Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond

Blackquest 40Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description:

Her company’s top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds for the homeless. When she’s told all employees must drop everything for some busywork exercise called Blackquest 40, it’s an easy no.

Trouble is, her bosses aren’t really asking.

Blackquest 40 is the mother of all corporate trainings. A near-impossible project to be completed in forty straight hours. No phones. No internet. Sleeping on cots. Nobody in, nobody out. Deb finds the whole setup creepy and authoritarian. When a Carebnb issue necessitates her leaving the office, she heads for the door. What’s the worst that could happen?

Armed commandos, HVAC-duct chases, a catastrophic master plan that gets darker by the hour Blackquest 40 is a fresh take on the Die Hard formula, layering smart-drones and a modern heroine onto the classic action tale.

Stand down, Bruce. Deb’s got this.

I enjoyed this fast-paced thriller.

I took a little while to get into this one and had a hard time suspending my disbelief about many things, but once I let go, I found myself engrossed in the nightmarish scene Deb has found herself.

I thought the pacing was excellent, the tech talk unpretentious and interesting, and the story, while a bit far-fetched at time, engrossing.

Throughout this novel, there were many twists and turns and Bond managed to keep the turns tight. I never felt bogged down in details or the slow middle that can often happen in thrillers. Each chapter offered a new danger.

There was a bit of tech talk. I am not a tech-y person in general, but I found the jargon interesting. And, of course, I liked Deb’s side projects and found the things she could make fascinating.

The storyline felt fresh. Sure there may be a little 80s Cold War vibe happening, but for the most part, I didn’t feel like I had read this story before.

It appears this is Mr. Bond’s second novel; I will be seeking out his earlier work, as well as watching for new titles.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my free ebook ARC.

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The Controller by Matt Brolly

The Controller (Lynch and Rose #1)The Controller by Matt Brolly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This, unfortunately, was one of my less favorite books of late. While it did have some bright spots, overall, it was a miss for me.

I liked the overall premise of a secret organization disappearing people around train tracks. I found it plausible and scary and original. I enjoyed the character Samuel Lynch. I wanted him to win. His motivations and actions were realistic and he became a full-fledged person for me.

I did not like the torture scenes, the Rose character, the British slang coming out of Texans mouths, the lack of characterization outside of Lynch, and the innumerable “you don’t want to know” comments that veiled the true motivations and perclivities of the Railroad. The torture scenes may have been benign by some standards, but they came early and were brutal enough. I never connected with Rose, even with her sub-plot, I just felt like she was a flat character. I am pretty sure there are no native Texans who use the word “whilst”, ever. All of the FBI characters ran together in my head and there was never any reason to truly know which one was which. Thank goodness, because I couldn’t. Finally, while trying to find the truth, the answer Lynch got most often was, “it’s too terrible to name, so I am going to let you just wonder”. This reader was frustrated by that response. Not that I want to know about the terrible things people can and will do to one another, but once in a while, it would have been nice to have a horrible act to attach to the character I am supposed to hate.

While I am not likely to recommend this one, I am intersted in reading other books by this author.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my free copy in exchange for an honest review. Sorry this one was not quite up my alley.

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Where the Dead Sit TalkingWhere the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where the Dead Sit Talking is a moving fictional account of a young Native American foster child. Sequoyah is a 15-year old boy moving into yet another new foster home when we first meet him. As we move through his experiences in and around his new home, Sequoyah shares his difficult early years and a definite hope for his present and future.

I thouroughly enjoyed this novel. I found the prose accessible, but emotionally charged. Even as I discounted this novel for having a protagonist too young for me to share common ground, I enjoyed the characters and the plot. And as with most of my favorite novels there was a glimmer (and sometimes more than that) of hope and humanity in this world.

“People live and die. People kill themselves or they get killed. The rest of us live on, burdened by what is inescapbable.” (p. 1) From the start of the novel, we know we are going to be confronted with death. Not only the death of a major character, but other deaths with varying degrees of impact. The novel is littered with notes about when, where, and how various characters die after their interactions with our protagonist.

I tend toward adult novels. I like adult lives and protagonists. I am not a person who hated high school, but I also am not someone who needs to relive them either. I chose to read this because it was on the Tournament of Books longlist and it was a National Book Award longlist title. So, when the narrator turned out to be a teenager, I figured it would be a quick read and I would be able to mark another one off the list. But, no, this book was not a quick, young adult novel. The narrator has a mesmerizing voice and a credible level of maturity given his background. He does has some naivete about him, but for the most part, it was comfortable passing some time with Sequoyah.

