I’ve been waiting so very long for a full length novel featuring Carlos Delacruz, who works for the New York Council for the Dead. I first met Carlos in Older’s magnificent story collection Salsa Nocturna and so, of course, I couldn’t wait to dig into this. A bit of history: Carlos is an inbetweener, both alive and dead, and he has very little memory of who he was before he “died” and went to work for the Council. It makes for a bit of a lonely life, although he does value his friends and coworkers. When the book opens, Carlos gets orders to take out a man named Trevor that is threatening the stability of an entrada (an entrance into the underworld), and he does, not knowing that this will lead him into some rather startling revelations about his past, not to mention a very powerful sorcerer, Sarco, that seeks to destroy the barrier between the living and the dead.
If you know Daniel José Older’s work, then you know how he writes. I imagine he writes like he plays music, with a lyrical quality that is nearly impossible to tear yourself away from. Carlos is the narrator, and he wears his pain on his sleeve, his loneliness always palpable. And yet, he’s not afraid to fight the good fight, and his sarcasm is as sharp as a freshly stropped razor, as is his sense of humor. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that Carlos does find clues about his past, and meets a woman that may have the key to his future. First though, he’s got to take care of a pretty nasty imp infestation that seems to be directly associated with Sarco. Those imps are nasty business, and the first time we meet one is, well, you’ll see. I’ve never quite read anything like it. The imagery is so twisted. So very, very twisted.
New York has long been considered a colorful, richly diverse city, but Older’s magical rendering makes it something very special indeed, full of ghosts, soul catchers, and many other otherworldly delights and monstrosities. It makes for a very creepy and exciting mix, daubed with shades of melancholy, and even some very clever horror elements, and the ending will leave you reeling. I can’t recommend this book, or this author, highly enough. This is what urban fantasy is all about, and when you start this, allow some time to finish, because you won’t want to come up for air until you do....more
You can read my Library Journal review here (check it out under Editorial Reviews or, if you have a subscription to LJ's review database, you can checYou can read my Library Journal review here (check it out under Editorial Reviews or, if you have a subscription to LJ's review database, you can check it out there as well): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/broke......more
I know what you’re thinking (or might be thinking): ugh, vampires, soooo done to death (sorry about that). But bear with me, here. We’re talking about Christopher Buehlman, author of Those Across the River, The Necromancer’s House, and Between Two Fires. This man has a very solid history of excellence, so when I saw that The Lesser Dead was a vampire tale, I didn’t hesitate for even a second.
Joey Peacock looks eternally 14, but is actually in his 50s in 1978 New York City. He is, of course, also a vampire. He’s more than a bit cocky, considers himself a ladies man, and loves to look sharp. Well, as sharp as one can possibly look when their home is in the tunnels that run under the city. That’s ok, though, because Joey can glamour a victim in the blink of an eye. He has a family, of sorts, consisting mainly of Margaret (their tough as nails leader), and the elderly Cvetko, who harbors a fatherly affection for Joey. There are others, but they play the biggest parts in Joey’s life (or undeath). By 1978, Joey has fallen into a bit of a routine, and even has a family (mom, dad, son) that he regularly charms and feeds from. It may not be the ideal life, but it’s all he has, and if a bit of ennui has set in, well…that’s about to change. Margaret’s group has always been fairly careful to avoid killing their victims (which they call “peeling”), mainly to keep the cops off their scent as opposed to any real sense of moral responsibility. However, when they discover a feral pack of child vampires that not only kill, but play with their victims like a cat plays with a mouse, they must decide what to do about this very serious problem.
The first half of the book mainly covers Joey’s history with the vamps; how he got turned, the events leading up to that, and a rundown of vamp politics and the occasional turf skirmishes that Margaret takes care of with her signature ruthlessness. Joey’s narration is pragmatic and more than a hint of the 14 year old boy that he once was shines through. Frankly, he’s a bit of a twerp, and very frequently uses his innocent looks (and a high pitched voice) to get what he wants. But…give Joey a chance. Trust me on this one. When he meets the little vamps, he’s actually pretty horrified at what they’ve done, and what they do (it’s really, REALLY icky) but they tell a compelling, and even tragic story, and Joey’s protective side begins to emerge. Margaret isn’t as easily convinced, and she’s determined to get rid of them before they call unwanted attention to the underground colony.
These kids are fantastically creepy, especially the lone female, and if you think Margaret and Co. can be vicious, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There are absolutely no sparkly vamps here, and underneath Joey’s veneer of swagger, there’s a thread of melancholy that’s unmistakable. This book surprised the hell out of me-not at how good it was, because it’s very, very good. That wasn’t surprising at all. I was shocked at how attached I actually got to Joey, and how he managed to make me care about Margaret and the rest of his vamps (she was human too, once, and her story is heartbreaking.) Speaking of heartbreaking, I was blown away at how arresting this book, and these characters are, and how I never could have seen it coming. I’m not going to tell you what “it” is, but suffice it to say it will wow you, I hope, because it certainly wowed me. Buehlman is a master, and his lovely writing only underscores the brutality, and sometimes futility and sadness of these vamps’ lives. They really are doing the best they can with what they are. Think of that what you will, but don’t miss this book. The Lesser Dead is shades of The Lost Boys and Near Dark wrapped up in Buehlman’s very distinctive, very unique touch, and it’s fantastic. This man can’t write ‘em fast enough for me, and I can’t wait to see what he’s got up his sleeve next!...more
Prosperous, Maine is an interesting little town. The name is a perfect fit, because for ages, they’ve been a town of prosper, and tolerance, and general well-being, and if their little church, the Congregation of Adam Before Eve & Eve Before Adam (brought brick by brick from Northumbria, in England), is a little odd, well, there are always odd little things in small towns, right? Outsiders are not very welcome, and home sales, who leave, who stays and just about everything else, are tightly monitored and decided by the town selectmen. Things are not looking good in Prosperous right now, though. A homeless man named Jude has died by apparent suicide and his daughter Annie, who has had problems of her own, has gone missing, and she’s thought to have gone to Prosperous. Before he died, Jude, with very modest resources, planned to hire Charlie Parker to look into his daughter’s disappearance, and word does indeed get back to Charlie.
