Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris Under Siege, A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E Sniegoski, Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson and Lightless by CA Higgins

This is a sad week for the world, as Paris has undergone serious terrorist attacks that have killed many and shaken the French people, as well as all the Americans who love them and their country. Here's an article that tells what happened and the reactions to it:

Meanwhile, I've been reading a number of books, one in particular that I'd heard many good things about called "Lightless" that really didn't live up to the hype, unfortunately.

I will start, however, with a book from my latest Ace/Roc mailing. I receive, every few months, a bag of ARC books from Ace/Roc publishers as part of their Rock Star reader program. The books are free in exchange for a fair review.
The first book I've read of the latest batch is A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E Sniegoski.
It is subtitled as "A Remy Chandler novel" and, as a supernatural noir fantasy, the protagonist lives up to his name. Here's the blurbage:
Generations ago, angel Remiel chose to renounce heaven and live on Earth. He found a place among ordinary humans by converting himself into Boston P.I. Remy Chandler, but he can never tell anyone who he was or that he still has angelic powers. Remy can will himself invisible, speak and understand any foreign language (including any animal language), and hear the thoughts of others. All these secret powers come in handy for a private investigator, especially when the Angel of Death goes missing and he’s assigned to find him. As he gets deeper into the investigation, he realizes this is not a missing persons case but a conspiracy to destroy the human race and only Remy has the powers to stop the forces of evil.  Publisher's Weekly "Tightly focused and deftly handled, this adult debut from YA and comic book author Sniegoski (The Fallen) covers familiar ground in entertaining new ways. The angel Remiel wanders the Earth in human form as private investigator Remy Chandler, experiencing the mortal life while indulging his fondness for the trappings of noir. When the Angel of Death vanishes, Heaven hires Chandler to find him as well as a missing set of scrolls that could bring about the apocalypse. Sniegoski's choice to frame this high concept with a straight noir detective tale grounds the world for the reader and highlights the mystical elements. Chandler's dog, Marlowe, written with a humorous but heartfelt voice, shows off Chandler's ability to talk to animals and provides some charming comic relief. Fans of urban fantasy and classic detective stories will enjoy this smart and playful story." 
This novel reminded me a lot of a cross between Harry Dresden and Mouse from the Dresden Files, Atticus Sullivan and Oberon from The Iron Druid Chronicles with some Raymond Chandler mystery thrown in for good measure. Remy is an angel on the outside, just trying to help people and live a life of his choosing, away from the politics of the various levels of Angels who seem rather petty and jealous for heavenly beings. I kept wondering why God didn't just step in and say "KNOCK IT OFF!" when they all started battling for forgiveness and the favor of returning to God's side. Why, if you were trying to get back to a loving and forgiving God, who was very enamored of the humans he'd made, would you try to kill all of humankind and then go after all the angels who didn't agree with your genocide? Where is there loving God in that equation? That's why I thought the theology seemed a bit wobbly in places here, but I can also see that based on the Bible, you might think angels in general were not tame and kind beings. Still, Remy's love of his fragile human wife, who is elderly and dying, and his love of his goofy dog Marlowe are sincere and beautiful and redeeming. The prose is utilitarian and the plot fairly predictable, but the novel itself is fun and interesting, with a cast of characters, such as Lazarus and the Angel of Death, who are fascinating. "Kiss" deserves an A and a recommendation to Dresden and Druid fans alike.

