Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
In the first book in a science fiction trilogy for teens, life on Earth changed over a decade ago. A red star, called Calamity, suddenly appeared, and some people developed extraordinary powers, and became the Epics. David, 18, has been studying the powers and habits of Epics for ten years, since the day Steelheart killed David’s father in a bank. Steelheart is the ruler of Newcago, formerly Chicago, which he has coated in steel. Tunnels and rooms of steel are now underground. People don’t mind living underground because Nightwielder, another Epic, has blotted out the sun over Newcago. David hopes to join the Reckoners, an underground group secretly plotting against the Epics. Are all Epics evil? David thinks so, but his father believed differently. A quick, fast-paced read that will leave the reader waiting for the next book in the series.
Command and Control by Eric Schlosser
On the night of September 18-19, 1980, Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska was very nervous. They were on a secure link with one of their Titan II missile silos near Damascus, Arkansas. It seems that a routine maintenance exercise had gone terribly wrong. A worker had dropped a wrench socket component down the 90 foot length of the silo and had punctured a hole in the missile, which was leaking highly inflammable fuel. At the rate of fuel loss an explosion could happen at any time, but with 100% certainty within the next 8-10 hours. Not only was the Titan II loaded with fuel, it also had a 10 Megaton warhead sitting on the top. This incident and the politics and war-gaming that lead up to it are the subject of a riveting new book called Command and Control.
There are three main topics interspersed throughout the book. The first is an “on the scene account” of the “Damascus missile” accident. The second is a thorough review of nuclear weapons development, starting with the Manhattan Project and running to the present day. The third is a history of the political developments that came to be known later as the “Cold War”.
The development of nuclear weapons would seem to be the height of human folly. Although the first Atomic Bombs were developed with great haste and secrecy, and were used sparingly and to great effect, scientists and politicians came gradually and grudgingly to grasp that the lethality of what they were working on was getting away from them. The world was introduced to new terms such as “Megadeath”, “Overkill”, and “Nuclear Winter”. At the height of the Cold War, during the “Cuban Missile crises”, the planet came as close as it ever has to Armageddon.
Whereas it has come perilously close a number of times, the world has never had a major nuclear weapons accident. The threat of nuclear war is still with us, but as the tensions of the Cold War abated there arose new tensions with a different kind of war, “The War on Terror”, starting with the “9/11” attacks.
An amazing and satisfying read.
Never Go Back by Lee Child
Never Go Back is good advice for Jack Reacher, though he’s unlikely to take it. This is the fourth book connected to the events in 61 Hours, a great place to start reading the Jack Reacher thrillers. There are now eighteen books in the series, plus a couple of short stories. Reacher has finally made it from South Dakota to the Washington, D. C. area to meet Susan Turner, the voice on the other end of the phone in the previous books. Major Turner has Reacher’s old job as commanding officer of the 110th Military Police unit. Oddly, but not coincidentally, Turner has been arrested just before he arrives, and Reacher is recalled to military service and threatened with a very old crime and a paternity suit. He’s innocent of one and curious about the other, although I kept thinking the paternity suit could have been settled quite easily. I also wondered about the irregular recall to the army. The army brass thinks he’ll run, but Reacher is more interested in proving Turner’s innocence and concerned about the incompetence of her temporary replacement. He and Turner head to Los Angeles for answers, with soldiers in hot pursuit. For most of the book, it reads more like a mystery than a thriller, with little violence until action kicks into high gear, with Susan Turner along for Reacher’s quest for answers and justice. Dick Hill is the excellent narrator for the Reacher audiobooks.
Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews
This is a fun, fast-paced cozy holiday mystery. Meg Langslow and her husband Michael are busy preparing for Christmas with their 4-year-old twin boys and extended family in their small college town. Michael and Meg’s brother Rob are new volunteer firefighters and start getting paged to calls at local churches. One church has skunks; another has a small fire, while a third building has been filled with ducks. Meg is given the job of re-scheduling the various choir practices, nativity plays, and church services while looking for the culprit. A temperamental choir director almost puts Meg out of commission with a dislocated shoulder, and Meg’s mother is going overboard with holiday decorations. Michael is preparing for a one-man Christmas Carol reading for charity, while the little boys provide comic relief. Their days are hectic and tiring, and they long for a traditional holiday dinner with just their boys.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
In wintry Three Pines, bookseller and retired psychologist Myrna is worried when her friend Constance doesn’t arrive for a Christmas visit. She reaches out to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec for help. Gamache and Inspector Isabelle Lacoste find that Constance Pineault, 79, has been killed at her home in Montréal. When Myrna reveals Constance’s true identity as the last of the Ouellet Quintuplets, the mystery is only beginning. At the Sûreté, things are not well. Most of Gamache’s homicide department has been reassigned, and he’s thinking of announcing his retirement. Jean Guy, his assistant, is desperately unhappy and is working for Gamache’s nemesis, Superintendent Francoeur, who may be involved in a dangerous conspiracy. As Gamache and Lacoste race to solve one mystery, other friends are looking for information on what Francoeur is plotting, and retreat to Three Pines for safety, possibly jeopardizing everyone in the small village. Gamache knows that the danger could come from young Agent Yvette Nichol, needed for her computer skills. Eccentric poet Ruth Zardo plays a larger role than usual, along with her pet duck, Rosa. The story of the quintuplets and their parents is fascinating, and a nice contrast to the tension of the unfolding conspiracy. I listened to the audiobook, recorded by Ralph Cosham, and both couldn’t wait to find out what happened and hoped the book would never end, and with it, another treasured visit to Three Pines. This may be the best book yet in the award-winning series that begins with Still Life.
Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman
In Anne Hillerman’s debut Leaphorn and Chee Novel; the story begins with a bang. An unidentified attacker shoots retired Navajo Nation police lieutenant, Joe Leaphorn, outside of his favorite café. Officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito comes to his aid and promises Leaphorn that she will bring the perpetrator to justice. This is a difficult thing to do, because police protocol requires that she be removed from the case as a means to protect her from any further mental and emotional trauma. Jim Chee, Leaphorn’s protégée and truly his next of kin, is assigned the case and together he and his determined wife Bernie (who is unstoppable) set to work. As the plot thickens, someone who had been trusted by Leaphorn, Bernie, and Chee disappears and then becomes suspect in the eyes of the department. Some other people, who had been long gone from Leaphorn’s life, resurface. These comings and goings leave readers wondering if ever the two paths shall meet and will that provide answers to whodunit-who shot Leaphorn! Additionally, new characters have been thrown into the mix that are either a digression, or a lead, in Bernie and Chee’s investigation, which they logically solve by the story’s end.
It is difficult to not compare Anne Hillerman’s work to that of her award winning father, Tony Hillerman. Her father wrote the first eighteen novels in this popular Leaphorn and Chee Novel series beginning in 1970 and ending in 2006. He passed away in 2008. Like Tony Hillerman’s stories, Anne Hillerman’s book is intriguing, character driven, has multiple plots, simple dialogue, and includes only mild violence. Anne Hillerman’s story also creates a strong sense of place (in this case, New Mexico and in particular, sacred places such as Chaco Canyon). Her first novel offers historical detail and several descriptions of indigenous beliefs, much as her father’s novels do—only here, readers may find it refreshing that the point of view is that of a woman and the focus is on the female traditions of her Nation.
For those of you who think about the author as you read, you may find yourself confused as to whether or not this is Anne Hillerman’s, or her father’s voice, because overall she seamlessly continues his tradition of great storytelling. At other times, you may feel certain that this is the storytelling voice of Anne Hillerman, whose main protagonist, Bernie, encapsulates what it is to be a strong woman who must balance her professional and personal life. Bernie is a descendant of weavers. She is the Spider Woman’s Daughter, a nickname her mother has proudly given her. Perhaps, Anne Hillerman is also the Spider Woman’s Daughter—someone who “helps with life’s unexpected complications, untangling messy situations.” For when fans of Tony Hillerman’s books worried if their favorite stories had ended, the talented writer Anne Hillerman came through and she delivered an enjoyable and satisfying continuation in this series!
Readers of this fictional series may also enjoy High Country by Nevada Barr (set in breathtaking Yosemite National Park this modern murder mystery transports readers to the American West)
Blackening Song by Aimee and David Thurlo (the first in a mystery series set in the Southwest that features Ella Clah, a Navajo FBI agent who struggles with traditional and modern Navajo pressures)
White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones (the first in the Nathan Active mystery series that features an Alaskan state trooper who was born Inupiat, but raised white. Nathan has returned to his birthplace on a work assignment and finds himself caught between two worlds)
Discover more on the author’s website.