It’s almost impossible for Charlie to ignore someone in need, and when he follows up on Jude’s “suicide”, something doesn’t look right, and he starts asking around. When he visits Prosperous, their police chief, Lucas Morland, seems to be forthcoming, and he even escorts Charlie to their “quaint” little church but all paths seem to lead to Prosperous, and Paster Warraner rubs Charlie the wrong way, as do the very creepy carvings in the upper corners of each wall; faces right out of some dark fairy tale. Charlie knows something is going on, but finding out what will be a chore, so he calls on some friends for help. Little does he know he’s been marked to die, and his enemies are legion. But as we know, Charlie’s got lots of friends, and a reputation that precedes him, but will it be enough, and will he find out what really happened to Jude and Annie?
If you’re a fan of this series, you know that Charlie Parker is no stranger to darkness and things beyond the pale, and while he’s got quite a few pokers in the fire, this books sees him with a stronger sense of hope than in previous installments, which makes some of the events of the book even more tragic. Louis and Angel play a huge part in this one, and they end up helping Charlie with the Prosperous case as well as tracking down the Collector, who may or may not be looking to make a deal. Prosperous is a creepy, insidious little town, but instead of putting it firmly in the “pure evil” category, Connolly gives quite a few of its citizens a full fleshing out, especially Morland and the elderly town leader Hayley Conyer. Morland is a complex guy, and it would have been really easy to cast him as a baddie, but, as happens so often in these books, he’s painted in various shades of grey, and even comes across as sympathetic at times. Conyer is a little hard to sympathize with, and Morland isn’t really her biggest fan either, but Prosperous is a character unto itself, and its history is fascinating, and terrifying.
There’s an event in the second half that left me reeling, and changed the narrative completely, but through it all, I was riveted while Connelly worked his very particular brand of dark magic. The Wolf in Winter is thoroughly spooky, engrossing, and even introspective, and I loved it. This is, as always, a series not to be missed, and Wolf is one of the best yet....more
Emily Rosario is 31 years old, and addicted to crack. When she meets a Russian man in a bar and he invites her back to his hotel, ostensibly to take drugs, she goes with him. It isn’t smart and she knows it isn’t, but her habit won’t let her say no. Soon she realizes drugs aren’t the only thing on the menu. After days of being dosed with crack and various other drugs by the Russian, an old woman who calls herself Sophia, and a man named Georgy, she’s put in disguise, a bomb is handcuffed to her hand, and she’s sent by her captors into a San Francisco bank to rob it.
But…Emily does the unexpected. Her kidnappers thought they’d done everything right, so when Emily leaves the bank, with almost $900,000 in tow, there in shock when, instead of getting in the white van that took her there, she runs, and keeps running.
Meanwhile, SFPD cop Leo Elias is falling apart. He’s an alcoholic, he’s on the verge of losing his house and his marriage, and he envies everything about his rookie partner, Sam Trammell, from his age to his looks. Everyone from the street kids that he interacts with each day to his fellow cops call him “Plastic Face” for the mask of fake toughness that he dons so effectively. He has no idea when or how his life started going of the rails, when this feeling of desperateness started leaking in, but his breaking point is near. He can feel it. When he hears of the bank heist, and the amount of money stolen, he resolves to find it, and take it for himself. That will solve all of his problems, right?
It’s very easy to slot each of these characters into stereotypes: an irresponsible addict, a crooked cop, etc, but Hoffman never lets that happen. Emily is complex and very, very tough and resourceful. She longs for a better life, even as her addiction drives many of her actions. Elias is very, very unsympathetic at first, but strangely, as he gets deeper and deeper into trouble, even if you can’t condone his actions, you can see how someone so desperate can go so low. The Russian that first lures Emily back to the hotel carries an undeniable undercurrent of sadness and futility. It’s very evident he doesn’t want to do this horrible thing, but later you find out why he does. Even Sophia, who looks like everyone’s sweet grandma, yet casually talks about cutting off body parts, isn’t completely without a soul.
There’s no pure black and white in this book, and Hoffman presents his players, and their actions, in spare prose that somehow maximizes some of the inevitable tragedy that befalls them. Lest you think it’s all doom and gloom, you may be surprised. There’s light here, and it’s quickly apparent that it lies in the broken, yet hopeful Emily.
You’ll want to set aside a few hours for this noir gem. It’s a quick, gritty, unputdownable book, and you’ll probably finish it in one sitting. Crime lovers won’t want to miss this one....more
The Winter Long is so chock full of revelations, and more than a few answered questions, that revealing any of them, would pretty thoroughly spoil the book for you. So, I’ll keep it short and sweet, and deliberately, and probably annoyingly, vague. Sorry about that… I mean, seriously, when you see back cover copy like this:
Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.
She was wrong.
It’s time to learn the truth.
It’s kind of a giveaway that even a vague description of events in the book would be ruinous. I’m gonna give it a try. Toby and Tybalt are enjoying couple time. In fact, they’re enjoying it so much that any expectation of peace can’t possibly be realistic, right? We all know that Toby attracts trouble like white on rice so it’s no surprise when she’s visited by Simon Torquill. Remember him? He’s Sylvester’s twin brother and the charming fellow that turned Toby into a fish (among other things.) He’s desperately trying to tell Toby something, but he’s under a geas, so a big reveal isn’t in the cards. So, Toby and crew go to the best place she knows of to get answers: The Luidaeg. Things don’t quite go as Toby hopes, but she does manage to get a wee bit more info out of The Luidaeg before things go all to hell.
