KICK by John L. Monk

They say suicides are damned for eternity. But if coming back to life in the bodies of violent criminals is Hell, then Dan Jenkins will take it. And he does, every time a portal arrives to whisk him from his ghostly exile in limbo.

Dan rides the living like a supernatural jockey, pushing out their consciousness and taking over. They’re bad guys, right? Killers and brutes of every sort, which makes it okay. He doesn’t know where their minds go while he’s in charge, and for the most part doesn’t care. For three weeks at a time, it’s a chance to relax and watch movies, read fantasy novels, and have random conversations with perfect strangers.

Normally, before the villain returns to kick him out, Dan dishes out a final serving of justice and leaves the world a safer place. It’s one of the rules if he wants more rides, and he’s happy to oblige. For a part-time dead guy, it’s a pretty good gig … until someone changes the rules.

“Kick” is the first book in a series of dark fantasy paranormal thrillers. If you like “Quantum Leap” and “Every Day,” you’ll love this gritty, hilarious, and original take on the body hijacking hero story. Vividly written, “Kick” is a wild ride with a sharp sarcastic wit and a flawed yet likable main character.

When Dan was a confused college kid having issues with his girlfriend, he committed suicide. Since then he’s been in – what he calls – “the Great Wherever” but regularly gets sent by “the Great Whomever” into the bodies of living humans – usually violent criminals – to dispense justice. Typically, he has about 3 weeks to figure out what the person, or his “ride” as Dan calls it, has done and what vigilante action is required. Then he is kicked out of the body again by the original owner’s consciousness.  It is funny in places, in spite of the dark basis for the storyline.  It is compelling… I couldn’t stop reading it.  What a clever take on the vigilante hero takes over someone else’s body.  Loved this book.

THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware

Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Don’t people know that the phrase “…. has gone terribly, or horribly, or awfully, wrong”  has been used so often that it grates on the ear, not to say irritates the mind?

Anyway, annoying protagonist, and not the kind you dislike because you are supposed to, but because she is the kind of person you really wouldn’t have much to do with in RL, being almost an alcoholic, a paranoid skittish person, and one who basically is just pinballing through life, bumper to bumper.

Not much of a thriller plot, with a really improbable ending.

Don’t think I will search out any more of Ware’s thrillers.

BLEEDING HEART SQUARE by Andrew Taylor

‘Don’t go of a night into Bleeding Heart Square, It’s a dark, little, dirty, black, ill-looking yard, with queer people about.’ – From “The Housewarming!!: A Legend of Bleeding-Heart Yard”,  The Rev’d Richard Harris Barham: The Ingoldsby Legends, or, Mirth and Marvels, Third Series, 1847.

Legend states the Devil once danced in Bleeding Heart Square and left a murdered woman behind him. Formerly the site of a medieval palace, it is now, in 1934, a decaying north London cul-de-sac. In a lodging house resides a collection of tenants with equally colorful histories, including the sinister Samuel Serridge.

As the story opens,  we find the protagonist, Lydia Langstone, walking out on her abusive husband and moving in with her estranged father in his apartment in Bleeding Heart Square. In doing so, she unknowingly stumbles onto and into dark secrets, both old and current.

Rory is in a relationship with Fenella and he eventually comes to live in Bleeding Heart Square and strikes up a relationship with Lydia in their quest to find out what had happened to the previous owner, Miss Philippa May Penhow, who had disappeared very suddenly four years previously, with Serridge being the prime suspect in her disappearance. Herbert Narton, a police officer, has been on his case for the last four years trying to gather evidence to prove Serridge has murdered her, but he also has some skeletons in the cupboard and his own agenda for trying to implicate Serridge.

Not long after her disappearance, the local vicar (a very odd man too) had received a letter purportedly from Miss Penhow which was sent from New York, saying she was now living there. Narton challenges that the letter was from her and gets Rory involved with his suspicions.

A little slow, but still great fun, nice mystery, and I as usual had no clue as to what actually happened.  Must see what else he has written.

 

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Stolen from a reviewer named Rick Riordan:  This is the story of two young men, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana growing up in El Paso, Texas during the 1980s. We follow their lives from age fifteen to seventeen, watching their relationship slowly grow, change and strengthen. Told from Ari’s point of view, the novel is crafted in short, lyrical chapters. The prose sings. The dialogue is pitch-perfect. The story is quiet and gentle, but it pulls the reader through the narrative beautifully.

Ari has loving parents, though his father silently bears the traumas of the Vietnam War, keeping him distant from his son. Ari’s sisters are a generation older, making him feel like the family mascot rather than an equal sibling. Most troubling of all, the family has erased all traces of Ari’s older brother, whom he barely remembers, who went to prison for a violent crime. Ari longs to know more and feels betrayed by his parents’ silence. Overall, Ari feels like his life “is a story written by someone else,” a sentiment I suspect many teens can relate to.

Ari has no real friends, nor does he want any, but in the summer of his fifteen year he meets Dante at the swimming pool, and Dante offers to teach him how to swim. They bond initially over their unusual names, but soon they are spending the bulk of their time together. We follow them through funny episodes, horrific accidents and tragic losses, watching their awkward and tentative friendship turn into the sort of bond that will challenge what Ari believes about himself and his capacity for love.

A teen coming of age book, but definitely readable by adults.  I read it. I liked it.  I’m an adult.

Lovely writing, not a bad plot for a plotless sort of book.  It won tons of awards.  I can see why.