I also received an ARC of Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson from William Morrow Publishers, and I devoured it in 12 hours. I've read Robson's "Somewhere in France" and the sequel "After the War is Over" and I thoroughly enjoyed both, which were well written and engaging. Moonlight takes place in 1924, years after the Great War, when everyone is trying to rebuild and Paris society is rife with Lost Generation authors and artists. Here's the blurb:
An aristocratic young woman leaves the sheltered world of London to find adventure, passion, and independence in 1920s Paris in this mesmerizing story from the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France and After the War is Over.
Spring, 1924
Recovering from a broken wartime engagement and a serious illness that left her near death, Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr vows that for once she will live life on her own terms. Breaking free from the stifling social constraints of the aristocratic society in which she was raised, she travels to France to stay with her free spirited aunt. For one year, she will simply be Miss Parr. She will explore the picturesque streets of Paris, meet people who know nothing of her past—and pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
A few years after the Great War’s end, the City of Light is a bohemian paradise teeming with actors, painters, writers, and a lively coterie of American expatriates who welcome Helena into their romantic and exciting circle. Among them is Sam Howard, an irascible and infuriatingly honest correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Dangerously attractive and deeply scarred by the horror and carnage of the war, Sam is unlike any man she has ever encountered. He calls her Ellie, sees her as no one has before, and offers her a glimpse of a future that is both irresistible and impossible.
As Paris rises phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, so too does Helena. Though she’s shed her old self, she’s still uncertain of what she will become and where she belongs. But is she strong enough to completely let go of the past and follow her heart, no matter where it leads her?
Artfully capturing the Lost Generation and their enchanting city, Moonlight Over Paris is the spellbinding story of one young woman’s journey to find herself, and claim the life—and love—she truly wants. 
Helena's journey is an interesting one, and though I thought Helena rather wimpy a great deal of the time, I think she was a product of her family background, which was aristocratic isolation, and naive introversion that made her question herself as a person and an artist. Ellie, as Helena likes to be called, eventually began to grow a spine and became much less mousy throughout the book, and I loved it when she began to stand up for herself and for her artwork. The cadre of fellow young artists who become her friends were also fascinating, and Paris in the 20s was it's own character, the City of Light shining like a jewel. Ellie's beau Sam seemed a lot like his friend Hemingway, yet he was a softer, kinder man than Hemingway ever was. I was delighted by "meeting" Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company, and Gertrude Stein, as well as learning about the smells, tastes and sensations of that era. Certainly worthy of an A, I'd recommend this delightful novel to fans of the Roaring 20s, the Lost Generation and Paris at a time when it was the center of the Universe.

I paid full price for a hardback copy of Lightless by CA Higgins, and if I knew then what I know now, I would have waited for the book to come out in paperback, or borrowed a copy from the library. Here's the blurb:
With deeply moving human drama, nail-biting suspense—and bold speculation informed by a degree in physics—C. A. Higgins spins a riveting science fiction debut guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations.

Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.

While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.

As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.

First of all, Gagnon and Domitian are the other two crew members of the Ananke, and when Ivan and Mattie Gale illegally board the ship, put a virus into her computer system and try to take over, Althea manages to keep the ship running, though she's being sabotaged right and left. Then Ida Stays boards the ship to interrogate Ivan and Mattie about their ties to an uber terrorist, and Ivan somehow manages to manipulate and murder just about everyone, all while he's chained to a chair in an interrogation room. I found his character nearly impossible to believe, and while I am sure we're supposed to have sympathy for rich-kid-turned thief and terrorist Ivan, I thought he was nothing but a lying murderous bastard who should have been shot a third of the way into the book. He and his best friend Mattie (SPOILER ALERT) end up murdering nearly everyone on board, and then blowing up Earth and murdering its people, all in the name of "freedom" (freedom for them and their murdering traitor scumbag friends). Althea should have shot Mattie and Ivan when they tried to escape, instead, she wimps out because she's "tired" (pullease! After they murder her crew and everyone on earth? Nothing would keep me from justice at that point, if it were me). Althea also needs to turn off the meglomaniac computer on Ananke and drive the darned thing to the nearest System station and abandon ship. Insane computers with delusions of godhood aren't going to be worth much of anything to anyone, because it will be too busy trying to figure out ways to get everyone to bow down to its superior self.  But really, nobody gets what they want in this depressing social science fiction novel that spends way too much time on politics and trying to justify terrorism. The prose is disciplined and the plot spins out of control a couple of times, but for the most part, I didn't find anyone to like in the book, or anyone whom I could understand and empathize with. I didn't find the novel at all deeply moving, I found it depressing and frustrating.  I'd give it a C+, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of HAL from the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey.

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