I almost feel like I’m under a geas writing this review, but anyway, another blast from Toby’s past rears, um, its ugly head, and of course, it’s time for Toby to save the day. Like I said, revelations carry the narrative in The Winter Long, and during this journey, Toby will learn some blinding truths about her past, that will have great repercussions on her future, if she lets them. I probably should have just written Betrayals! Revelations! Answers!, and left it at that, so needless to say, McGuire wraps up a ton of plot strings in this one, but as always, a pretty bow tying things up is nowhere to be seen. Seanan McGuire mentions in her acknowledgements that this is the book that all others led up to, that everything she’s done until now was for the sake of getting here. Indeed. What she manages to do is make it very clear how intricate Toby’s story is, and the richness of Toby’s world is a thing of genius. And don’t worry, while The Winter Long clears up a TON of stuff, it’s made clear that Toby’s story is far from over. This is a good thing. The Winter Long is a testament to McGuire’s ability to take so many threads and pull them together into a harrowing, and believable tapestry, and it’s all Toby’s own. While there’s plenty of action, this is one of the most introspective books in the bunch, and of course, another great book in the Toby-verse....more
Ashley Parker has been dealing with, and battling, the plague, and the zombies they spawned, like a champ, and Plague Nation was especially harrowing for Ashley and the gang. There was a helicopter crash, an ambush, and perhaps the worst part for Ashley, Gabriel was captured at gunpoint. He and Ashley were just starting to explore their new relationship, and the possibility of a way to control his condition. Needless to say, Ashley is desperate to get him back. To make things even worse, Dr. Albert was taken by the same people, and the possibility of a vaccine for Walker’s Flu lies with him. The current incarnation of the vaccine can actually cause people to become the walking dead, but it’s a starting point for a cure, and now that the virus has become airborne, it’s more important than ever before that they recover Dr. Albert. Luckily, Ashley is a Wild Card (she’s immune to the zombie virus and after she contracted it and fought it, she came out of it with some pretty awesome “heightened” abilities), and most of her team are Wild Cards as well. Now, they must make their way to San Diego to hopefully rescue Dr. Albert, for them to have any hope for a cure to a disease that has now spread throughout the world.
Ashley is back in all her snarky glory, but in Plague World, although she hasn’t lost her considerable sense of humor, she’s a more subdued, introspective Ashley than she was in previous books. She misses Gabriel, she worries that Lil will just get worse without medication, so finding appropriate meds is a priority, and the new guy, Griff, seems determined to get his hands on Ashley, whether she consents or not, and she doesn’t trust him. He’s got some kind of angle, and she’s certain it’s more than just getting in her pants. So, the team is off to San Diego to find out who is at the bottom of unleashing Walker’s Flu and perverted the DZN’s (Dolofonoitou Zontanous Nekrous, or “killers of the dead”) existence for their own nefarious means.
Plague World is the 3rd and last in Dana Fredsti’s smashing zombie series, and although it’s a bit bittersweet, she brings things to a satisfying conclusion and the journey to get there is horrific, sometimes funny, and always awesome. Most of the story is told by Ashley, but in Plague World, there are interludes that take place in different parts of the world where the plague is just taking hold, and it serves to heighten the terror of an already awful situation. Fredsti has a lot of fun with her use of San Diego’s Balboa Park, which is a former naval based turned national park, and as always, her fight scenes are fantastic. Give Ashley a sword, and she’ll cut a swath through the undead that’s a mile long, and as gruesomely gleeful as some of the fight scenes are, the body count is taking its toll on Ashley and the rest of the group, especially after the considerable losses they’ve suffered.
This book is darker than the previous two, and it doesn’t get much darker than in the final pages, when Ashley comes face to face with a person from her past. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that Ashley is taken to a very, very dark place, and the experience would cause many to lose their minds. Yeah, it’s that bad. Dana Fredsti is a fantastic storyteller-you’ll blaze through this in one or two sittings, because the action rarely lets up, and it’s just good. If you’re a zombie fan, or just a fan of spectacular horror, this should be a go-to series, and I envy anyone that gets to read this series back to back. Plague World was worth the wait, though, and I’ll follow Dana Fredsti anywhere. I’m very much looking forward to what she’s got in the works next.
It’s been twenty years since a terrible, supposedly ritualistic murder was committed in a small town by the sea, and Sean Ward, former detective of the London Metropolitan Police is now working cold cases as a private detective after being badly injured on the job. Corinne Woodrow has been put away for her part in the murder, and as far as the public knows, she was the only one involved, but new DNA evidence suggests there was someone else at the scene, and Sean has been hired to get at the truth. He may not prove Corinne innocent, but if there’s a chance that a killer is still on the loose, it’s his job to find the culprit. When he arrives in Ernemouth, he consults with the local police, hoping to meet some of the detectives that worked the original case and gain some insight into the events of 20 years ago. When he meets the editor of a local paper, she seems eager to help, and they each begin pursuing different aspects of the investigation. It soon becomes clear that more than just murder was going on all those years ago, and the revelations may prove fatal.
Attention crime fans: Have you discovered Cathi Unsworth yet? She’s well known in the UK, and after reading Weirdo, to me she’s right up there with the stellar talent of Megan Abbott and Tana French. The narrative goes back and forth between the events of 1984 and the Sean’s investigation in 2003, and as fascinating as the 2003 investigation is, it’s the 1984 bits that make up the real meat of this chilling novel. This is especially hard to read if you’re the parent of a teen, particularly a teen girl, which I am. Corinne Woodrow is only 15, and her lot in life is a tragic one. Her mother is a particularly cruel woman, dealing in drugs and sex, and the neglect and abuse that Corinne suffers at her hands is astonishing. The depth of depravity that Corinne was born into knows no bounds, and when she meets Debbie , she thinks she might have at last found a friend. But, as it so often happens, Debbie meets a boy, and they begin spending more and more time together, putting a bit of an unintentional rift between the girls. It’s just the gap that’s needed for something more insidious to move in. Giving away too much would spoil the myriad of twists that this book has in store, but Unsworth has her finger on the pulse of 80s small town English teen angst and their struggle to find themselves amidst so much confusion about family, the future, and of course, their place in a social hierarchy that knows no mercy.
