Mini-Reviews: A Roundup of Recent Reads, Part I

Okay, since this lack of blogging/reviewing stuff on my part has now reached proportions of epic ridiculousness--I mean, seriously... how long has it been?--I've decided to do something never done before (erm, by me), and commit to writing some itty-bitty little reviews of the things I've read since... well, since last I put fingers to keyboard here. Sound good? Righty-o, then... and away we go!

The Gods of Guilt (Michael Connelly)

Connelly's cool legal eagle, Mickey Haller (first seen in The Lincoln Lawyer, as the attorney who conducts a major part of his work from the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Continental), is back for another case, this one involving someone from his past--a former client he'd befriended along the way, who used to be a prostitute, before Mickey helped her find another life path... or so he thought. Turns out, the ex-pro was still active, and something he did may have just gotten her killed. It's when someone else dies--again, because of Mickey (at least, sort of)--that the story really gains its oomph, though, as we watch guilt eating away at a man struggling to cope with all the repercussions of his actions.   

Like previous entries in the series, Connelly excels in making the oh-so-imperfect Mickey a sympathetic and fascinating character, and gives his hero plenty of interesting foils to play off of, as well. Connelly consistently writes really good legal thrillers, and The Gods of Guilt is no exception. 

Carniepunk (multiple authors)  

Sometimes, you just have to read something because it doesn't necessarily interest you... and such was the case with Carniepunk, which I ended up reading solely because of the authors. (I have a deep and abiding dislike of all things "carnie", hence some major psyching up before buying the Kindle version and then, finally delving into it.) 

As is the case with pretty much all anthologies, the short stories therein were a mixed bag; some, I really enjoyed, others I could've taken or left, and a couple just didn't grab me at all. Overall, though, it's a fun mix of horror-with-some-supernatural-elements box of tricks, here, and with each tale being brief (and easy enough to skip entirely, if one really doesn't work for you), Carniepunk is a neat thing to have on hand when your reading time is severely limited, but you want something a little... different.

Rogues (multiple authors) 

Yep, you guessed it--Rogues is another collection of short stories, this time focussing on central characters who may all be considered "roguish" (think likably-naughty, irreverent, and typically irresistible) in behavior. With twenty-one stories to choose from, penned by a bevy of popular, well-regarded authors (many from the world of fantasy, but others, as well), it would be hard to miss with this one, right?

Sort of, yeah. While there were, again, a couple of pieces I just couldn't get into, and some that were basically "meh", enough captured my fancy that I can recommend this compilation. (The foreword by George R.R. Martin, alone, was worth the price of the whole kit-and-caboodle, for me--although surprisingly, I found his entry among the tales to be of the "meh" ilk. Go figure.)

You (Caroline Kepnes) 

One of the most surprising, utterly fascinating, and horrifying books I've read this year, You isn't quite like anything else I’ve ever come across... and to me, that's a very good thing. 

Kepnes' debut novel is a thriller for the modern age, centering on the dangers of what social media allows us to do, to control, and to know. It's also a classic tale of obsession, and the truly dark places a person obsessed can go. You is even--as improbable as it sounds--a love story (of the fractured fairy tales variety, but still)... and I couldn't help but root for Joe, the teller of the tale, in his pursuit of Beck, the woman of his dreams (or at least I rooted for him until it made me feel too squicky to do so... but honestly, you should be the judge of that). 

(As a sidenote, I should mention something really... interesting, about You: Kepnes has Joe relate the whole story as though he's telling it all to Beck--hence, the "you"--from beginning to end, in what is possibly one of the most original-slash-discomfiting choices an author has ever made.)

You gets my highest recommendation... provided you like to take walks on the dark side, because this one goes very, very dark... and I, for one, appreciated every minute of it.

The Martian (Andy Weir)

Wow, did I ever LOVE this book. Seriously.

A sci-fi tale wherein the antagonists are a planet and some really unfortunate circumstances, The Martian isn't about a little green (or any other color) alien, but about a man--a botanist doing a stint on a mission to Mars... who gets left behind, left for dead, even... on Mars. Alone.

You can't help but wonder what that would be like, of course. The stuff of nightmares, for sure. But Mark Watney refuses to give up, or to give in to the panic. Instead, he chooses to learn how to live, and how to make his time alone on the barren planet productive... even as he calculates (and recalculates) how long his food rations will last... and determines how much of a shortfall in that sustenance there will be, before another mission to Mars could possibly occur. 

Rather than populating his tale with monstrous aliens, Weir has fashioned the ultimate survival story with The Martian, pitting one man against seemingly-insurmountable odds in an immensely-compelling way. (The fact that Watney doesn't go stark-raving bonkers within the first week, as the magnitude of the situation he faces sets in, is a miracle, and would be reason enough to want desperately for him to succeed. The fact that he isn't a "real" astronaut--someone with a lifelong love of space, who pursued the stars as his life's passion--but is instead a sorta "regular" guy from a whole other field, just further endears him to me; this is a guy I can root for… and did, from the first to the last page of Weir’s book.)

There is nothing—not one single thing—I didn’t love about The Martian, so my recommendation is simply this: Read it.

So, there you go--a few things you may want to put on your list (because it's always good to have a list, right?). More capsule reviews to come...


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