THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls

And over here to your right, ladies and gentlement, we have the quintessential dysfunctional family, with the requisite alcoholic father who drinks up all the family money, and steals from his kids to buy more alcohol.  Seems like a common theme, doesn’t it.

This is a memoir,  sad, engaging, and full of questions like why?  why?  and WTF?   The two parents are basically hippie types, they live off the land, meaning they don’t pay their rent and are always moving, sometimes living in camping style out in the desert.  Mom has a teaching certificate which doesn’t do much good as she doesn’t like to work, preferring to stay home and paint.  Dad works sporadically, that is until he gets fired, usually for anger management issues.  Well, that and drunkeness.

The four children are left to raise themselves, and the book is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, but also spotlights that not everyone has the same amount of resilience in their bucket.

After living in horrifying poverty in Appalachia,  where the kids ate by foraging in trash cans and being fed by neighbors, the kids manage to escape, one by one, to go to college.  All of the kids became successful, while the parents never rose above their addiction and poverty, and never really wanted to.   One day in Manhattan, the author came across her parents rummaging in the trash on the street.  All efforts on the part of the kids to help them were in vain.   The parents wanted no help, and preferred their homeless lifestyle.  Eventually, they ended up as squatters in an abandoned building, where they found a community of other squatters, and lived there for years.  The youngest sister developed mental problems, and spent a year in a psychiatric institution after trying to stab her mother with a knife.  On her release, she disappeared into California.

It was a truly compelling story, one you couldn’t put down, something like watching a train wreck.   Loved the book.

The author was a  former gossip columnist for MSNBC.com .  This memoir was made into a movie, with a bunch of famous actors.  It is supposed to be released in August, this year.

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THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY by Peg Herring

Young secretary Tori Van Camp wakes one morning on a luxurious ocean liner where she is offered whatever a person might desire: food, clothes, recreation, and the companionship of congenial people. But Tori has no memory of booking a cruise. What she does have is a vivid recollection of being shot point blank in the chest.

I am rather taken by the idea of death being on a luxury cruise.  Just think, you can eat all you want and never gain weight.  New clothes for every meal and activity.  I could get used to that.   But drat, it is really just an interim place, to give the newly dead a chance to regain their equilibrium before moving on to whatever is next.  Gradually, the memories of the person’s life fade and become unimportant, allowing them the ability to boogie on down the road.

But Tori can’t let go of her old life and her memories, because she has no idea why someone would kill her.  She is determined to go back and find out.  It’s not against the rules, going back.  But you have to get permission.  And it is better if you go with an experienced traveler.  She is assigned a detective, a man who refuses to let go of his old life, and has returned many times to do some detective work for people who want answers to various questions concerning their lives.  Tori insists on going with him, and together they set off to find the reason she bit the Big One.

Not the most rigorous of mysteries, but lots of fun, because, really, how often do you come across a dead detective, hopping from person to person in order to get from place to place?  Kind of like Uber for the Formerly Alive.  One time, our detective, having run out of human taxis, had to take a cockroach.  Talk about cramped.

SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn

Sometimes I have to be in just the right place for  certain writers, and that is true for a Gillian Flynn novel, because they are dark, quirky, strange, with an unsettling undercurrent that makes you absolutely positive that something unpleasant is about to happen.

Sharp Objects is her first book, published in 2006.  It is a testament to my short attention span that after reading Gone Girl  although I acquired her other books, I never got around to reading them, other lovers having intervened.  Her debut effort earned her a couple of awards.

A young woman reporter in Chicago, the product of a hypochondriac mother, a strange and quiet step father, a dead sister, is sent back to her home town by her paper to report on the murders of two preteen girls.  She stays in her mother’s house, where she is in contact with her strange half sister, now thirteen, an odd mix of mean girl and sweet mama’s baby.

While nosing around, trying to find out more about the deaths of the two murdered girls, she stumbles on facts that lead back to her own childhood, and we readers discover that she has been in psychiatric care for cutting.  It is an obsession she still struggles with, but is holding her own.

It is a creepy read, and one you cannot put down.  I don’t want to tell you too much.  You’ll learn more than you really want to know when you read it.

 

BLACK TIDE by Peter Temple

This is the second in the Jack Irish  series, and is an excellent Australian conspiracy-theory thriller with well-written characters and a genuine sense of place. This is the second Peter Temple novel to star slightly shady lawyer Jack Irish.   The first in the series is Bad Debts, which I rattled on about here.  The book is slightly overstuffed with an A-plot involving a disappeared ne’er-do-well son, a B-plot involving Irish’s gangsterish racetrack buddies, a C-plot involving his longtime pub group picking a new team to follow after their old one moved and even a D-plot with Irish finding love again after his reporter girlfriend from the first book moves away (much like the football team).

OK, so I stole that precis from a review on Goodreads.  I have to admit to getting tired of coming up with my own plot descriptions.

Irish is a likable fellow, who decides to look for the disappeared son of an old friend of his deceased father.  The guy lent his feckless son $65,000.  ha.  Yeah, parents can be so clueless.  He needs the money or will lose his house.  Well, now the son has disappeared, without a trace as they say.  Irish wants to help the older man because he knew and was friends with his father.

OK, the usual.  Bodies.  Complications.  Slightly on the gravel edge of legal activities.  All the good stuff.  Great read.  Definitely one of my favorite authors.

THE BARRY ISLAND MURDERS by Andrew Peters

A cutesy cozy, small collection of murder mysteries,  using the vehicle of an old, irascible retired cop,   Chief Superintendent Williams (the semi-legendary “Williams Of The Yard”) who has sold the serialization rights to his memoirs, and is dictating them to a reporter from a leading national newspaper.

