- The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
- We are Not Good People, Jeff Somers
- Horde, Ann Aguirre
- The Old Man, Thomas Perry
- Year One, Nora Roberts
Let me start off by saying The Essex Serpent is brilliantly written. In 1893, Cora, the widow of a sadistic husband, abandons London and moves with her companion and her autistic son to Essex. Cora is a new woman now that she is free; she can revel in nature, enjoy the people around her, indulge her whims. She’s fascinated with fossil finds and tales of odd creatures, including the newly rejuvenated legend of the Essex Serpent. She becomes friends with an Anglican priest (Cora is not a believer) who lives in the marsh area where the serpent has been sighted. This is not a traditional romance, and it’s not a traditional monster adventure, but it is fascinating and engrossing.
We are Not Good People is just as well-written and engrossing, but in a completely different way. Lem Vonnegan is a trickster, a minor magician, lowly in the world of the people who can perform magic. He has raw talent, and a fast friend, and those are Lem’s two advantages and the key to his survival. By happenstance, Lem discovers that the highest in the magic hierarchy have a terrible plan in place that will destroy much of humanity. Lem himself has just enough goodness to rebel at this, and his struggle to thwart this plan is costly. Jeff Somers races the reader along through the battle between the bad magic practitioners and the worse, and it’s a scary, brutal trip.
I’m an enthusiastic fan of Ann Aguirre’s YA Razorland trilogy, so I was pleased to plough into Horde, the final novel about Deuce, first an underground Huntress, then a struggling wanderer aboveground, and now the partially assimilated teenager in a settlement of normal people, whom she both loves and is bewildered by. Their religion and their customs confuse Deuce, who was raised without a father or mother in a savage environment. Deuce and the three companions along her journey are making the best of their new homes, some with more success than others. Deuce sees that the protection of the settlement is not adequate, and it seems the race of deformed creatures will defeat every bit of civilization that remains. Since she’s brave and determined, she makes her bid to overcome all the prejudices against her to keep that from happening, and in the process to mend her relationship with the boy she loves. This is a super ending to a super series.
Thomas Perry has long been one of the best thriller writers around, and The Old Man is really solid. There were a couple of twists that surprised me and made me a bit uneasy, but maybe that was the point. The main questions in the book are answered, and in a way that makes sense. The Old Man himself, those true name we learn close to the end of the book, is not so very old . . . at least, to this reader. But the intelligence operatives who come after him always discount him due to his age, and they’re sorry. We meet the retiree when his name is Dan Chase, but once his identity is uncovered – he’s accused of crimes he didn’t commit – Dan has several other names in his flight and concealment. Dan’s resourceful, humane when he can be, and incredibly wily. He teams up with a divorced woman who has her own secrets, as we learn. This is a truly satisfying trip into thrillerland.
I know I’ve missed scores of Nora Roberts’ books, but I was glad I picked up Year One. In a familiar scenario, a terrible virus sweeps the world with devastating speed, leaving the US to the few who are immune. The virus has wakened the latent magical ability in some of these survivors, and these are certainly not all pleasant people with good intentions. New York chef Lana Bingham and her lover flee the city, eventually meeting with other refugees who are just trying to find a way to live without hurting anyone. But there are evil people in pursuit, and the long journey to find peace is full of peril.
It’s not a big revelation when I tell you I love the Christmas season. I love buying gifts, I love decorating the house, and I love the colder weather. Also, since I’m a Christian, to me it’s a happy anniversary of the greatest birth ever.
But I also love getting back to normal. No more lists of whom I’ve bought for and who I haven’t, no more parties to attend (I’m not very good at parties), no more big meals to prepare and schedule. And finally, as of last Sunday, all the decorations were packed away . . . and yesterday, the furniture was rearranged into its normal configuration. Everything looks so clean and simple!
Our learning experience this year was with plastic snow. As some of you will remember, I have a huge Snow Village collection – well, large, anyway – and this year I decided to blur the electric cords and so on with plastic snow I bought at a hobby shop. I’ve done this before, but I made it ‘snow’ myself. This year, in misguided enthusiasm, I enlisted my two grandchildren, 5 and 4, in the snowing experience.
Saying they just loved it is a real understatement. I don’t believe we’ll ever get every flake removed from the house. Or the dryer vent. Or the washing machine. Or the seams in the chairs. Furthermore, when tiny Snow Village people and animals vanished, I expected to find them under the tables. It didn’t occur to me that tiny fingers can poke tiny pets and SV children into the open windows of Snow Village houses, perhaps never to be seen again. We still haven’t found a kitten. But at least it’s all boxed up until next Christmas.
And now, I have to get back to work. For someone who claims I work every day – and ten and a half months out of the year, I do – this vacation is fun, a treat, and nearly impossible to end. Once I get out of my rut, it’s very hard to get back in, but that’s where I desperately want to be. This has been a week of struggle, but I will prevail!