Cathi Unsworth has been called the UK’s Queen of Noir for good reason. She goes to some very, very dark places and themes of friendship, mental illness, corruption, and just plain evil are explored with the sure hand of someone who knows her subject inside and out, and knows how to turn it into dark crime gold. This one will break your heart and terrify you in equal measure, and like I said, if you don’t know Unsworth’s work yet, here’s the perfect place to start. The final twist is particularly satisfying. Wonderfully chilling and absolutely riveting....more
After Quentin Coldwater gets bounced from Fillory (quite rapidly and unceremoniously), he seeks out a teaching position at Brakebills, and finds thatAfter Quentin Coldwater gets bounced from Fillory (quite rapidly and unceremoniously), he seeks out a teaching position at Brakebills, and finds that he actually rather likes it. Then his father dies, and he takes time out of teaching to help his mother tie up loose ends. Quentin was never close to his father, never close to either parents, really, but it’s his duty, and he’s determined to make things easier for his mother. After he wraps things up there, he returns to Brakebills and immerses himself again in his teaching duty, but almost as suddenly as he’s expelled from Fillory, the same happens at Brakebills, and again he’s adrift, but not without terrible knowledge about someone from his past, and an expelled student, Plum, at his side. They soon take a job that promises a big payday, but the risk is very high. However, it offers a certain amount of freedom for both Quentin and Plum.
Meanwhile, in Fillory, the Lorians are invading, and Eliot takes it upon himself to push back the hoard, but that’s not the end of it, and Eliot and Janet are told that some pretty bad badness is on the way, and to prepare for the worst. Fillory is no longer the stable place it once was, and Eliot and Janet will soon have to go on their most important quest yet.
It’s been a little while since I read The Magician King, and I kind of wish I’d reread it before starting this one. It took me a bit to get back in the swing of things, but once I did, whoaaaaa, guys and gals. Quentin is quite a bit older and wiser, but even so, I think he did much more growing up in this book than in the first two. He went through an extensive period of longing to return to Fillory, but things are much different now. His former student/new friend Plum is a delight and she has an interesting connection to Fillory that will prove to be quite important. And then there’s Alice. Remember Alice? Remember what happened to Alice? Welll…she’s sorta back (in a manner of speaking), and Quentin’s plans mostly revolve around her.
The Magician’s Land is made up of the same gorgeous writing that you’ve come to expect from Lev Grossman, and he has a particular gift for imagery. The whale scenes, ya’ll…the whale scenes. If it seems like I’m holding back, I am, because to reveal too much would be to spoil the absolute gift that is this book. I really liked the first two, but I LOVED this one. The narrative bounces back and forth from Janet and Eliot’s new, and most important, quest in Fillory, to Quentin on Earth, and so many questions are answered. Still dying to know what Quentin’s specialty is? Grossman’s got you covered, and in the first few pages, no less! Anxious to find out what really happened to the Chatwin kids? Check! Lev Grossman’s imagination knows no bounds, and it’s never been on better display than in The Magician’s Land. There’s also plenty of the nerdtastic pop culture references that makes these books so much fun, but they’re much more than that. This is a fantastical, wondrous, rich, and yes, magical adventure, and the perfect end to a very special trilogy. If you haven’t discovered The Magicians, read them all. Read them all now. Contemporary fantasy really doesn’t get much better than this. It’s just..fantastic, in just about every way....more
I didn’t skip around in this anthology (because I usually don’t, but that’s just me), and I think it works better that way. It’s a fantasy collection, with a line up that frankly, if you’re a fan of fantasy/urban fantasy, it should blow your socks right off. The ultra talented Saladin Ahmed kicks things off with “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela” about a physicker that is asked for help by a supposed mountain hermit, and it’s nothing like he ever could have imagined. This story is a beautifully written introduction to this should-be-a-household-name author. “Even Hand” by Jim Butcher is told from the viewpoint of one of my favorite characters, Marcone, crime boss and frequent nemesis (and sometimes reluctant ally) of Harry Dresden. It reveals a, shall we say, softer (but no less cunning) side of the self-professed “monster”, and as is usual for Butcher, is excellent. Two absolute standouts are “Frost Child” and “South” by Gillian Philip, about kelpies and selkies, respectively. If you haven’t discovered her books yet, read these stories and you’ll rush to buy them all. Trust me. Her writing is lovely and her stories are the stuff of dark fairytales. Just gorgeous. “Frost Child” is actually a prequel to FIREBRAND, so it’s perfect to read before you start the books.
“The Children of the Shark God” by Peter S. Beagle is another one of my favorites and is about, you guessed it, the children of a Shark God, but it’s really a fable about two children (and their mother) longing for a father that is never there, but that loves them fiercely, and it will break your heart. It’s achingly lovely, and if you like fables, you’ll adore it. Heather Brewer has a couple of dark tales in there that will give you chills, and I especially liked the subtly creepy “Misery” about a town appropriately called Misery, built of shades of grey, and a young man that dares to hope for more. “A Knot of Toads” by Jane Yolen is fantastic, witchy, atmospheric fun, about a young woman who returns to her sea swept childhood home to bury her father, and finds out her father died a very unnatural death indeed. Kami Garcia adds a fun story to the mix called “Red Run” and if you think it’s your typical “road ghost” story, think again. “The Adventures of Lightning Merriemous-Jones” by Nancy and Belle Holder rounds things out, and it’s a delightful tale about a mouse and…well, Dracula. Trust me, it’s adorable, and it had me giggling with delight. All told, this is a full-bodied mix of tales from some of the most talented authors in the biz, and is a perfect way to spend an afternoon....more
The new horror thriller by AJ Colucci features a secluded island, plant communication, and a group of six people secluded on said island for two weeks. Off to a good start, yes? One particular blurb likened it to The Shining crossed with The Ruins, and The Ruins I agree with, but I think I’d put it more in the And Then There Were None category. I really enjoyed Colucci’s first novel, The Colony, and while there is a science-y aspect to Seeders, as with The Colony, that’s really where the similarities end, so don’t expect more of the same. Isabelle Maguire has taken her two children, Luke and Sean (who hasn’t spoken since an accident), and their ward, Monica to the secluded Sparrow Island after her father, George Brookes, jumps to his death. George was a brilliant, if controversial, botanist, and when Isabelle and family arrive on the island, she finds Dr. Jules Beecher, a former colleague of her father’s, and also Ginny Shufflebottom, her father’s on and off companion of 10 years. They’re all there to hear the reading of the will and get her father’s estate in order. They get quite a lot more than they bargain for, however.
