If Life After Dane were a TV show, it would be some kind of combo, mini-series, spin-off of Criminal Minds and The Dead Files. Ella has spent months t...moreIf Life After Dane were a TV show, it would be some kind of combo, mini-series, spin-off of Criminal Minds and The Dead Files. Ella has spent months travelling the country to attend the trials, in numerous jurisdictions, of her estranged son, Dane, aka the Rest Stop Dentist. She's never stopped loving him, even after discovering what he'd been doing in the years since he left home. When she returns to her life-long home in Colorado after witnessing Dane's execution, at the hands of the state of Arkansas, she has to face the disapproving looks of everyone who knows what he's been up to. Those looks are quickly forgotten when Dane begins appearing to Ella in decidedly unsettling ways. Things get even more bizarre when Sven Godel, a journalist trying to make his career on the Rest Stop Dentist, show's up with a video of his final interview with Dane. Everything she thought she knew changes drastically when, despite her absolute disgust with Sven, Ella watches the video. Dane's visitations become more terrifying and much more violent, causing Ella to embark on a new cross-country journey in hopes of finally putting Dane and the Rest Stop Dentist to rest.
This book contains several graphically violent scenes and is not suitable for all readers. If you're at all squeamish about such violence, delve into this book at your own risk.
In addition to being a horror story, Life After Dane takes a considered look at who's responsible for "creating" serial killers. It does so from the perspective of society, family members, and the serial killer himself. Some of those perspectives may surprise and shock the reader.
The characters are well-developed throughout, and the portrayal of their descent into terror on their exposure to Dane's ghost is excellent. Because it's narrated by Ella, her character and veracity are critical to the story. As it progresses, she becomes, more and more, an unreliable narrator. You're never quite sure if Ella's really being haunted by Dane or if he's just a manifestation of her deteriorating mental state. Even the things that happen to others - things she attributes to Dane, since she's telling the story - could be her mind's way of dealing with what she's done herself. The twist at the end may have you re-reading the whole book to find what you know you must have missed the first time through. You probably didn't miss anything. Lorn's just that good at springing surprises.
Life After Dane is a quick read - mostly because it's hard to put down, once you get started - but also for its brevity and because Lorn's prose flows so readily across the page. It's also a must-read for anyone who's into serial killers or who just enjoys a good evil-ghost story. (less)
In the not-too-distant future, True Ailey is on the backside of his career as a journalist. Corporations are the new Mafia – controlling society throu...moreIn the not-too-distant future, True Ailey is on the backside of his career as a journalist. Corporations are the new Mafia – controlling society through thugs and the technology embedded in everything and everyone. Virtual reality is the drug of choice – as addictive and debilitating as heroin. Information is the most valuable currency. Much of the world has fragmented into small republics where ethnic and cultural wars are part of everyone’s daily life. Exiled to one of these hellholes by his network, True is trying to hold his life together. When his friend is assassinated, he sets out to determine who’s behind the attack and for what purpose. His digging puts almost everyone he knows in danger the closer he comes to exposing the ultimate cover-up.
A little over half of Virtually True is written in third person, present tense. The remainder, mixed throughout, is third person, past tense. This makes for a very bumpy read – especially when it randomly jumps from past to present tense. Feels like talking to some pretentious jerk who always refers to himself in the third person. All this is very distracting from a plot that’s not all that easy to follow in the first place. The concept of the story is interesting, but it’s developed in such a choppy manner that it’s difficult to maintain interest. Because the storyline frequently jumps from reality to virtual reality, it’s also difficult to know what’s true of any character, and thus almost impossible to muster empathy for any of them, one way or the other.
If you’re seriously into technology and virtual reality, Virtually True may provide some interesting thought experiments. If you’re not, it could prove tedious and frustrating. (less)
Jack Dane isn't necessarily happy with his life as an underpaid feature writer for a small metropolitan newspaper, but he enjoys the comfortable routi...moreJack Dane isn't necessarily happy with his life as an underpaid feature writer for a small metropolitan newspaper, but he enjoys the comfortable routine it affords him. That comfort is shattered when unwelcome visions begin pulling him into their reality. Nikki is a psychologist and Jack’s best friend from college. He’s always been romantically inclined toward her, so seeking her professional help is a little awkward. Despite her own attraction to Jack, Nikki agrees to see him professionally. She’s skeptical of his tales, until she experiences the reality of one of his visions. Meanwhile, Jack meets Arthur, an aging clairvoyant, while writing a background piece related to some recent crimes. Arthur’s revelation of the true nature of the visions leads Jack and Nikki to redemption of sorts for members of each of their families.
