Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Audio-Book Review: One Dead, Two to Go


I'll start with an apology, because I was sent this book for review last summer, and I listened to it, and enjoyed it, and somehow the review never got written. I only discovered this when I saw the second book was out, and went to look at my review and see what I'd thought of this one. No dice. I must have gone on vacation. So here it is, better late than never. 

Title: One Dead, Two to Go  (Eddie Shoes Mystery #1)
Author: Elena Hartwell, narrated by Moira Driscoll
Publisher: Audible, 2016. Paperback by Camel Press, 2016, 240 pages.
Source: Review copy from publisher

Publisher's Summary:
Private Investigator Edwina “Eddie Shoes” Schultz’s most recent job has her parked outside a seedy Bellingham hotel, photographing her quarry as he kisses his mistress goodbye. This is the last anyone will see of the woman … alive. Her body is later found dumped in an abandoned building. Eddie’s client, Kendra Hallings, disappears soon after. Eddie hates to be stiffed for her fee, but she has to wonder if Kendra could be in trouble too. Or is she the killer?

Eddie usually balks at matters requiring a gun, but before she knows it, she is knee-deep in dangerous company, spurred on by her card-counting adrenaline-junkie mother who has shown up on her doorstep fresh from the shenanigans that got her kicked out of Vegas. Chava is only sixteen years older than Eddie and sadly lacking in parenting skills. Her unique areas of expertise, however, prove to be helpful in ways Eddie can’t deny, making it hard to stop Chava from tagging along.

Also investigating the homicide is Detective Chance Parker, new to Bellingham’s Major Crimes unit but no stranger to Eddie. Their history as a couple back in Seattle is one more kink in a chain of complications, making Eddie’s case more frustrating and perilous with each tick of the clock.

My Review:  This is a well-crafted mystery, with characters I enjoyed. Eddie is a nice mix of confidence and insecurity, and while I sense that there will be more romance in later books, the mystery--and the relationship with her mother--absorbs Eddie's attention here. 

As with many first books in series, the cast and the setting feel a little constrained--not too many characters, and my feel for the town is okay but not detailed. That's fine--I think it's easier to get into a series as a reader (as well as for the writer) if there's not too much in the first book. The characters we do have are necessary, well-developed, and seen through Eddie's eyes, so not always quite as they appear. The author manages in some cases to give the reader a sense of seeing more than Eddie does, even with the 1st-person narration--a good trick.

The mystery itself is interesting and entangled, though the actual corpse gets left a little behind (who killed the mistress mostly feels secondary to the rest of the issues). I felt on second listening that the clues were there, and Eddie neither got them handed to her nor ignored anything that was right in front of her face.

The audio production is excellent, and I think the narrator does an excellent job. She didn't get really tested on the tougher regional names, though :)  However, the characters are voiced well, and distinctly, and production values are high.

My Recommendation: enjoyable PNW mystery, set (I have to say it) just across the water from my own Pismawallops Island. If you enjoy character-driven mysteries, and especially if you like the PNW setting, check it out, as a book or an audio book. And keep an eye out for Book 2, Two Heads are Deader than One.  I'll be checking it out.

FTC Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of the audio book of One Dead, Two to Go, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Audacity Jones, by Kirby Larson. Middle Grade review


Title: Audacity Jones to the Rescue
Author: Kirby Larson
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2016. 209 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
An irrepressible orphan named Audacity Jones is headed on an adventure of historic proportions! The first book in a brand-new series from beloved Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson!

Audacity Jones is an eleven-year-old orphan who aches for adventure, a challenge to break up the monotony of her life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls. Life as a wayward girl isn't so bad; Audie has the best of friends, a clever cat companion, and plenty of books to read. Still, she longs for some excitement, like the characters in the novels she so loves encounter.

So when the mysterious Commodore Crutchfield visits the school and whisks Audie off to Washington, DC, she knows she's in for the journey of a lifetime. But soon, it becomes clear that the Commodore has unsavory plans for Audie--plans that involve the president of the United States and a sinister kidnapping plot. Before she knows it, Audie winds up in the White House kitchens, where she's determined to stop the Commodore dead in his tracks. Can Audie save the day before it's too late?

My Review: 
I snagged this one from the new book shelf at the library in part because I've read other books by Kirby Larson and liked them. But the story sounded kind of fun, too. Boy, was that a good guess! Definitely a quick, engaging read, with humor, adventure, a touch of absurdity, and just a hint of the mystical (can that cat open locked doors?). I read through it in about 2 sittings, and it would have been one if I hadn't started so late at night. 