A PALE VIEW OF HILLS by Kazuo Ishiguro

Yeah,The Remains of the Day guy.  This is his first novel, which  introduces us to a Japanese woman living in England, who has lost her older daughter to suicide and is being visited by her younger, very independent daughter. She lives in a bucolic setting in England but flashes back throughout the novel to her life in post-war and post-bomb Nagasaki and the various people in her life there.  Retreating into the past, she finds herself reliving one particular hot summer in Nagasaki, when she and her friends struggled to rebuild their lives after the war. But then as she recalls her strange friendship with Sachiko – a wealthy woman reduced to vagrancy – the memories take on a disturbing cast.

In this novel, which is essentially about displacement, we are in  post war Nagasaki, where there is much talk of the disruption, or destruction, of the old ways, the old Japanese traditions of country and family. In addition a new city is being built where so much has been physically destroyed. Also, so many people were lost, killed. The people have been displaced, even if they are in the same city. The city is not the same.  But she eventually left her husband, bringing their daughter with her with her new British husband, to England, where the sense of displacement lingers.

We find that the narrator, Etsuko, may very well be quite unreliable, having told us several times her memory is faulty.  As she tells us the story of a strange friendship one summer in Japan, we get the feeling near the end of the book that we shouldn’t trust all she tells us.

Odd, strange, book.

RAINBIRDS by Clarissa Goenawan

Set in a fictional small-town Japan.  Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.

Slow, mundane details abounding, an awful lot of detailed listing of what people ate and how they ate it.  Slow.  Oh, did I already mention that?  The mystery is not much of one, and unfolds pretty rapidly waaaaaaay at the end, after slogging through the dailiness of this young man’s life, leaving the reader thinking, “That’s it?”

Meh.

WAKING GODS by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the second in The Themis files trilogy.  As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

In the first book of the series, giant metal body parts are discovered in the earth that predate the human technology required to make them. A simple idea with huge implications. What does this mean for humanity? For science? Religion?

The story unfolds through interview transcripts and journal entries, and begins 9 years after the events in the first book.  Interesting sci fi premise now is revealed to us readers.  The aliens want to erase all their descendants with their DNA because they feel the experiment or whatever it was got messed up.  Only pure humans with no alien DNA survive the chemical exterminating fog.  Only Rose can figure out how to stop the extermination, by using solely materials available 3,000 years ago.

Yeah, I know.

Anyway, kind of fun, and one more to go.

 

A CAREER OF EVIL by Robert Galbraith

This is the third in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, and tiresome it was.  Having solved two high profile homicide investigations with the assistance of his sidekick Robin Ellacott, private investigator Cormoran Strike is recovering from his newfound popularity. He and Robin have finally managed to re-establish their usual work routine, when they receive an extremely unusual package: one that contains a severed leg from a female. The incident causes Strike to reflect on the many individuals he’s crossed in the path, and to wonder just how many might be looking for revenge. He makes a list of these men for the police detectives working the case, but it seems like the officers don’t take Strike’s concerns very seriously. Cormoran and Robin make the decision to pursue their own independent investigation.

Their search for information leads them to some of London’s shadier neighborhoods, as they seek information on the men on Strike’s list of suspects. Dead end after dead end frustrates them. Unfortunately, it appears the owner of the leg isn’t the killer’s only victim—more bodies appear and the association with Strike hurts his business. Cormoran and Robin need to solve this case before their agency goes belly up.

Too much adolescent bullshit with the multiperson romances going on with Robin and Strike, and frankly, stick to the mystery.  I am done with Galbraith… Rawling …. in whatever guise she shows up in .

 

SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster

This story follows the hopes and fears of a cast of characters brought together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the dark months of the 2008 economic collapse.

An enigmatic young man employed as a trash-out worker in southern Florida obsessively photographing thousands of abandoned objects left behind by the evicted families, Miles has spent his entire adult life running away from the fatal consequences of an impulsive shove during what ought to have been an ordinary argument between stepbrothers. After years of doing the penance of an itinerant lifestyle, Miles finally appears ready to heal; he finds love and seeks reconciliation with his long estranged family. When an entirely optional, seemingly inevitable confrontation with the police arises, he takes another impulsive swing, which threatens to destroy all.

A group of young people squatting in an apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn: four flat-broke twenty somethings who are searching for their more authentic selves, illegally squatting in an abandoned house in Sunset Park in Brooklyn.  Morris Heller, Miles’ father, the “Can Man” and an independent publisher, who has never quite given up that his son will eventually find his way back home.

The Hospital for Broken Things, which specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world.

William Wyler’s 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives, the focus of the ph.d dissertation by one of the squatters.

A celebrated actress preparing to return to Broadway, Miles’ biological mother who abandoned him and his father when he was a baby.

An independent publisher desperately trying to save his business and his marriage, Morris Heller, Miles’ father, the “Can Man” and an independent publisher, who has never quite given up that his son will eventually find his way back home.

Compelling story, and you know me, I am all about the story.  Strange, truncated ending.  But perhaps inevitable when you consider the self-sabotage inherent in the main character.

 

 

THE SILKWORK by Robert Galbraith

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before.

I have decided that I don’t much like J. K. Rawlings as Robert Gabraith.  Every chapter has some quote from somewhere, that is not terribly apt, nor quotable, but comes off as annoying and pretentious.  “Look how much I read… look at all these obscure quotes.”  Really irritating.

The title of the book, The Silkworm, is the title of the roman à clef which the dead guy had written, Bombyx Mori.  The silkworm was a metaphor for the writer, who has to go through agonies to get at the good stuff.

Really great mystery, but frankly, the adolescent horseshit engaged in by Strike and his assistant is just so babyish.  Grow up, speak up, and stop playing soap opera.  Really.