How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

how-to-start-a-fireBook Review:  How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

College students Anna and Kate were matched as roommates, not through any carefully considered process, but because they both applied late, and everyone else was already paired up.  As luck would have it, they’re both sloppy insomniacs who hate pop music, so they get along well.  After a party one night, they find George passed out on a lawn, so they do the responsible thing — they wheel her to their dorm room in a shopping cart.  And a lifelong friendship begins.

One night, something happens that affects each of them differently.  It’s not something they talk about often.  Over the years, their lives will take them in different directions but they stay connected.   There will be rifts among them, from time to time, but they always come back together.

Apparently, I read this book when it first came out, which makes sense — Lisa Lutz is one of my Must Read Authors.  When I spotted it on the shelf, I thought I’d just missed it because 2015 was a chaotic year for me.  But then I began reading and the familiarity started setting in.  I didn’t remember how it turned out though, so I thought I must have started it and not finished it.  Nope.  I kept coming across passages that felt familiar, right up to the last page.  How did I not remember a book by Lisa Lutz???  And why didn’t I write a book review the first time?

The book jumps back and forth in time between 1989 and 2014.  The time hops provide some mystery, particularly about That Night.  And they set up several aha moments.  I found it jarring though, as well as artificial.  An aha moment should come because you, the reader, piece the clues together — not because information was withheld from you before and provided to you later.  I was interested in the characters’ journeys and it annoyed me to find out that something life-changing had happened but not know what until a flashback a few chapters later.  I’m guessing this is why the book didn’t stick with me despite the brilliant writing.  I never completely lost myself in the story because the next chapter would pick me up and place me somewhere else, with no reason why.

Individually, the chapters are exquisite.  Lutz immediately brings you into the story at that point in time and makes you feel comfortable there.  She excels at banter and there is plenty, particularly with Anna and Kate.


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splinterlandsBook Review:  Splinterlands by John Feffer

Geo-paleontologist Julian West contemplates the state of the world — and his family — in the year 2050 and tries to piece together where it all went wrong.  The climate has changed dramatically, as has the political landscape.  Most of the countries we know today (2017) have been torn apart by internal conflict, dwindling resources, and terrorism.

Using virtual reality to visit his children and his ex-wife, West brings readers into this broken new world.  War zones and kidnappings are now the norm in Brussels.  Xinjiang prospers but is no longer part of China.  Vermont is snowless and home to a few farming communes, heavily armed and prepared to defend themselves.

Eh.  The premise is certainly timely and Feffer references plenty of recent/current events in the storyline.  I never connected with West’s character however.  He’s detached and, as the footnotes indicate, somewhat unreliable as a narrator.  So, for me this was mostly a gloom and doom read lacking emotional impact.  The only feeling I felt was a mild sense of dread as West approached each of his family members, particularly his youngest son.  There’s more going on that West reports, or perhaps is aware of himself.

Not recommended by me although other reviewers have loved it.


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The Lost Child of Lychford

lost-child-of-lychfordBook Review:  The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Lizzie’s first Christmas as St. Martin’s vicar is just around the corner.  Expectations are high.  It’s frustrating for her when her parishioners are less than receptive to the Advent Carol Service and Christingle she planned with such care.  With two weeks still to go, she’s in a foul mood.  In addition to all of the other details she’s trying to get just right, a couple from Swindon want to get married in her church on Christmas Eve.  She’s unrecognizably temperamental.  And that’s before the apparition of a small boy begins visiting her.

Judith and Autumn had some shining moments in this novella, but that’s all that worked for me this time.  I saw what happened to Judith, so I sold on that particular storyline.  But Lizzie and Autumn???  How were they taken over by the dark?  Cornell tells us that they have been but that wasn’t enough for me.  When dark forces tried to manipulate things in the first book, The Witches of Lychford, we saw the how, and that made all the difference, for me at least.  Lizzie’s already deeply controlled when the book opens though — how did that happen?  Especially to someone who can see otherworldly beings for what they are?  And Autumn?  One minute she’s fine, the next minute she’s fixated on a guy to the point of not caring that her best friend is trying to damage her hands or that Judith has been missing for days?  At least show me someone slipping something into her drink.




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Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

witches-of-lychfordBook Review:  Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

A supermarket wants to build its newest store in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford.  Some of Lychford’s residents like the idea; some do not.  Judith Mawson knows that the proposed location for the store would be more than bad for the community — it would be catastrophic.  Lychford lies on the boundary between worlds and destroying that border, which the supermarket would do, would open the gateways to beings humans should never encounter.  Unfortunately, she’s not liked by her neighbors.  Normally this doesn’t bother her because she doesn’t like them either, but she needs them to listen to her now.

Lizzie grew up in Lychford and has recently returned to become its new pastor, but a recent tragedy has caused her faith to falter.  Autumn was Lizzie’s friend growing up, despite the fact that she’s always been an atheist and Lizzie has always been religious.  Something happened to her after Lizzie left for her studies, something she still isn’t able to face.

All three women are separate from Lychford while being a part of it:  Judith and Autumn for their notoriety, Lizzie for her time away and her current wall of grief.  Judith will bring them together and together they will fight to save the town.

