Invasive Species by Joseph Wallace

This is a fascinating book set “next week” or so. The characters are well drawn, though stereotype is pretty close to the surface for most of the characters.

It’s interesting to watch the wasps and their problems spread; it feels exaggerated but plausible throughout. The science takes center stage and feels plausible–and it’s nice to see scientists spending time on science, on screen.

The relationships feel a bit more artificial or plot convenient–back to plausible but not quite convincing. They’re not at the center of the story, but they work and get us a global viewpoint.

In the end, it was a pleasant read with explorers and scientists at the heart of the story, rather than action heroes. That’s pretty novel for a modern setting.

Hitchers by Will McIntosh

The world goes weird. There’s terrorism, possession, widespread death, family, and memories. The end of the world is all about relationships, and guilt that can’t be put aside.

I enjoyed it and don’t want to spoil it too much.

The Secrets of Bone and Blood by Rebecca Alexander

A second book where I didn’t read the first previously; it suffered for it.

There are three major characters who went through a big conflict last book, and now its time to beat themselves up about their efforts and miscalculations along the way.

Edward Kelley gets flashback chapters to renaissance Venice, where he’s a fish out of water, taken by the locals, in the crosshairs of the inquisition, and manipulated by the duchess. It’s well written and interested me in renaissance Venetian politics, wondering what created the deep forces that Edward only perceives the edges of.

Felix begins the story in modern New Orleans, where he’s worried about the consequences of blood sorcery (probably used at the highlight of the previous book). It’s a tense investigation of various blood drinking societies… but it never really feels tense or dangerous. It’s interesting, held at a studied distance.

Jack gets the main chapters, along with her “sister” Sadie. It begins with an almost homey inheritance of an English cottage, with the associated work to tame the overgrown garden and clear out the house where the previous owner died. It’s not that simple… but the threat lays quiet throughout the first half.

As a second book, on the heels of the first, it’d probably work better for pacing. As a stand alone, there are well drawn characters spread out and non-interactive, investigating different topics that we assume are linked. Eventually, they gather, and the conflict becomes a lot more direct.

I’ll have to read The Secrets of Life and Death at some point; without it, the book doesn’t inspire a demand to read on into a sequel.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

The first book written, but the second I read and the second in sequence. It continues from Dirty Wings… it’s the next generation, Maia and Cass’s daughters.

Reading, it was interesting to see what our narrator gets “wrong” about Cass and Maia’s journey… and to think about what our narrator misunderstood versus what she was mislead about. This book’s journey is somewhat less harrowing, though Aurora’s (and even our narrator’s) lifestyle isn’t one that mom’s are going to encourage their daughters to follow.

The book tackles powerful, senseless teenage love; something that always reads as exaggerated to me… but it works here. The “sisters” are drawn so carefully, as are their relationships to their parents and their deliberate reflection (and rejection) of those parental traits.

It was a compelling read with great characters, despite the superficially lower stakes for the first two-thirds of the book. When she commits, decides to thwart the fait accomplis, she’s almost as driven as Cass and Maia… more so, even, given that she has to do it alone.

I really liked her as a character, and understood her empathy for her near-sister Aurora. She was crazy to go… but it was so true to her stubbornness that I have to just smile and root her on… while staring on in horror. A great kickoff to the series. As the first book, I can imagine Dirty Wings reading like an increase in stakes… and a revelation about Cass and Maia’s journey.

About A Girl by Sarah McCarry

A great conclusion to the trilogy; it’s the last both in publishing and internal chronology. Tally, our heroine, is in the summer before college.

The book starts off jarringly; it’s in Tally’s voice. She’s SO busy letting us know how smart she is with her word choices and casual brilliance that it’s offputting… which, matches the reaction the strangers in her life have to her. Her family and close friend all know her well and put up with (or are charmed) by her positions, vocabulary and diction, which are strong and confident.

Tally’s tale picks up a generation after Aurora and “Aunt Beast” grew up in Cass and Maia’s shadows in All Our Pretty Songs; she’s raised by Raoul (who gets modest screen time), his husband (who doesn’t), and Aunt Beast in a modern mixed family of choice. She’s an orphan daughter of Aurora (she knows), but it’s complicated. She’s surrounded by love, but with both her Mom absent and Father unknown… she’s unsure of herself, emotionally, no matter how she erects intellectual bulwarks.