The basis of Seeders is that George Brookes has discovered a way for plants to communicate with humans, and that plants have…emotions, and can even feel pain. So, you can probably guess, if that’s the case, how happy plants and trees are with us, considering what we’re doing to the planet. During the couple of weeks that the group spends on the island, Jules starts hearing some voices in the woods (and becomes a flat out menace), bodies start piling up in those same woods, the kids are sent on a scavenger hunt for a diamond that has been left to Ginny Shufflebottom, and the plants? Well…the plants aren’t idle, that’s for sure. Isabelle is doing her best to keep everyone safe, but Sean seems to be helping out Jules a little too much in those increasingly threatening woods, and the teenage Luke is way too preoccupied with Monica. Teenage hormones are almost as dangerous as the plants, seriously. I have to admit, Monica drove me nuts. She’s kind of awful, but luckily, Luke is smarter than that, and doesn’t completely fall for her crap (in spite of the siren song of his groin.) He even notices his mother’s newfound independence once she’s away from his bullying father. Colucci is good at building the isolated, very eerie atmosphere of the island and the creepiness of sentient plants, and she also doesn’t shy away from some pretty strong horror elements. I like that about her. Things get pretty awful from our little group, and one begins to wonder if rescue will ever come. I’m not going to give that away, but…AJ Colucci knows her horror, and horror fans always know that in stories like this, a not so happy ending is always a possibility. This book is scary fun, and speculating about the possible sentient nature of organisms that are responsible for so many of the good things about our planet (and that humans continually abuse) is equally fun, fascinating, and food for thought....more
I shamefully admit that it’s been awhile since I’ve read anything by the wonderful James Lee Burke. It’s all good, though, because Wayfaring Stranger has reignited my love for his books, and I’ll be devouring the rest of them soon enough. Wayfaring Stranger could be called a thriller, I suppose. It’s paced like one at times. But, oh gosh, it’s so much more. Weldon Holland, grandson of Hackberry, is only 16 in 1934 when Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker come blazing through the Holland land after orchestrating the prison break at Eastham. Insouciant in their 1932 Chevy Confederate, they’re a source of instant fascination for young Weldon, especially the feral eyed Bonnie Parker with her beret titled over one eye. In a separate encounter a short time later, perhaps thinking he was protecting his grandfather, Weldon shoots his .44 into the back of the Chevy as it flees. This would prove to be a defining moment in his life. Then we move on to Holland’s stint in WWII in which he and his Sergeant, Hershel Pine, rescue a lovely woman, Rosita, from an SS death camp. Holland subsequently marries Rosita and when Pine tracks him down with a claim of a pipe weld that would never break, and the birth of their company, The Dixie Belle Pipeline Company, in 1946. The following years are good for them, but after a business venture goes south, they have no choice but to accept a loan from an untrusted source, and when Pine’s wife, the spirited and wayward Linda Gail, is “discovered” and introduced to the glittering gutters of Hollywood, it kicks off a chain of events that threaten everything they’ve built and everyone they love.
If you enjoy character driven sagas with plenty of kick, you’ll love Wayfaring Stranger, and if you’re already a fan of Burke’s work, it’s a given. Weldon Holland is a hero, but it’s his quiet way, loyalty, and deep seated morality that make him a standout. His fierce, fierce love for Rosita is enough to make a girl swoon. Enjoy that, because you won’t see me write that very much. I’m not much of a swooner, but good grief, the things he writes about Rosita are beautiful, and he respects and cherishes her in a time when women were sometimes not very respected, at least for anything other than how they looked. Lest you think that Weldon is the strongest character, Rosita is an absolute force of nature, Hershel is a loyal friend, solid and good, Hackberry Holland is very much the lovable curmudgeon, and if at first Linda Gail gets under your skin (oh, how she will), her eventual redemption and hard won strength are a glory to behold.
Wayfaring Stranger has a bit of everything that I love. It’s a grand literary tour of some of the most significant events in American history, and the glamorous parties of old Hollywood and sometimes diabolical machinations of behind the scenes players mark a time thought of as “innocent” which really wasn’t. I’m from Texas, and couldn’t help but revel in a book chock so full of so much amazing Texas history. How was I ever bored by this stuff in school? Maybe I just needed James Lee Burke for a teacher. This book is embodies everything that I think a good story should have, and not only is it a fine story, it’s also a meditation on human nature and our capacity for cruelty, but also the ability of the human spirit to rise above it, to love completely, and to refuse to give into the evil the evil that men, and women, do. Rosita endures some horrendous things throughout the course of this book, and her refusal to give in to those that would hurt her is inspiring, even as your heart breaks for her plight. I savored every word in this big, bold, gorgeous book. I didn’t want it to end, but what a helluva ending it was, certainly worthy of a Golden Age Hollywood actioner (I may have cried, don’t tell anyone.) If you only read a few books this year, make this one of them....more
British Sergeant Lester Ferris has been sent to the (fictional) island of Mancreu to ostensibly keep the peace at the end of his career (after a rather disastrous tour in Afghanistan), as the island slowly gives way to waste and chemical abuses resulting in toxic gases that are affecting the wildlife and fauna . This “Mancreu Cauldron” will eventually destroy the island, not to mention leeching toxins out into the ocean into farther reaches, and its denizens have even succumbed to the toxic Discharge Clouds that have caused interesting, and sometimes dangerous, neurological problems. Leaving (that’s a capital L) parties have become the norm as citizens depart for brighter horizons, but there is still beauty to be found in the land, and in the people. For Lester, aside from an unrequited crush on a local scientist, he solves small cases and pals around with a young boy with a penchant for comics and a love of American pop culture. After a brutal shooting by five men in a local bar, resulting in the murder of a friend, Ferris is at loose ends, but is eager to get to the bottom of things, and enlists the boy to be his eyes and ears among the locals. The boy is ecstatic at his chance to be a crimefighter and takes to his new tasks with gusto. Soon, the boy and Lester embark on a mission to strike fear into the killers and what results is…kinda fantastic-comically, terrifyingly fantastic.
