When 17 year old high school senior,Quentin Coldwater,goes to an alumni interview for Princeton,in Brooklyn,he and his best friend James discover the interviewer has died of a brain hemorrhage. Upon leaving,the paramedic at the scene hands both boys envelopes with their names on it,but only Quentin takes his. A book is inside,an old book,with a title that indicates it might be the 6th book of Fillory. But there is NO 6th book in the Fillory series. Everyone knows that. Especially Quentin,who’s been obsessed with the Fillory fantasy series since he was a child. When Quentin chases after a piece of paper that flies out of the book,he finds himself suddenly in upstate New York,in front of a rather large home,under a beautiful blue sky. Could it be Fillory? Could his dream of one day losing himself in this fantastical world finally be coming true? Well,no,not so fast,but at first,it seems like it’s the next best thing. He’s introduced to the Dean of Brakebills,Henry Fogg,and is asked if he’d like to take the Preliminary Examination,although there’s no thinking about it allowed. It’s a yes or no proposition,and Quentin Coldwater,insecure,unhappy,Quentin Coldwater,cannot abide going back to the cold,rainswept streets of Brooklyn to await his dim fate amongst his best friend and a girl that he loves,but will never love him in turn. So it has to be a yes.
What follows is an education that Quentin never expected. If he expected Fillory,Brakebills is not it. It’s mentally tough,exhausting,and at the same time,the best years of his life. He inevitably falls in with a small group of classmates who are all intriguing in their own way,but the toughest nut to crack is Alice. Quiet and brilliant,Alice provides a calm presence for Quentin,and eventually,a very strong bond forms between the two. There’s no shortage of wonder at Brakebills. Quentin and Co. learn all manner of spellcasting and illusion,as well as the ability to effect reality itself. All is not sweetness and light at Brakebills,though. The ability to do magic,to really do magic,is a large burden to carry,and a magician has to be strong of will and character to keep from spiraling into the madness that almost endless power can bring about. Quentin and his friends are tested constantly,and Quentin learns a few hard lessons about the world around him,and how fragile it can be. It’s especially important to keep your wits about you in the insular world of Brakebills. Amidst endless enchantment and wonders,it’s quite easy to forget that there’s a whole other world outside of the school grounds,and Quentin soon begins to struggle with the daunting thought of life after Brakebills.
The Magicians is broken into three parts with Book 1 being Quentin’s time at Brakebills,Book 2 is life after Brakebills,and Book 3? Well,you’ll see. Where Book 1 is thoroughly magical,with a glittering patina of unreality,Book 2 is still magical,but is painted with the harsh overtones of the decidedly unmagical reality of living outside of the bounds of Brakebills. After graduation,Quentin and his friends begin an aimless existence of excess and irresponsibility,but when a former classmate arrives breathlessly with knowledge of the existence of another world,remarkably similar to Fillory,Quinton sees this as an opportunity to cancel out all wrongs since leaving Brakebills. If he can get to Fillory,land of his childhood dreams,everything will be ok,won’t it? With nods to classics such as Narnia and I’m assuming,Harry Potter (yes,I may be the only remaining human that hasn’t read it,with the exception of say,babies,and possibly the very elderly,so let’s move on), The Magicians will take you on a ride you won’t soon forget. Intricate and complex,The Magicians is also very accessible,and it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. I was helplessly engrossed and loathe to put it down. Lev Grossman has created a world full of wonder,enchantment,and dark fascination. There were moments when I was reminded of what it was like to be young,right on the cusp of some new and exciting adventure,the whole world open before me. There were also some extremely creepy moments,in particular a scene involving a creature referred to only as “The Beast”.