It is humorous, a little precious at times, but entertaining, and the mysteries are not bad at all.  I am not much of a fan of short stories, so although I enjoyed this book, I do prefer one longer novel-length story, so that colored my over-all appreciation.

But really, it is just the thing for when you want something light an non-taxing to the brain right before you fall asleep.

ANCILLARY MERCY by Ann Leckie

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:

(The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I)

Mercy of Kalr is a small warship.  Ironic name, isn’t it.  In this final volume of the Imperial Radch trilogy, Breq, the only remaining creature, human or ancillary, of the troop carrier Justice of Toran,  is now Fleet Captain in charge of keeping the peace and security on Athoek Station and it’s companion planet.  The station is quite the elaborate entity.  It’s not three rooms and a bath, it is a huge complex, with a garden area at the top, a waterfall, many other levels.  The area under the garden has become something of a slum, unrepaired, untended, medical and security do not go there.  It has hundreds of unofficial residents living there, with no services, no waste disposal, no electricity, no water.

Now a conflict is brewing between the Ychana residents of the Undergarden, and the station’s more privileged residents, led by the head priest.  The conflict is over how the now-damaged Undergarden will be repaired, and who will be allowed to live there once it is. Both the Ychana and the priesthood go on strike in protest, and Breq tries to convince the new head of security, Lusulun, that the less she threatens the Ychana protesters with violence, the less likely it is that mayhem will result.

One person, discovered in the Undergarden and taken prisoner by security, is someone Breq recognizes as not human at all: the ancillary of a ship hiding on the other side of Athoek system’s Ghost Gate, a ship that has not been seen for millennia. What is this ship’s purpose, and how can Breq get its ancillary to share information with her?

A new Presger translator, Zeiat, arrives to investigate what happened to her predecessor, Translator Dlique. Since Dlique was accidentally killed by station security, and the Presger are far more powerful than humans, this is a delicate situation which Breq tries to defuse partly by humoring Zeiat’s strange requests.

Oh, sigh……  I was going to give you more of the plot precis, but really, it is so involved and packed that I am losing my will to live just contemplating how to do this.  Let me just say this,  if this trilolgy intrigues you, read it, and start with Ancillary Justice, right on through Ancillary Sword, ending up with Ancillary Mercy.   You won’t be sorry.

As with any really good sci fi, it is more than just space warfare, and evil aliens.  It is about people, their everyday lives and thoughts, and their decisions, good and bad.  Yes, some of the characters are larger than life, some are smaller.  It’s all good.

What wonderful world building,  what great characters, what an atmosphere!

 

 

 

ANCILLARY SWORD by Ann Leckie

OH, my goodness, I love this trilogy, and one of the best things is that is was written by a woman!!!!!   Yea, us.  Ancillary Sword  is the second novel in Leckie’s “Imperial Radch” space opera trilogy, which began with Ancillary Justice, which I wrote about here.  

An ancillary is the term for a human who has been turned into an AI, usually unwillingly, with implants, and is used to supplement the work and activities of a ship’s AI.  It took me all three books in the series to have the aHA! moment concerning the titles.  The series features one ancillary from the troop transport ship Justice of Toren, Breq,  so the first book is not so much about justice, as it is about setting up the full storyline which is about Breq’s fight with the head of the Radch who has splintered off into different factions of herself (or possibly himself, we don’t know since the female pronouns are used exclusively throughout the series.)  There is some justice served, but it is not the main plot point.

This second book has Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch – or the part of her personality that opposes further militant expansion of the empire – adopts Breq into her house, appoints her Fleet Captain, puts her in command of the warship Mercy of Kalr, and charges her to protect the remote Athoek system. Breq’s crew includes her old comrade Seivarden and the young Lieutenant Tisarwat, who is revealed to be an ancillary copy of Anaander herself. After Breq recognizes Tisarwat as an ancillary of Anaander, she has her ancillary implants removed, allowing Tisarwat to develop an independent personality.

At Athoek Station, Breq seeks out Basnaaid, the sister of Awn, an officer Breq, as the ship Justice of Toren, once loved and, on Anaander’s orders, killed. She meets Dlique, translator for the alien Presger, who is killed in a scuffle with ancillaries of Sword of Atagaris – the other warship on station, commanded by Captain Hetnys, Breq’s nominal subordinate. To hopefully placate the powerful aliens, Breq and Hetnys enter formal mourning on the estate of Fosyf, a prominent tea planter who holds her workers, transportees from other Radch-conquered worlds, in conditions akin to serfdom.

After Breq survives an attempt on her life by Raughd, Fosyf’s abusive heir, she suspects that somebody abducts suspended transportees, possibly an ancient warship seeking to replenish its ancillary crew. Hetnys and her ship move against Breq, apparently serving the other half of Anaander Mianaai, but they are subdued after Breq holds Hetnys hostage.

Plot description stolen from Wiki.  So sue me.

I finally, after reading the third in the series, Ancillary Mercy,  realize …. (I’m a slow learner) that the series is named after classes of space ships in this fictional world.  Justices are huge carriers, Swords are warships,  and Mercys are small fighters.  And that each volume addresses the concept suggested by each class of ship.  This second volume is about fighting and potential warfare.

Just LOVE this series.  It is space opera.  Well, for me, not so much space opera but a story of loyalty, betrayal, and just trying to get by with a little help from our friends, all wrapped up in some of the absolutely coolest futuristic space ideas ever.  If hard science sci fi flips your tortillas, then this series is a must read.