.

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