The Magicians is a book about magic,yes,but it’s also about the wonders of being young,of discovery,and it’s also about love,the countless little emotional crimes we commit on a daily basis,and about constantly hoping that something else is right around the corner,when life is right in front of us,waiting to be lived. I could probably go on for a while about the awesomeness that is The Magicians,but don’t you want to experience it for yourself?...more
When Leslie meets Alex Twisden, it’s pretty much love at first site. 17 years her senior, Alex is everything Leslie wants in a man: successful lawyer, wants a family, and absolutely adores Leslie. Leslie is quite capable on her own, working for an up and coming children’s publisher, and quite frankly, she’d have married Alex if he was cab driver (or other such blue collar profession.) But he’s not, and they’re deliriously happy, comfortable in the luxury of Alex’s family brownstone, with portraits of his ancestors looking down on the hopeful lovebirds. Only one thing is missing from Alex and Leslie’s bliss: a baby. After countless fertility treatments, medical tests, and ultimately, numerous forms of quackery, “guaranteed” to increase fertility and give them the child they so desperately want, they turn to Dr. Kis, a supposed miracle worker in Slovenia. He is recommended by a neighbor and lawyer that, in exchange for information about the doctor that resulted in his wife’s pregnancy, demands to be given a job at Alex’s firm. Alex acquiesces, and learns about Dr. Kis, who supposedly performs miracles of fertility on his patients. When Alex pitches the idea to Leslie, she’s less than thrilled, having tired of the endless stress and strain put on their marriage by their efforts to conceive. She realizes how important this is to Alex, though, and agrees to go, after extracting a promise that this will be the last effort. So, the couple makes the journey to Slovenia, to the office of the strange, abrupt Dr. Kis, where a slavering pit bull stands guard, and where, little do they know, they’re about to undergo a very painful procedure. Said procedure surely achieves what Dr. Kris promised, but at what price? Turns out, it’s a big one. Huge. Soon the couple begins undergoing some terrifying changes, and by the time the twins are born (early), their lives have already become very different.
Cut to 10 years later: The Twisden house is in decline, falling to ruins, and twins Adam and Alice are kept to a very strict schedule. Dreaded are the nightly dinners where they watch their parents consume meat so rare that it’s blue and swimming in a puddle of blood (what Alex and Leslie call “gravy”). They are locked in their room on a nightly basis, and the noises that come from their parent’s room (of which Adam hears through a purloined baby monitor) are terrifying. The twins are loved, however, and Alex and Leslie haven’t harmed a hair on their heads…yet.
Adam is convinced that his parents are going to kill them, and is determined to take his sister and escape. He runs to a trusted teacher first, but his parents prove to be talented trackers, and he doesn’t remain hidden for long. Meanwhile, Alice has met a group of feral kids in Central Park that will reveal much more about their condition and what their parents may be becoming.
At first blush, Breed is pure horror, but it’s the author’s wry observations on elitist society and also Alex and Leslie’s slow loss of humanity that elevates this to something much more. Alex and Leslie adore their children, but cannot fight the changes taking place within them, and their struggle against those changes (in particular Leslie), is heartbreaking, and horrifying. The author turns the creep factor up to about 11, and it’s the first time in a while that after putting the book down, I may have been a little afraid of the dark for a few nights. By turns very scary, and heart wrenching, Breed will take you for a ride you’ll never forget, all the way to its shocking conclusion....more
Jessica McClain is the daughter of the head of her werewolf Pack, and she’s enthusiastically breaking Pack law by fighting an Alpha wolf who’s been giving her trouble. The problem is, Jessica is female (weres don’t carry the ability to create females, so she’s considered an abomination), and fighting an alpha wolf is really not a good idea, but she’s sick and tired of being picked on. Jessica knows she must fight or leave before things spin out of control. Set to go to the city and enter the police academy, she must convince her father that it’s the best thing for her, but at only 19, that’s not an easy thing to do. Blooded is a great introduction to this brand new series by debut author Amanda Carlson, and Jessica McClain is one tough human girl in a sea of supes that’s determined to hold her own. Ms. Carlson’s writing is tight and her fight scenes are stellar. If you love urban fantasy (and shifters), this is one new series you’ll want to get your hands on!...more
Doloriel, aka Bobby Dollar, is an angel, in an earthbound body. He’s also an advocate, which means that when someone dies, he is a soul’s last line of defense in the decision of a lifetime, well, at least the afterlife. Will a soul go to Heaven or Hell? Ultimately, it’s up to the big guns to decide, but Bobby Dollar does his best to make sure the deserving get to spend the afterlife in the beautiful fields of Heaven. When he shows up at a job, only to find out that the deceased’s soul is missing, he has no idea what to think, but you can bet the Opposition (Hell’s minions) probably have their grubby little claws in whatever IS going on. Frankly, all Bobby wants to do is hang out at The Compasses with his fellow angels and his best friend Sam, enjoying good conversation and of course, plenty of drinks, but obviously, that’s not in the cards for Bobby Dollar. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that someone has it out for him, and it doesn’t help that Sam has a new trainee that is so wet behind the ears it’s almost unbelievable. Luckily, when the you-know-what hits the fan, and it will, Bobby Dollar has a knack for taking care of himself, but he also has a talent for attracting trouble, and trouble is a mild word for what’s coming his way.