After the awkward first chapter (once Tally’s not trying to impress us, it seems), the book reads smoothly. The magic is much less metaphorical this time around; it’s more than creepy dreams and bad choices. The overt magic extends Tally’s time on her journey… and, given how straightforwardly she tackles things to start, it was probably necessary to shortcut her having a frank talk and heading home a day later. (I mean, that’s just about how the book ends… but there’s a lot that goes on first because she and others are all being manipulated in the meantime.)

It’s a great book. Tally carries the story and drives everything–and she has the personality and perseverance to make it an interesting journey, even if it’s less obviously perilous than Cass and Maia’s journey. She’s also flawed, but that’s easy to forgive in the moment, and an important component of her authenticity.

Interestingly, her boyfriend Shane is important… but he’s relegated almost to a frame story. It’s a quirky thing to notice afterwards.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

A weird and interesting story. It’s set in the modern day–no time travel tricks–but Carolyn splits her time between modern America–where she’s an outsider–and the library. The book is heavy on flashbacks and formative experiences. They’re generally horrific; among the tricks that Carolyn’s brothers and sisters have mastered is snatching people from the plains of the dead and returning them to life.

It’s very well written and engaging. We begin the book with Carolyn’s presentation to the world–mousy, asking for help and tricking people into doing more than they agree to. As the book moves on, however, we learn that a lot of that is a ploy; she has acquired powers that no one–not even those closest to her, and certainly not Father.

In the end, it’s a creepy story well told. It’s a world of power, absurd rituals from long ago, foresight and betrayal. It also is a story of compassion, interestingly told.

Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card

The sequel to Empire, and in book form the conclusion of the series.

The typification is less pronounced and annoying this time, probably because he didn’t have to shoehorn liberals broadly into secessionists. The book has four major parts.

The first part focuses on the “day to day”, with Cole and Cecily as trusted advisers to President Torrent. It’s pretty short, but establishes that Torrent’s elevation to the Presidency has held, that he worries about politics and election to some degree (though as a heavy favorite). Further, the chapter introduction quotes are now all part of Torrent’s writings. In parallel, Chinma is in Nigeria. He’s patient zero of the sneezing plague, which devastates his whole village. In parallel, the events in Africa spur scenes where Torrent and Cecily discuss Africa policy.

The second part involves Chinma’s adjustment to America, his integration with Malich family, their growing awareness and moral conflict over the right role of Christians in treating the sick (behind the African blockade). Then Cole and his jeesh travel to Africa to combat the governments using the plague as cover for genocide. They encounter foes with the mysterious EMP device that’s a perfect counter to their “bones and noodles” that enhance their abilities. How suspicious…

For a while, both Cecily and Cole are in Nigeria, along with Chinma and her eldest son Mark. They’re hard at work, but the coughing sickness gets them all. While the soldiers are down with the plague, another poor African group, suspiciously armed with the EMPs, hits the base. There is death and tragedy…

From there, the book flows into its fourth and shortest block. Cole has to save the President from a deadly attack, the President admits to taking advantage of the events in the world, but not precipitating most of them. Cole adopts Chinma, Cecily returns to baking cookies, end, credits.

I liked the book for its unconventional focus. While the book begins with politics and coordination against Russia, and ends with an attempted political assassination, in between is filled with a mix of “special forces hooah!” and scenes wrestling with the demands of their faith.

There’s plenty to nitpick, but at a proper reading pace you’ll make it through before they start to concern you. Good enough!

Empire by Orson Scott Card

A loan from dad. Empire is a fast paced book that’s almost a buddy movie between Major Reuben Malich and Captain Coleman. It’s an interesting book, particularly since it was written before 2006, when “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was running so high.

The book champions characters who refuse to buy into the left/right divide, but fails to provide anyone sympathetic on the Left side of the dispute, beyond Ruben’s wife Cecily. It’s fun enough and moves along, despite the authorial intrusion that was unsubtle enough to make it clear that “both sides are crazy, but they’re really crazy… and popularly supported!” was just the way he views the world.

In the end, though, it’s evidently a prelude to a video game. For that, it’s immensely better than almost any game adaptation. It was enjoyable enough that I’m reading Hidden Empire, the finale.

I do wonder how he’d write it if it was written today, a decade later. Would it still be the unhinged left, or would Card acknowledge the xenophobia and blatant racism that scream out from today’s rallies? I wonder.