I thoroughly enjoy exploring theories about the concept and reality of time and space, which is something The Last Radiant Heart does in quite a bit of detail. Unfortunately, too many things about the story and the writing distracted from that exploration in this instance. Foremost is the fact that the theory of time Wright puts forth has internal inconsistencies; like precluding linear time at one point and embracing it at another. The theory seems to be twisted to fit the plot, rather than the plot arising from a consistent theory. Then, there’s the sexual tension between Jack and Nikki. In the first two-thirds of the story, it feels forced and unnatural. Then it just disappears. The climax of the story, while dramatic, is disappointing given the buildup it receives. I expected something earth-shattering, but just got an, “Oh, look at that.” kind of event. Finally, Wright pushes the political correctness way too hard when Jack discovers an unknown fact about his cultural heritage.
Several aspects of the writing were annoying, as well. When Jack first describes his visions to Nikki, they sound like something submitted for a descriptive writing assignment, rather than a distraught individual telling a friend about a very disturbing experience. The narrative is in third person, but every so often, a sentence in first person pops up for no story-related reason. The use of a few clichés in writing is almost impossible to avoid, but including enough to draw the reader’s attention to the fact they’re there is way too many. Timeline inconsistencies and numerous missing articles and prepositions were like speed bumps in this reading foray.
The concept at the core of The Last Radiant Heart has the potential for a great story. Regrettably, the execution falls far short of that potential.(less)
Dark Moon revolves around a love parallelogram – two love triangles mashed together with two of the characters in both triangles and the other two cha...moreDark Moon revolves around a love parallelogram – two love triangles mashed together with two of the characters in both triangles and the other two characters related to each other. The characters display the emotional and reasoning capacity of a herd of eighth-graders. From that perspective, the story would go something like this: Storm and Trevor have been dating since seventh grade, and Storm wanted Trevor to ask her to go steady, but he was just playing it cool. Then Storm and Jarred met and hooked up, and that same night Trevor asked Storm to go steady, but she was freaked out because of what she and Jarred had done, so she told Trevor she’d think about it. Then Jarred decided Storm had to go steady with him because they’d hooked up, and he really liked her a lot, but Storm didn’t want to have anything to do with him because she thought he took advantage of her. Storm’s BFF, Donna, just wanted to have fun and kept telling her she should have some fun too. Storm still wanted Trevor to like her, but she wasn’t sure about him because he started acting kind of weird. Turns out, Elle, Storm’s lab partner, had been friends with Jarred for a long time, and wanted to go steady with him, but he told her they were just friends, probably because he was so into Storm. Oh, and Elle just found out that Trevor’s really her brother and is actually such a bad boy. When Trevor found out about Storm and Jarred, he freaked out and treated Storm really bad. He even tried to hook up with Donna to get even with Storm. But he still wants Storm to go steady with him. He and Jarred got into a couple of fights over Storm, and Jarred’s been really protective of her, but in a creepy, stalky kind of way. When Storm decided to go steady with Trevor, he got really controlling of her, and then he and Jarred got into a really bad fight over her, and…well, you know…
Based on the synopses I’d read, I was expecting Dark Moon to be a paranormal/supernatural thriller. What I got was a fairly standard romance with some supernatural thrown in, almost as an afterthought. Each chapter had me throwing up my hands in frustration as the characters found more and more senseless ways to think and behave. The few attempts at developing the supernatural aspects of the plot appeared to be stuck into the story to fill holes and potentially explain the characters’ odd behavior.
Fans of romance may enjoy Dark Moon, but true paranormal/supernatural fans will be disappointed.(less)
The Trojan Horse Conspiracy is part speculative-fiction history lesson and part political/techno thriller, ala Tom Clancy. The book begins with a reha...moreThe Trojan Horse Conspiracy is part speculative-fiction history lesson and part political/techno thriller, ala Tom Clancy. The book begins with a rehash of U. S. history, from the assassination of JFK to the present, spun out against the fictional backdrop of a Sino/Soviet conspiracy and the career path of former Navy SEAL and current FBI counter-intelligence expert, Brad Tisdale. While trying to ferret out moles in America’s intelligence and security agencies, Tisdale snags threads of the conspiracy and weaves them into the pattern of a plot that could leave the U.S. on the losing end of a lethal confrontation with China and North Korea.