Writing level and the adventure both come together nicely for kids from about 8-12. The girls at the school aren't really wayward--they were just inconvenient, which is pretty sad but isn't dwelled on. Audie certainly never spends any time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she grasps every opportunity that comes her way, which is how she ends up in a little trouble in DC. But have no fear--she has a great knack for making the right friends, and a lot of ingenuity for getting out of scrapes!

My Recommendation:
A sneaky bit of historical fiction for those kids who don't think they like historical fiction. This is really all adventure, and while the author has made sure Audie's world conforms to 1910, this story isn't about the history. Larson does include a note at the end to straighten out what is in fact historical about the story, but above all it's a frolic.

This review has become a two-fer, as I promptly went back to the library for Book Two.

Also by Scholastic Press, 2017, and 192 pages.

Publisher's Summary:
Audacity Jones and her best friend, Bimmy, are setting off from Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls on an extraordinary adventure! In the glittering city of New York, the girls meet Harry Houdini, the world's most famous magician, as he prepares a new spectacle: Houdini plans to make an elephant disappear from a crowded theater.

But Audacity and Bimmy discover a nefarious plot that puts Houdini's illusion in jeopardy. Who could be trying to sabotage the master magician? Audie will need all her smarts, the help of friends new and old, and even her best juggling skills to solve this mystery. Will she manage to save the show in time?

Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson brings readers a magical romp of a mystery that will delight and thrill to the very last page.

My Review:
This book was every bit as much fun as the first, but I didn't find it as good. Does that make sense? I loved that Audie took her best friend Bimmy with her, and Bimmy has the skills and knowledge that round out Audie's own. And the adventure is fun, though there is less sense of brooding peril than in the first book (not that either is very heavy). There is also less sense of history, though the author remains careful to put nothing in Audie's world that shouldn't be there. The cat takes a central role again, and the author lets loose a bit with the cat's abilities, again keeping the story firmly in the 'fun, slightly fantasy-feeling' category that I believe will lead kids to read it in spite of the historical setting. They won't learn as much reading this one as the first, but they'll get a feel for the period.

The ending once again sets us up for another book, and I look forward to seeing what Audie, Bimmie, and the rest of the "Waywards" manage to do next! 

FTC Disclosure: I checked Audacity Jones to the Rescue and  Audacity Jones Steals the Show out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Friday Flash Fiction: The Crispins

After a long absence while he was busy doing author things, Chuck Wendig was back this week with a new flash fiction challenge. I used the random number generator to pick my genres, and ended up with Near-Future Sci-Fi and Biopunk. Had to look up the latter, but in the end they kind of ended up being the same thing. I stuck with it, though, because I'd just finished reading an article about CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and it seemed kind of obvious.

Chuck gave us 1500 words, and I ran longer than usual at 1380.

The Crispins

We Crispins were the result of the hubris of the 2030s, when the genetic scientists were sure they had all the glitches worked out of the use of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing protocols. The big challenge had been solving the problem of not just removing bad DNA, but replacing it with what should be there. They finally got that worked out in 2029. That was when someone got the bright idea of creating enhanced humans.

The result was us. They gave us all the name “Crispin,” after the CRISPR, though someone had the wits to append a unique name for each of us. They swore that the experiment would remain sealed, that our genes would not be let loose on the world unless or until they were certain it was safe. In other words, that we would live as complete prisoners, possibly our entire lives, if they decided it wasn’t safe to use us as intended.

They never asked us how we felt about that.

The idea was that each of us would have enhanced abilities in some area. Some got intelligence, others strength or agility. Lissa has musical talent that would blow your mind, but she’s the only one. Someone must have figured that wouldn’t be much use to the NSA.

They stopped the experiments when they realized that the enhancements always came with some loss. Take me: I have brains like you wouldn’t believe, but I will never be strong or fast. Hermione has a leg that’s nearly useless, though she’s a mathematical genius. Colin can hear things beyond every usual limit of human hearing, but he’s as good as blind. Maybe they meant to limit us, maybe the process just didn’t work as well as they’d thought. In the end, they only made 20 of us, all within a single year.

Then they locked us in a compound in extremely rural Wyoming, and began raising us to be their slaves. After all, they had made us, using embryos and sperm abandoned by their parents. No one had any parental rights in us, and in fact, no one beyond our scientist guardians and a few very highly placed officials knew we existed. We would become the best agents the NSA could wish for, and no parents to notify when we were killed, either.