A quick, light read with an interesting premise.  The heart of this story revolves around the women, each scarred by past choices, past events.  Cornell does an exceptional job creating such intriguing characters, and revealing pertinent details from their pasts at just the right time.  And he does it within a bare 144 pages.


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The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

invisible-libraryBook Review:  The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

In a world of parallel universes, the Library exists in its own space and time, and collects unique books from all realities.  Irene literally grew up in the library and she’s been a librarian for awhile.  She’s accustomed to traveling between universes to retrieve important items.  She’s not accustomed to being sent on missions with students however.  Nothing about this mission is typical:  not the secrecy, not the student partner, not the Chaos-infused alternate London they must infiltrate in order to get the book.

Intriguing.  Steampunk typically isn’t my thing, and there are steampunk elements in this story, but they are simply characteristics of this particular London.  This particular London also features fae and vampires, so it’s definitely a happening place.   While Irene and Kai run into problems with all three, it’s the Chaos that’s the real challenge.  It’s apparently not that uncommon for worlds to be alive with magic and the supernatural but when higher levels of Chaos enter the mix, it throws everything off-kilter.

Lots of action, lots of adventure.  Interesting characters.  This is the first book in the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next book, The Masked City.  I’m hoping to learn more about the Library itself.  It’s huge and it’s secretive.  Its librarians actually live inside it — how does that work?

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The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

immortalsWhen people stopped believing in the gods, the gods began to diminish.  They still walk among mortals though.  Artemis now goes by the name Selene DiSilva and she calls Manhattan home.  Her powers may be greatly diminished but she can still handle mortals.  Or can she?  As the story begins and she intervenes to save yet another woman from an abusive man, she finds herself wondering if this is the fight she won’t win.  She does win, but just barely.  Has she finally grown so weak that a mere man can defeat her?  As troubling as that thought is, Selene soon discovers there’s something that frightens her even more.  Someone is trying to resurrect the Eleusinian Mysteries and they are upping the ante by using human sacrifice.  Selene suspects that it’s one of her fellow gods, trying to regain former powers.

This is the first entry in the Olympus Bound series and it’s intriguing.  I liked Brodsky’s interpretation of not only the histories of the Greek gods, but also what they would be like if they were among us today.  And I appreciated Selene’s observations about her fellow gods, particularly Persephone.

The mystery was okay — the gods don’t really hide themselves all that well but why should they bother?  No one believes in them anyway.  I had most of the bad guys figured out but not the main one.  That one caught me by surprise but in a good way.  The tension level was excellent.

The romance, and yes, there is one, sort of — that didn’t really work for me.  Let me amend that.  I felt the romance of Artemis and Orion.  Brodsky sold that very well.  Selene and this guy, not so much.  Aside of the glimpses of her past with Orion, Selene is a pretty icy character.  During her heyday, she may have allowed herself to care about her handmaidens, but these days she keeps everyone at an emotional distance.  She protects women but she doesn’t care about any one of them individually.  I would expect that countless years of only exposing herself to the worst of men would have hardened her against them particularly.  Yet somehow,  while trying to figure out the next move of a fellow immortal intent on sacrificing human lives for godly power, she finds herself drawn to a man she originally suspected of murder?  Over the course of a few books, maybe.  All in the same book though?  Which took place in something like 10 days?  It felt rushed.  Not a deal-breaker though.

The next book in the series, Winter of the Gods, comes out in February.  It’s on my To Read list.

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Footprints to Murder by Marcia Talley

footprints-to-murderBook Review:  Footprints to Murder by Marcia Talley

After meeting up with her former roommate at their college reunion, Hannah agrees to help Susan coordinate the Sasquatch Sesquicentennial in Oregon.  There’s excitement when Big Foot himself seems to wander in front of one of the motion-activated video cameras an attendee has set up near the lodge.  The excitement quickly gives way to shock when the live feed also reveals a still body lying nearby.

This must have been an impulse-grab from the bookshelf; I never intentionally start 15 books into a series.  Sheesh.  That said, this book never really grabbed me, and I don’t think it had anything to do with starting mid-series.  The mystery itself was okay and I enjoyed the newspaper blurbs that introduced each chapter.  I never connected with Hannah though.  She never felt like a real person to me; none of the characters did.

Hannah tells us everything that she notices, whether it’s relevant to the story or not  —  the reunion is only a construct to reconnect the friends during Susan’s time of need — which itself appears only to be a way to conveniently place Hannah somewhere someone is murdered.  Why do I need to know that the new dorm has a dome-covered porthole that changes colors depending upon the energy usage within the building?  Nothing happens at the reunion.  Nothing.  Which begs the question — couldn’t the reunion have been more than an obvious plot device?  Couldn’t it have revealed something deeper about Hannah or her friendship with Susan?  We’re told that they were best of pals, way back when, but their history is skimmed over.  They happily reconnect at the reunion, barely lean on each other at all for emotional support or heck, even safety,  during a conference in which an attendee is murdered, and then go shopping for cowboy boots at the end.  Where’s the depth?  I felt Hannah’s zest for Debbie’s donuts more than I did her friendship with Susan. Even their friendship seems nothing more than a plot device.

That’s probably a harsher review of the book than it deserves.  Maybe.  I was tempted to set the book aside several times but I didn’t, so there’s that.

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