Based on recent experience, I’m of the opinion that, when lawyers write fiction, it still reads like a legal brief. Nelson is no exception. Once you get used to the style though, the story is compelling. The historical discourse is interesting and the fictional interaction of Soviet and Chinese leaders gives it an interesting spin. The characters have enough depth for the reader to care what happens to them – good or bad. The speculation Nelson presents, while unlikely, is plausible enough to engage the open mind and raise at least a few questions. When the narrative reaches the present, the story becomes completely speculative and much more Clancyesque. Tisdale is the standard hero of political thrillers; the flawed, but sincere, patriot who willingly risks life and limb for the preservation of his country.
If you enjoy Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, or Alex Berenson, you’ll probably like The Trojan Horse Conspiracy, but be warned; the zealously liberal, will be more likely to fling the book across the room in anger than to finish it. (less)
At forty-two years of age, Kate still lives with her father because she’s never completely recovered from the effects of witnessing a murder and being...moreAt forty-two years of age, Kate still lives with her father because she’s never completely recovered from the effects of witnessing a murder and being raped when she was twenty. Lately, she’s feeling trapped by her father’s overly protective attitude, and she’s ready to have a life of her own. Her sense of urgency in that regard increases dramatically when the man who’s spent the past two decades in jail based on her eyewitness testimony is exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence.
Lay Death at Her Door is classified by the publisher as a mystery, but it’s not a classic mystery in the sense of the protagonist solving a crime. I wouldn’t call it a thriller either, although it has some aspects of that genre. I’m not sure an accurate classification is possible. At its core, this is the story of a woman’s obsession and of its power to destroy her life. The story is told by Kate almost as a memoir of how she came to be in her current situation. Buhmann does a superb job of letting Kate peel away layer after layer of the façade she’s spent her lifetime creating. We see the dominance of her ego in things she says, almost as asides, from time to time. The secrecy in which she is shrouded becomes more pronounced as she further isolates herself from the few people who are part of her life, while simultaneously using them to satisfy her obsession. We feel these things just as those people do. Although Kate is an unlikeable character, it’s hard to not feel some sympathy for her. The other characters seem weak or despicable in their own right, but we only see them through Kate’s eyes, just as we see her only through her own eyes. In Kate, Buhmann has created a classic unreliable narrator.
Purely from a plot perspective, the story will hold your interest. The “climactic” scene is telegraphed, possibly intentionally, but is only a precursor to the true climax. The last twenty pages of the book have more twists than a bag of pretzels. The true appeal of the book, though, is in witnessing the disintegration of an obsessive personality…like the train wreck you can’t help but watch. In that regard, Buhmann’s storytelling is in a class with Lolita.
Reading Lay Death at Her Door is like sitting raptly across the table from Kate while she relates her tale of woe and realizing when she finishes, that you've scooted your chair as far from the table as you can get it.(less)
Adrian, an alien, has occupied the body of an Englishman in order to find another human body that contains his leader, Menonan. He travels to Ephraim,...moreAdrian, an alien, has occupied the body of an Englishman in order to find another human body that contains his leader, Menonan. He travels to Ephraim, Wisconsin to find a man he forced to help in a failed attempt to track down Menonan twenty years earlier. There he discovers that a young woman, Laura, is the key to his success this time. Thus begins Adrian’s stalker-like attempts to convince Laura that she has no choice but to help him. In addition to Adrian’s creepy behavior, Laura must deal with an overbearing father, a lecherous boss, the wife of the now-dead Englishman in whose body Adrian resides, the wife’s detective friend, the police, various townsfolk who know what’s going on but won’t divulge their secrets, and a younger sister who wants to help but is mostly just a pain in the ass.
The central premise of Escape from Eternity – Earth as a place created and used by a race of eternal beings to recover from the boredom of eternity – is an interesting concept with a lot of story potential. Unfortunately, Scholze falls short of delivering on that potential. The idea is presented in a piecemeal fashion that leaves more questions than answers. Some of those questions, when raised by Laura, are answered with a, “That’s just the way it is” kind of answer. That isn’t acceptable to Laura, nor should it be to the reader.
One problem I have with the story is the number of times Adrian has to try to explain to the same people the nature of earth and his mission here. This lengthens the book unnecessarily and becomes very tedious. I suppose this could be a device for demonstrating Adrian’s commitment to his mission. If so, that could be more effectively shown by better developing his alien personality.