For all of his physical strength and considerable experience, Lester Ferris can come off as a bit hapless at times, but really, he’s anything but. He’s plopped on this doomed island, thinking he’ll wait out the inevitable by solving mundane, rather boring crimes and knocking around in Brighton House, but the crimes are anything but ordinary (one missing dog turns into a downright tragedy), and his connection to the boy that calls himself Robin (as an homage to Batman? his real name? ) is unexpected, and yet, as their relationship strengthens, he finds himself entertaining thoughts of taking the boy with him when the island burns, being a father figure to him, and is increasingly astounded at how much he’s come to love this funny, smart boy who talks like American film and hoards comics. With certain destruction looming, the populace grows restless, dangerously so, a gang of thugs has been terrorizing innocent people, and just what is going on with the menacing fleet of ships that gather in the harbor? Can Tigerman save the day?
This book, ya’ll. Tigerman is wrapped in a sort of old-school, boy’s pulp adventure package, but it’s actually a very timely book. There’s some pretty astute observation on how we treat our planet and what the fallout can be for us, the little folk, but there’s no preaching here, and the real meat of the book lies with Lester, who, in the beginning is just sort of existing, not happy or unhappy, but sort of lacking in purpose. It’s in the boy, and also the people of Mancreu, that he finds his purpose, and watching this transition, from slightly directionless, to full-on hero is a glory to behold. There are some phenomenal action scenes here, but for me, it was the quieter moments that made this book so good. The moment in which Tigerman is “born”, in the quiet stillness of a graveyard, is particularly perfect, and it gave me goosebumps (you’ll know it when you read it.)
Tigerman is about the birth of a hero, promises made and promises kept, finding meaning, the freedom we find when we take ourselves out of the everyday, and the fierceness, and heartbreak, of parental love. It definitely broke my heart, but good books have a habit of doing that, and Tigerman is so very, very good. Harkaway’s writing is gorgeous, and this unexpectedly funny, and sweet, and sad, and everything-in-between book will have you entranced. Tigerman is full of win, and roarsome, and wonderful. Don’t miss it....more
Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an odd novel (this isn’t a bad thing), but if you like your murder mystery with an SF, future twist, with a very strong shot of noir, then you really can’t go wrong here. Tomorrow and Tomorrow takes place 10 years after a blast that decimated Pittsburgh, and just about everywhere you go, there are memorials of Pittsburgh survivors ranging from the glossy to the makeshift, gatherings of the dead in pen and ink or etched in stone. We’re in the mid to late-ish 2000s at this point, so there’s quite a bit of future tech on display, including the AdWare that people have wired directly into their brains, providing a constant stream of information, which, being a child of the 80s, I would find crazymaking, but in this narrative, it’s the norm. Retinal cameras, VR beyond your wildest imagination, you name it-it’s what makes up the basis of this book.
John Dominic Blaxton is a Pittsburgh survivor, out of town during the blast, a cruel twist of fate that left him unscathed and his pregnant wife dead. He hasn’t gotten over Theresa, and he’s obsessed with spending time with her in the Archive, a virtual reality reconstruction of Pittsburgh before the blast. Theresa is only a construct, but it’s all he has, and he’ll do anything to hold on to it. For now, he’s working for a firm that investigates deaths for insurance companies, and by using the Archive, they can glean facts about these cold cases, hopefully providing closure, or a payout, for the victims’ families. Dominic is good at his job, but he’s also an addict, and after a particularly bad round of the drug brown sugar, he’s forcibly detoxed and fired from his job. He also finds out that his psychiatric care has been transferred to another therapist, who goes by the name of Timothy, and as it happens, he has a job offer for Dominic. Waverly, a very rich, very powerful man wants Dominic to find his daughter , and ethereal beauty named Albion, for him. She was killed in the Pittsburgh blast, but she’s being systematically erased from the Archive and Waverly wants to know who’s behind it. Soon Dominic is immersed in the Archive, using everything in his arsenal to track down even a small trace of Albion, but as he searches, he starts to make other connections that lead him back to the murder of a woman named Hannah, the last case he worked for his former firm, that he never wrapped up. He’s also being warned off the search for Albion within the Archive, but why? VR and reality soon start to blur for Dominic as pressure mounts to find Albion and prevent a tragedy that might hit him very close to home. But soon, more people start dying by a sadistic killer’s hand, and it seems to all lead back to his investigation.
Have you been feeling like you’re stagnating a bit in your reading? Tomorrow and Tomorrow will yank you out of that reading rut. This is such a weird book, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s an exceedingly clever mashup of murder mystery and future noir with an intensely sympathetic hero at its core. Suicide is never explicitly mentioned, but I always felt that Dominic was thisclose to it, if he wasn’t so mired in the day to day of just existing without his wife. He has people that care for him, though. In fact, his cousin Gav, so flamboyant in his work and life of girls and parties, is rock solid and loyal in his support of Dominic, even as he urges him to find a way to move on from Theresa’s death. Dominic is extremely empathetic when it comes to the deaths of the people he researches, perhaps because he couldn’t save his wife and this is a way that he can “save” others, and tends to wear his melancholy like a hair shirt.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow takes place in a future that terrifies me, honestly: constant bombardment of sex and violence (there’s a show called Crime Scene Superstar), and people are encouraged to rate a victim’s fuckability based on crime scene photographs. Yuck. Also, public executions (with a game show flavor) by the super charming (no sarcasm there at all) President Meecham, who, frankly comes off as a dragon lady in couture. So, some not so subtle commentary on the more base instincts of the human race, consumerism, and tech overload (with near constant surveillance), but this all just serves to highlight Dominic’s humanity, and compassion. The staccato style of Sweterlitsch’s prose enhances the immediacy of the story and really does enhance that noir feel that I mentioned earlier. When I started the book, I was looking for something unique and different, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow more than fit the bill. So many times, I thought I knew where this story was going, and every time, I was wrong, but was more than satisfied with the resolution. This is like True Crime, Philip K Dick, and Silence of the Lambs wrapped up in the author’s very own, unique package. When’s the next book?...more
“Damn the odds, keep fighting until you have nothing left.”