The other characters in this novel were given enough quirk and depth that I felt they were real people. A good example is Mr. Gillis. He is a teacher at Sequoyah’s school. Sequoyah runs into Mr. Gillis several times in the boys’ room. A somewhat sad and lonely individual, but a true human nonetheless.

The plotting on this novel was almost perfect. There may have been a moment or two too slow, but the point of the novel required a somewhat slow burn. The weaving of Sequoyah’s back story, Rosemary’s back story and the current events felt balanced.

I can highly recommend this book to others. I will be looking forward to visiting other titles by this author.

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Abduction by Robin Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an amusing look at one person’s imagined Utopia. After a group of deep sea divers get sucked into an unknown world deep underwater, we are introduced to a perfect society.

I did not particularly care for any of the characters in this book, which may have made it easier to suspend my disbelief and just go with the flow. The writing was highly accessible and the descriptions of the undersea world were solid.

I picked this up because I am familiar with the author, but did not recognize this as a title I had previously read. I still prefer his medical thrillers to this book, but it was an entertaining afternoon read.

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American Judas by Mickey Dubrow

From the publisher:

“Seth and Maggie Ginsberg do their best to navigate an oppressive theocracy where fundamental Christianity is the only legal religion, and abortion, homosexuality, and adultery are outlawed. When a co-worker outs Seth as a Jew, Seth escapes to Mexico, while Maggie is sent to a Savior Camp. American Judas is a dystopian tale about a young couple’s life after opportunistic U.S. politicians abolish the wall of separation between Church and State.”

My Review:

A terrifying look at what an American theocracy could be.

This novel was heavily plot-driven, with a lot of message to its readers. The story started out innocuous enough, with just an undercurrent of dread. But it quickly escalated to worst-case scenario and became very grim. As is frequently needed in end-of-world novels, there was certainly some violence, but I would not call it gratuitous. Be forewarned there is some violence.

The author did a good job with interjecting some humor into his story. A few of my personal favorites:

“The Savior camps are not just for lapsed Christians and those afflicted with the disease of homosexuality. They also cure drug addictions, adulterers, Satan worshipers and Liberals.”

“What’s the point of being the damn American Judas if you don’t make it so that a man can drink his beer in peace.”

Tearing down the wall between church and state did not go so well in this world and provided a good reminder in these turbulent times. A state run church is not a new idea in this world, but radically changing the priorities and ideals of a freedom loving country is bound to create some backlash.

At one point, our protagonist Maggie asks Tiffany (an adolescent viewed as an example for all others) “Are you so perfect that you get to decide for other people?” And Tiffany’s answer sums up for me how people can fall into this vicious scenario: “I’m not perfect. Just forgiven.” My belief allows me to make mistakes and make decisions for others I believe are right. Scary stuff.

Overall, I found the pacing of this novel to be engrossing. I turned every page needing to know what happened next. Some aspects of the story were tied up with nice little bows, some aspects were left undone, and some aspects were sped to a hasty conclusion. I was left with a feeling of hope, which I find very important when reading any apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction.

I see this is a debut novel from Mickey Dubrow and I thought it was well-done and timely. I will watch for future titles by this author.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my advanced copy of this book.

A Dry White Season by Andre Brink

Set in pre-Mandela South Africa during a brutal white minority rule, A Dry White Season is the story of a peace-loving white teacher, Ben, as he confronts the terror playing out around him.  Andre Brink exposes the racism of South Africa through Ben’s investigation into the murder and presumed suicide of a son and father peripheral to his life.

The cruelty of the government is played out as Ben digs deeper into the deaths of his two acquaintances.  Part of the brilliance of this novel is a hero who is an everyman.  Ben has not been involved in the political scene played out in South Africa.  He was an average person who lived outside of the terror, and therefore was able to wear blinders.  Once confronted with unexplained deaths, he gave up his personal safety, and jumped into the fray.  And ended up not being the only one who paid for his search for the truth.

This book is another reminder to me to be grateful everyday I was born where I was and who I am. As I reflect on this book, a few quotes remind me that the world is bigger than I am, and being grateful may not be enough:

“As if for the first time, I made the discover that other lives existed.”

“There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against…One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief that we can do nothing.”

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

This is a very early example of the courtroom drama.  Since the original publication of this book in 1958, the genre has blossomed.  Reading this book was a lot like watching the old Perry Mason re-runs.  It was not an easy read, nor was it a quick one, but it was rewarding to read through to the last page.