All of the characters are inconsistent. I like well-written characters who are confused and troubled. I’m not a fan of characters who are confusing. Even when they’re confused or uncertain about something, there has to be a core value or trait that directs everything they do. Scholze’s characters don’t have that. They react and behave in whatever manner best fits the plot twist of the moment.
The story includes a fairly graphic description of a sexual assault. The outcome of the assault is important to the plot, but it could be accomplished by any of several other means that would be less invasive to the story.
Overall, Escape from Eternity feels like several lumps of clay that a sculptor has thrown onto a frame, but hasn’t yet begun molding into a pleasing form. (less)
Celebrate the Sinner is told from two perspectives, but by the same individual. The majority of the story is narrated by Teddy – seven years old at th...moreCelebrate the Sinner is told from two perspectives, but by the same individual. The majority of the story is narrated by Teddy – seven years old at the beginning of the book – while Ted pops in from time to time to tell us how life is treating him at eighty-nine and to brag about his sexual exploits. Teddy’s father, Merle, has only enough time and interest for the sawmill he’s recently purchased in a remote Oregon valley. His mother, Marie, dotes on Teddy, but is too distracted by her gin and her vanishing dreams, to be concerned about his day-to-day activities. As the Great Depression looms larger, Teddy finds others to fill his parental needs. Miss Cherry, his teacher and first crush, sees potential where others see only what his Grandma Lulu calls his defects. Boone is a sawmill mechanic, roadhouse bouncer, and part-time prospector. Wattie is an old black musician with a troubled past who calls square dances at the local roadhouse. Together, they teach Teddy to deal with the harder side of life as he encounters it on a daily basis. Much of the hardship comes in the form of watching his father struggle to keep the mill operating profitably in the midst of financial uncertainty, unions, the KKK, hangings, and arson. No amount of teaching can keep Teddy from being pulled into the climactic clash of those forces, though.
I like Scott’s portrayal of Teddy/Ted as essentially two different characters in the story. Each has his own outlook on life and his own voice. Those voices are visually displayed by the use of italics when Ted is speaking, but you can also hear the difference in the way they speak and in the things that hold their interest and drive them to the actions they take. Ted speaks briefly of his marriage, and that’s all we know of the seventy years between our last view of Teddy and the cantankerous old fart now living in a retirement home. That silence leads us to wonder if it was Teddy’s childhood or the intervening years that led to Ted’s current frame of mind.
There’s a sense of directed aimlessness in the characters throughout the book, as if they know where they’re going, but aren’t entirely sure how they’re supposed to get there. The occasional purposeful action taken by one or another of the characters almost always leads to unintended consequences for everyone. Teddy and Ted each have surprise “endings.” Ted’s is more unexpected than is Teddy’s, and has a very karmic feel to it.
Celebrate the Sinner won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a very good read. It’ll give you pause to consider what your past may say about where your life is headed.(less)
Iris and Estella are best friends whose relationship doesn’t end with Estella’s death. Iris’ feelings of shock, guilt, and repentance are exacerbated...moreIris and Estella are best friends whose relationship doesn’t end with Estella’s death. Iris’ feelings of shock, guilt, and repentance are exacerbated by Estella’s voice whispering in her head; chiding her every thought and action. Brutal murders, strange packages, and even stranger occurrences begin to accumulate around Iris like iron filings around a magnet. Estella’s voice evolves into full-blown arguments as Iris becomes convinced that first one person, then another is at the root of her problems.
Blood Echo has a dark feel throughout, because everything is filtered through Iris’ increasingly tenuous grasp on reality. Simonson is very good at subtly drawing the reader, step by step, down the blind alley to psychosis. It’s a little uncomfortable, but you just have to see what’s behind the next dumpster. There’s always a surprise there, but none of them compare to the wall at the end of the alley.
The cast of characters here is interesting. With a couple of exceptions, it’s almost impossible to be sure whether any of them is truly likeable. Being the ultimate unreliable narrator, even Iris is hard to pin down in this regard. For the most part, this is a group of people you might like…until you get to know them.
There’s a vampire element to the story that may be “real” or may be part of Iris’ psychosis. Either way, leaving it out wouldn’t have hurt the story and would likely have intensified the aspects that make it such a good psychological thriller.