When Hannah Wilde arrives at the remote farmhouse in Wales, with her young daughter, Leah and seriously injured husband, Nate, in tow, all she knows is that she must protect them at all costs. As she attempts to nurse Nate back to health, with help from a local man (who may be more than what he seems), the terrifying story of how Hannah got to this point unfolds, resulting in an interweaving of historical suspense and present day terror.
The narrative goes back and forth between the 70s, when Hannah’s father, Charles, meets her mother Nicole, who holds dear a series of diaries tied with string, and also the 1800s . Nicole eventually tells Charles a fantastical story involving a man that can change shape and a legacy of murder, and even genocide, that began in the 1800s.
The String Diaries is a clever mash up of historical puzzle mystery and modern day thriller with a bit of a stalker twist, and for a long time, the man at the center of the puzzle remained somewhat elusive. We get bits of his childhood, and his inability to fit in with the rest of his kind, but I can’t help but wish that it was fleshed out a bit more, along with the group that have taken it upon themselves to oversee, and sometimes eliminate, these supernaturally talented people (and no, they’re not vampires, although they are fairly long lived.)
While I enjoyed the story of Charles and Nicole’s fraught courtship, and how Hannah came to be the strong wife and mother that she is now, the scenes at the farmhouse, with her husband gravely wounded, and a young child to protect, were some of the most terrifying, because at first, it was unclear as to what the menace was, and once it was revealed, it became even more obvious why Hannah felt like she must be diligent every single minute. Imagine never knowing who you can trust, even if it’s someone you think you know. If it seems like I’m being deliberately vague, it’s because I am, since revealing the nature of the supernatural menace would destroy quite a bit of the chilling fun of this novel. This is a debut novel, and it’s not without its flaws, but the author is great at stretching out tension to its breaking point, and the present day scenes reminded me very much of classic Koontz, which for me is a good thing. If you enjoy a bit of historical flavor to your thrillers, as well as a supernatural twist, I think you’ll enjoy this fairly ambitious debut. Stephen Lloyd Jones is most definitely a writer to watch....more
What do a good cop in a corrupt rural Missouri county and a bunch of meth dealers have in common? Other than the fact that it’s Deputy Sheriff Dale Banks’s job to bust said meth dealers (and manufacturers), they now have about $52,000 in cold hard cash in common. That’s a lot of money, and to a man like Banks, who has always tried to walk the straight line and do right by his family (including three kids, one of them disabled), it’s a temptation that he can’t refuse when he finds the sack of cash in a squalid trailer. He can help put his kids through college with that money, and ease some of the burden off his wife’s shoulders. But he knows that this won’t be an easy take, and even though he’s stolen from criminals, he still feels guilty about the theft. Jerry Dean, however, is dependent upon that money, for the most part because if he doesn’t’ get it back, the Reverend Butch Pogue will unleash is particularly vile brand of hell on him. Jerry Dean manages to call attention to himself after an attack on an elderly man that Banks happens to be close to, courting Banks’s wrath as a result.
There are a lot of unsavory folks in A Swollen Red Sun, but let’s talk about Pogue for a bit. Jerry Dean is a rascal and a criminal, but comparing him to Pogue is like comparing Nermal the cat (from Garfield) to a Tasmanian devil. Pogue lives on a mountain with his cadre of vicious dogs, his, er, “wife”, and his, um, other “wife”, who is actually chained in the basement (yep-he’s a winner.) You’re probably getting a fairly good picture of Pogue at this point. He’s evil personified, and for him killing is sort of like weeding the garden (ie no big deal), and he’ll most likely recite a sermon while doing it. Trust me, you don’t want his kind of anointing. Now that you know about the foulness that resides on the mountain, you can see the desperation that drives Jerry Dean to get that money back, and in a way, you can understand the lengths he’ll go to in order to do it. But, he’s got a formidable foe in Dale Banks.
A Swollen Red Sun reminded me, in a way, of The Ruins (without the horrid mimicking plant life), in that nearly everything that can possibly go wrong does, and it’s all like one, horrid, inexorable, flaming snowball hurtling toward giant meth-filled, exploding bowling ball pins…with spikes. McBride explores the rough and tumble side of rural America with a keen eye to the realities of few opportunities and even fewer functioning brain cells as a result of pervasive meth use. However, he manages to do this without painting his entire character pool as meth crazed undesirables, and he never dehumanizes his subjects (well, Pogue may be an exception, but…it’s Pogue, and sometimes people are just plain evil and nasty. Really, really nasty.) Jerry Dean, in particular-aside from his many, many flaws- is sympathetic in his fixation on Pogue’s captive girl, as his mind races with fantasies of rescuing her and finally having someone love him, something good and clean in his life.
McBride’s sense of place is fantastic, and you’ll swear that you feel the humidity and the grime that clings to his characters’ skin like a rime of sweat and reeking desperation. These are people driven by hardship and heartbreak, and the author never lets you forget it, even as you wince, and sometimes cringe, at their monumental mistakes. There are some gruesome scenes here, but they’re necessary, but gratuity isn’t McBride’s style. It all serves the bigger picture, and makes for a riveting reading experience for those that love their crime dirty, sweaty, and fast paced.
Matthew McBride got huge buzz for his first book, the awesomely titled Frank Sinatra in a Blender, and he deserves to get lots of attention for this one. He’s a new name on the scene, but I won’t be surprised to soon see him mentioned in the same breath as Frank Bill, Donald Ray Pollack, and Daniel Woodrell (who I consider the trifecta of grit lit.) He’s got his pulse on the American south, and proves that even among the squalor, hope can, and will, shine through. Nicely done....more
It’s now less than a week until an asteroid will hit Earth, one that is expected to destroy all life as we know it. Feeling the weight of the remaining days pressing down on him, Hank Palace does the thing he always been driven to do: detective work. He’s desperate to find his younger sister Nico, who, since the announcement of the asteroid, has been running with a group that claims they have a solution to the problem, a way to destroy the asteroid and save the world. Hank has always doubted these claims and in the end, it doesn’t really matter. He just wants to be with his sister when the end comes. His search has brought him to an Ohio police station, along with Cortez, who he’s been traveling with for a while. A tragic and bloody discovery opens up an entire new world of clues, and doors, literally and figuratively, begin falling open with shocking swiftness. Time is running out, and Hank must find his sister before it’s too late for everyone.