I think they began to get nervous when we were 6 or 7 years old, because that was when they isolated us from each other. It may have occurred to someone that if we were a bit on the superhuman side, we might be hard to control if we all got together and used each of our strengths to cancel the others’ weaknesses.

I don’t want to pretend it was worse than it was. We weren’t neglected or beaten or anything, and we ate better than most Americans in those difficult times. Many of our guardians were genuinely fond of us, and showed it. We were isolated from each other, but interacted with the guardians. We were each educated alone, in a manner tailored to our enhancements. I think they didn’t want us to have well-rounded educations, because that might set us to thinking in ways they couldn’t control.

There was just one thing that our guardians—our creators and enslavers—didn’t know about us. Their control of CRISPR/Cas9 wasn’t what they thought it was, and a few things changed besides the genes they intended to “improve” or the flaws they introduced.

We were 8 when I learned we were telepathic. Maybe that was when it developed, maybe that was just when we figured it out. But a year or two after they had separated us, we began talking again. Only no one knew but us.

Not all of us were smart enough to see the value of keeping it secret, but those of us who were made sure the others kept quiet. And we shared what we were learning. That meant even the ones who were physically enhanced at the cost of brains knew a lot, because they could lean on those of us with brains. I was sorry we couldn’t share the muscles.

Our education would still have been terribly limited if I hadn’t discovered that, while our guard(ians) couldn’t get telepathic with us, we could read their minds. After that, we began to learn history and politics, and a world of other things they didn’t think we needed to know.

By the time we were teens any one of us, except maybe Brian, whose musculature had been enhanced more than any others, with a concomitant loss of intelligence, could have qualified for a half a dozen PhDs. After all, the people whose minds we’d been reading for years were highly educated, and highly intelligent. We were lucky that some of the spouses weren’t scientists, which had broadened our education a lot.

The originators of the experiment had promised our genes wouldn’t get out, but they hadn’t counted on our needs and our resources meeting. When puberty hit, we all thought that must have been enhanced by CRISPR as well. We later learned that it was pretty normal. We needed the physical companionship of those with whom we were already mentally so close as to be one, needed it badly enough to do something about it.

It didn’t take us all that long to come up with a plan. We already knew some of the guardians were more empathetic than others, and those empaths proved easy to manipulate. They never did know what we were up to, but for some reason, they started leaving a few of our “condos” unlocked.

They were still keeping us apart with a care that made us laugh, in private. But somehow, Cara and Maria got out. They were two of the Agiles—fine motor skills like you wouldn’t believe. It took them about 30 seconds per lock. In 10 minutes, we were all gathered in the motor pool.

It was 2 a.m., and the night was cold, colder than any of us had anticipated. We were all given time outdoors, of course; they knew that was necessary to healthy development. And our Muscles had spent a lot of time outside running, climbing, and working out, because all the enhancements in the world couldn’t remove the need to train.

What the guardians hadn’t considered was that training could also overcome a lot of physical limits. I had no natural ability for running or strength, but a lot of training had made me a lot stronger than I was ever intended to be. You’d think they’d have noticed, but even smart people mostly see what they expect to see.

None of us knew how to drive, of course, but the Agiles had studied the process in the minds of our guardians, and had the enhanced coordination to master the skill in the time it took to get from the garage to the gate. We hit the barricade, smashed it to bits, and kept going.

That wasn’t the end of it, of course. It didn’t take long for them to organize pursuit, but we outsmarted them.

That bus was empty. We remained in the compound, and when it was emptied, every single one of them flying blindly into the night, terrified at what we might do if we got loose, we rebuilt the barricade. Then we let the government know that we were to be left alone. We had the means—don’t ask me what, because I won’t tell you—to enforce that.

We had a lot to work out. The compound was in the wilds of Wyoming, and we needed to become self-sufficient. The government was certainly not going to go on feeding us. It was the work of several years to create our colony, and we had to maintain a constant vigilance, because even after the government admitted defeat, the locals were scared enough of us to come hunting.

We made use of everyone’s strengths, and we worked it all out, security and self-sufficiency and all.

We had to. We were teens, and we had just met members of the opposite sex for the first time. We did what the scientists tried so hard to prevent.

So we made our place in the world, and made it secure.

We did it for the children.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
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