Blood Echo may leave you uncertain of what’s real and with questions for which you don’t really want the answers.(less)
The city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, recorded 750 homicides in 2012. The year before, the death toll stood at 2,...moreThe city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, recorded 750 homicides in 2012. The year before, the death toll stood at 2,086. From 2007 to 2011, with over 9,000 people killed there, Juarez was known as the deadliest city in the world. The Plaza graphically reveals the nature of the violence Juarez experienced on a daily basis.
There’s not much in the way of plot here, but the story is compelling, nevertheless. It begins with a very public execution of a corrupt police officer by drug cartel hit men and ends with cartel lieutenants planning the brutal elimination of their competition. Between those events, scene after scene of violence rolls past, as if on a conveyor belt. The odd thing is, once you start reading, you can’t stop. The torture, sex, and murder – often all three simultaneously – are like the car wreck you can’t look away from.
A few of Paxton’s characters briefly hold forth hope for a favorable resolution of the story. The rest are the type of sociopaths you’d expect to find only in fictional horror stories; but at some level, you know people like this do exist – possibly in your own city or neighborhood.
Paxton demonstrates how corrupt officials at every level of government and an ineptly conducted “War on Drugs” not only fail to quell the violence, but actually exacerbate it. He also shows how such situations grow and become completely unmanageable.
The Plaza is not for everyone. It should, however, be read by anyone seeking to understand how quickly and easily violent organizations, with complete disregard for human life, can drag a society into a hell from which escape appears less and less likely.(less)
Carrie was born with the ability to hear the thoughts of those around her. The immortality is the result of a deal someone else made with a demon…abou...moreCarrie was born with the ability to hear the thoughts of those around her. The immortality is the result of a deal someone else made with a demon…about eight thousand years ago. For the time being, she owns a diner in Philadelphia, where she dispenses advice to those who are able to track her down. She avoids other people as much as possible, but has managed, over the centuries, to develop relationships with an angel, Gabriel, and a demon, Bedlam. When her latest supplicant, Sebastian, asks if she can get him out of a deal – his soul for his sister’s life – he’s made with a demon, she decides to break her personal rule and try to help him. Finding the demon who holds Sebastian’s contract, involves increasingly dangerous trips into Hell and the care of her friends on each return.
Much of this story is flashbacks related to how Carrie reached the current phase of her eternal life and to how she met the various archdemons she must deal with to fulfill her commitment to Sebastian. After a while I began to wonder if that was all the story would hold. About two thirds of the way through, Sebastian returns to the story in a very touching way that sets the stage for its true resolution.
Oracle of Philadelphia is interesting for its depiction of the angelic realm, but the real message of the story is the value of true friendship. Carrie spends a lot of time looking for things that she doesn’t realize she already has, as if her ability to see into others’ lives hinders her in knowing her own.
For those who want more than just angels and demons in their supernatural fantasy, this is a must read.(less)
Margarita Williams is in a constant struggle with the Grim Reaper. Having escaped Death’s cold grasp as a teenager, she now finds him taking friends a...moreMargarita Williams is in a constant struggle with the Grim Reaper. Having escaped Death’s cold grasp as a teenager, she now finds him taking friends and family at a precipitous rate. The latest campaign begins when Margarita discovers a fellow geocacher unconscious in a local park. His subsequent death – ruled a murder by the coroner - brings her talents as a puzzle creator and solver into focus. Her struggle with Death intensifies when more members of her geocaching community are murdered. Joining forces with Bindi Ryan – her Australian, supersmeller roommate – and their odd, new neighbors, Margarita pulls all the pieces together to solve the mystery before she or more of her friends meet the Grim Reaper.
F1rst to Find has the feel of the classic murder mystery; some tension, a little humor, a few “Aha” moments. Setting it in the context of the sport and community of geocaching gives the story a unique and interesting twist.
While some of the characters are a little flat, Margarita, Bindi, and their next-door neighbors are well developed. Bindi is especially well done. She is dealing with being dumped by her fiancé when she arrives in the U.S., she has a hypersensitive sense of smell which causes her to become physically ill at times, and she has an exceptionally independent spirit. Talbot manages to simultaneously highlight and blend those, to portray a young woman about whom no one can be ambivalent. The dialogue seems a little timid and bland at times, but fits well with the classic murder mystery tone of the story.
Talbot’s writing flows well, and the plot twists are relatively easy to keep up with. This is a well-told story that will keep you reading and guessing right to the end.(less)