Travers takes on a case in which the accused murdered a barkeep in front of witnesses and immediately confessed to a deputy.  Paul Biegler, one of two defense lawyers in small town Michigan accepts the case.  The story then unfolds in two parts: the investigation and the trial.

The investigation helped establish our characters as real people.  The trial helped to show the inner workings of the American judicial system of the time.  As Paul and his partner talked to people involved in the case, the reader was able to decide who was liked and who was in the wrong.  During the trial, the procedure was front and center.  It may have been a little drudgery, but for the most part, it was intricately detailed and informative for those who have never (and likely never will) encounter this process.

One of  the key parts of this case is a brutal rape.  The 1950s handling of this situation was tame to a current day reader.  Rape is never palatable, but the straightforward handling of the details was almost refreshing for it’s lack of shock factor.

This book was  made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart.  I have never seen it, but may look into getting my eyes on it.

Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

I enjoy language.  I enjoy reading books which play with language in unique ways.  I also find myself wishing I had access to more languages (think how many more books I could read then!)  I saw this book while browsing the shelves at my library and thought it sounded interesting.  I was right, it was an interesting read.

I appreciated the ideas and suggestions presented.  Some of it is obvious, but had not occurred to me.  Other things were brand new.

I love the fact the author reminds us about pronunciation and how important it is to know which sounds are in your target language before speaking it.  I played with a few language apps last year, but quickly realized I couldn’t make the right sounds.  I did not know how to correct that.  Now I understand much clearer why I was struggling and I have a few resources to access for improvement.

The concept of learning a language without translating is somewhat obvious, but not the way I previously thought.  to me pictures and correlations as opposed to English words most certainly will make the new words stick better.

The availability of technological aids addressed in this book was astounding.  I am looking forward to spending some time creating my own flash cards and working towards acquiring my next language.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Published in the 1980s, set in the 1970s about a murder that took place in the 1930s.  Translated by Ross and Shika MacKenzie in the 2000s.  This book covered quite  a bit of time.

I saw this at the library and was intrigued by the concept of a Japanese mystery.  I am a sucker for translated works and I do love a good mystery.  I am frequently curious about what books, music, and movies are popular in other countries.  I forget how American-centric I am.  Finding gems like this one, helps remind me of the global scene.

The mystery in this book was well done.  I enjoyed playing along with the sleuths as they examined a 40 year old mystery.  I learned a new word reading the note from the publisher: “honkaku”.  This is a Japanese term for an orthodox mystery.  It tells a straightforward mystery without the psychological components.  There is no attempt to trick the reader.  Quite the opposite, the reader is encouraged and challenged to figure out the solution before it is given to them.

This new edition included a fair amount of information about the book.  This author was referred to as the Arthur Conan Doyle of Japan.  I can understand the comparison.  Throughout the book there were references to Sherlock Holmes the character.  There were also several similarities between the characters in this book and the great Holmes and Watson (but none of the cocaine.)

A note from the publisher at the end of the book, suggested they would be releasing future translations of crime fiction from France, Sweden, and Taiwan.  Yes, please.

I will be watching for further titles by both this publisher (Pushkin Vertigo) and this author.  As well as keeping my eyes peeled for other honkaku books from Japan.

The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce

Another haunting read.  This one with an actual ghost.  The Afterlives is a subtle blend of technological fiction and an investigation into life after death.  When Jim Byrd dies (for several minutes), he sees “nothing, no lights, no tunnel, no angels.” This sends him on a quest to investigate the afterlife.

This story takes place in the near future and deals with some technological fiction including a phone app that monitors Jim’s heart and guest lectures from holograms.  These technological innovations play only a supporting role in the book, but they are there and for me, make “the machine” more plausible.

While Jim and his wife, Annie, are exploring possible answers to their big philosophical questions, they track down and find a woman who claims to have invented a machine that allows people to communicate with dead loved ones.  Her explanation is that people are only ever 93% in this world anyhow.  A stretch, but interesting nonetheless.

Between Jim’s existential wanderings, there is an older story of the ghost before she was a ghost.  I found myself looking forward to these interludes.  The dead woman’s story is told through multiple perspectives, truly giving the reader a sense of her time and place in history.  The tying together of past and future was handled masterfully.

While the characters were delightfully flawed, I found them to be believable and their quest an entertaining one.  As a person who has experienced loss, I find talk of the next life or what happens after our bodies are no longer viable, fascinating.  The concept that we are only ever 93% in this world was difficult for me to grasp.  But I do find it sticks with me as I spend more time mulling it over.

This was Pierce’s debut novel, and I will keep him on my radar for future adventures.