In reading this superior series, there’s always been a pervasive sense of melancholy, driven by the fact that, if the author stays true to the foundation he’s laid, the world WILL come to an end. Through it all, I couldn’t help but wonder how Winters would do it. Would he end it with a whimper? A fall of ash that blocks out the sun? Or, a quiet acceptance of the inevitable? We know the ending, but it’s the how of it; how his characters handle it, that is, that the author must navigate so carefully. Over the course of three books, I’ve fallen in love with the dogged, determined Hank Palace and the care and attention to detail that he applies to all things, even the smallest things. Because, really, nothing is a small thing anymore when the world is ending in a couple of weeks. The world is crumbling around him, but Hank manages to find diamonds among the rubble, and it’s these people that lift him up, and keep him going, even in the face of such horrid inevitability.
These are books you read with a supply of post it notes nearby because nearly everything is quotable. The writing is sublime and subtle, and honestly, World of Trouble is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. There. I’ve said it. Ever. And I’ve read a lot. There have been a few books that I’ve read thinking “If I was a writer, I’d want to write just like that.”, and this is one of them. Yes, the end of the world is sad, and death is sad, but it’s Hank’s determination to make things right and his grace in doing it, that somehow, makes it bittersweet, instead of just flat out devastating. These books show that beauty, and hope, and kindness can be found even in the most seemingly hopeless of circumstances. Sometimes it’s disaster and hardship that reveals our humanity, and Hank is a perfect example of that, even though he’s not a perfect human being.
Saying goodbye to Hank was hard, but I savored every word, and don’t regret the ride for one minute. Bravo, Ben H. Winters. Bravo....more
Edie Spence has survived the events aboard the Maraschino, but she’s got a helluva struggle ahead of her, now that she’s a daytimer, and at the mercy of her maker, Raven, at least until Anna can gather together her posse and spring her from the catacombs that house Raven and his people, as well as a three-story nightclub that serves as both a moneymaker and human blood supplier to the vamps. She seems to have a likely ally in the form of another daytimer named Jackson, but his motives are suspect, and Edie really can’t trust anyone. She’s got to concentrate on keeping herself, and her unborn baby, alive, and getting back to Asher by any means possible. Being tethered to Raven is demoralizing, not to mention terrifying, and having to room with a bitchy daytimer who seems bent on terrorizing her is just another thing on her increasingly long list of problems. Edie is swiftly put to work, after all, everyone earns their keep in the catacombs, and scrubbing toilets is at least preferable to being confined, but soon, she learns of diabolical experiments being conducted in the underground warren, that may threaten the whole of humanity, and an ancient, and possibly very dangerous, figure keeps appearing in her dreams. Can Edie save herself, and humankind, without losing her own humanity in the process?
For pure fun, it’s really hard to beat the Edie Spence series. My favorite nurse-to-the-supes has been through so much, and come so far, to finally find happiness, then decides to go on a cruise (which should be fun, right?-but, no), then survives that mess, then…vamps, underground catacombs, diabolical experiments, and other horrors. However, Edie does have some allies (including a very unlikely one) within the compound, and waiting around to be rescued isn’t really Edie’s style. Cassie Alexander has never presented her vampires as, um, fluffy, and their innate brutality is on fine display here. There will be blood…so much blood.
I adore Edie, so the fact that Bloodshifted is the last of this series makes me sad. However, it’s been a great ride, and I’ll follow Cassie Alexander wherever her muse takes her. If you’re looking for a standout in the very crowded urban fantasy field, Edie Spence should be one of your go-to series....more
Ranjit Singh has been working odd jobs in Martha’s Vineyard during the summer, after quitting the job at his wife’s uncle’s Indian shop in Boston. He’s sick of feeling beholden to her uncle for the money spent to bring them to the US, and the smugness on his face when he hands Ranjit his paltry pay is only the icing on an already dreadful situation. He’s worried about the oncoming winter and the ramshackle shack that his family is staying in, but salvation seems to come in the form of Anna McNeal, the wife of a prominent Senator. She offers him a caretaker job for the winter, and indeed, her husband gives him leads for even more caretaker jobs for the area’s other wealthy residents. In spite of the good news, he can see that his wife’s mental state is deteriorating every day, and it’s obvious that she misses India. When their living conditions become untenable, Ranjit thinks about the empty McNeal mansion and the keys heavy in his pocket. Surely it wouldn’t be any trouble to move his family into that huge house, just for a few days until he can find something else, but little does he know, he’s about to become the center of a political firestorm, and he’ll need to call on his past in order to survive the present.
Looking for a suspense read that’s a bit different? Look no further than The Caretaker. Ranjit Singh is an honorable and brave man, trying desperately to hold onto his Sikh faith in a country, that, at times, feels very unwelcoming, and he’s determined to do the right thing for his family. However, he finds himself harboring a forbidden attraction to the Senator’s lovely wife and in possession of something that could have international repercussions. In India, he was a decorated Captain, but the tragedy that befell his last mission still haunts him, and he’s plagued with hallucinations. For fear of his life, and the lives of his family, returning to India isn’t an option, but he feels like he’s fast running out of options if he doesn’t find out why he’s hunted by men who are prepared to assassinate him.
Ranjit Singh is a new hero to root for, and although The Caretaker is certainly an effective mystery, it’s also a portrait of a man trying to stay true to himself, and keep his dignity intact, even as he strives to acclimate to a new country, with vastly different rules. The present day narrative is interspersed with scenes from his doomed mission on the Siachen glacier, and serves to round out his fascinating background. Ahmad’s particular strength is in his three dimensional characterizations, especially as he explores racial and cultural divide. This is a superior debut....more