This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
Ellie, 16 and living with her mother in Maine, gets an email from a stranger asking if she could walk Wilbur tonight. Concerned about Wilbur, she writes back to alert the sender to the mistake. The two start a funny exchange of emails (Wilbur turns out to be a pig), and Ellie and Graham, 17, become friends over several months. The teens don’t exchange names. Unknown to Ellie, Graham is a movie star. When the location for his next movie falls through, he suggests Ellie’s coastal Maine village, and the movie crew set up camp in Henley for several weeks in the summer. He doesn’t tell Ellie, and mistakenly thinks Ellie’s friend Quinn is his email pal when he meets her at the local ice cream shop. After the pair finally meet, and are definitely attracted to each other, they continue to exchange emails. Ellie is not very happy to have her friend turn out to be famous, and she knows that her mother will be upset by the media who follow Graham’s every move. Ellie and her mom have a family secret that they’re trying to keep, even from Ellie’s friend Quinn. The two teens are very likeable, and had normal, happy childhoods, unlike many of the teens in fiction today. Except for his fame and career, Graham is normal. He’s lonely and feels isolated since he left school and feels that Ellie is his only real friend. Ellie is trying to earn enough money to go to a poetry camp at Harvard, and hopes her absent dad can help out with tuition. Graham gets in trouble trying to keep photographers from hassling Ellie, and the two take a boat and head out of town to meet Ellie’s dad. Nothing goes as planned, but it makes for a good story. I enjoyed this sweet fantasy teen romance with a lot of humor.
Recommended for fans of Joan Bauer’s books.
Here, There, Elsewhere by William Least Heat-Moon
A fascinating collection of the author’s travel essays and articles, from 1983-2011. The author writes of the Great Plains, the Missouri River, Lake Superior, Japan, the south of England, New Zealand, the Yucatan, Lewis and Clark, Alaska, and more. The sheer variety of topics and settings in dazzling, but the articles are meant to be savored, read one of two at a time. Some of his travels are retracing trips taken as a child, when the lure of the highways was as strong for his parents as it clearly is for the author. The author also travels by boat, and history, geology, and food are common themes. Parts of this book reminded me of The Longest Road, by Philip Caputo. Here is a conversation between the two authors.
Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson
This is not the book fans would expect from award-winning science fiction writer Robinson. He is best known for his Mars trilogy, beginning with Red Mars, and for his Science in the Capital novels about global warming, beginning with Forty Signs of Rain. Other recent books include Antarctica and 2312. All of his books have been set in the future. Now he travels back tens of thousands of years, to the Ice Age. His main character is young Loon, an orphan and the reluctant apprentice to his clan’s shaman, Thorn. The book begins with Loon going on his wander, two weeks alone in late winter with no food, clothes, or supplies. He is supposed to rejoin his community at the next full moon, with stories to tell. He certainly has some memorable adventures, on his wander and over the whole span of this book. There are some similarities to Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children saga, and also to Jack London’s stories set in the Yukon Territory. Loon becomes a teenager, tries to memorize Thorn’s stories, travels to a clan gathering, falls in love, goes on a quest to the icy north, gets kidnapped, and learns to create cave paintings. The setting and culture are vividly described; I’d really enjoy a sequel or companion novel.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
North Korea is the setting for this frightmare of a book. North Korea is a Stalinist worker’s “paradise”. Everyone is a slave to the “Dear Leader”, “Kim Jung Il” at the time of the book’s writing. Slaves are forbidden to talk or communicate with anyone from the outside world. The citizens of North Korea could just as soon be living on the moon for all the interaction they have with the outside world. As far as they know, they are the premier country in the world. Their air, food, water, shelter, and life of the mind are far superior to the rest of the planet, and who is there to tell them otherwise? There is no otherwise. No one has ever defected from the DPRK. (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Why would anyone want to?
The Plot involves the life of Jun Do, a sort of everyman North Korean Citizen. Juan Do begins life as an Orphan in a state run orphanage. His father runs the orphanage but does not acknowledge his son. Life at the Orphanage is brutally hard even by North Korean standards. Jun becomes hardened by this life and even excels at it to become a “Soldier” or “Agent” trained to fight in the lightless clandestine tunnels that connect the north to the south. He is given pain training in order to survive brutal interrogations by the South Koreans, a nation of degenerates where hunger and famine reign. He becomes a radio man on board one of the DPRK smuggling ships. He learns through radio transmissions that the DPRK is a lie. This undergirds all of his subsequent activities, which includes sabotage at the highest levels of Government.
This book is very difficult to get through. The level of pain, and torture and extreme mental duress start to make the reader feel very depressed and hopeless. But, if you stick with this book the reward is infinitely worth the price.