Angels and demons. Tired stuff, right? Not so fast. Tad Williams is a pro (and then some), and in The Dirty Streets of Heaven, he’s given us much more than the usual fare, and much more than the usual UF offering. The first thing I noticed about this is the wordbuilding is phenomenal. Seriously, it’s fantastic. The author brings the California coast alive, and has turned it into a virtual playground for his angels, demons, and various other oddities that populate the novel. You also won’t find a ton of infodumping here. We’re given lots of information, but it’s sprinkled in with the narrative and broken into fascinating, juicy bite size pieces. This novel doesn’t just have a setting, it has a world, which is no surprise, given Tad Williams’s pedigree. Bobby Dollar narrates, and he has a sarcastic wit with plenty of edge. He’s unfailingly loyal to his friends and very invested in the outcomes of the souls he represents, sometimes to his own detriment. He also has a tendency to wade right into a sea of trouble. In spite of his lofty job, he’s also not afraid to question his superiors (maybe not to their faces), but he knows that a certain amount of subterfuge isn’t beyond his bosses, and sometimes suspects that he may be expendable in the grand scheme of things. There’s a ton of action (with noir flavor), the creatures are scary and scary beautiful in equal measure, and the intricate mystery of the missing souls will keep you turning the pages. Perhaps most importantly, there’s a ton of heart, and that’s all thanks to the angelic, yet startlingly human Bobby Dollar. Surprisingly, there’s also a romance that’s pretty darn hot, and the author isn’t afraid to break his readers’ hearts. There is something for everyone in this superior series starter. Good thing we don’t have long to wait for the next installment, HAPPY HOUR IN HELL (Sept. 2013)...more
The California in California Bones is not like the one we know. It’s not part of the United States, and it’s ruled by a shadowy figure called the Hierarch and his powerful Council of Six. Los Angeles is in the Kingdom of Southern California, and is full of canals, a la Venice, and it’s rumored that a place called The Ossuary is located below ground, full of the Hierarch’s personal magic stash: basilisk teeth, griffin claws, the works. The magic in Greg van Eekhout’s California comes from bones (osteomancy); specifically, the bones of fantastical creatures, and of course, bones from very powerful mages, including Daniel Blackland’s father. When Daniel was only twelve, he watched in horror as the Hierarch carved the flesh from his father Sebastien’s bones and feasted on said bones. He can still remember the sound of his chewing. Daniel eventually ended up in the care of his uncle Otis, a ruthless crime boss, and was to be a thief. Daniel desperately wants to get out from under his thumb, and vows that he won’t do any more work for him, until he approaches him with an offer he can’t refuse. Otis claims to know where the fabled Ossuary is, and wants Daniel to infiltrate it. It’s not just any old magic that Otis wants, either. He wants a sword that Daniel’s father made, stolen by the Hierarch when Sebastien was killed, and infused with Daniel’s own essence. For Daniel, this isn’t just a chance to make a fortune and set off on his own for good, but it’s a chance to get his very essence out of the hands of the Hierarch. He’s going to need help to do it though, and that’s where Daniel’s very unusual friends come in.
While Daniel and his crew are planning their way in to the Ossuary, another plan is in motion. An agent for the Hierarch, Gabriel Argent, is onto Daniel. He may not know where Daniel is, or what he’s planning, but he knows who he is, thanks to a bit of magic that Daniel used in the marketplace, and the nose of one of the many human hounds that the Six keeps for their use. But the thing is, Daniel is supposed to be dead, killed with his mother shortly after the murder of Daniel’s father. Finding Daniel is Gabriel’s mission, and with the help of the human hound Max, he’s sure he can do it. But why does he want to find Daniel? Is it for his magic, or to further the Hierarch’s plan? Or is it for another, more personal, reason?
Just when I thought urban fantasy was getting a little…stale, Greg van Eekhout comes along with this fantastic book. Who can resist a novel set against a magic infused Los Angeles that’s much like our own, but with such delicious and unique twists, where real figures from a golden era still reign, and the La Brea Tar Pits still bubble? Daniel is the focus of the book and his sense of humor is a stark contrast to the very dark dealings of the Hierarch, his minions, and others. However, it’s also a dazzling group effort. Daniel’s friends are a highlight: Moth, the easy-going giant of a man that can survive just about anything; Cassandra, a deft thief who has history with Daniel, and Jo, a shapeshifter who can take on any shape at will. They’re aided in the heist by Emma, an Ossuary insider who Daniel is not sure can be trusted, but is their best hope of getting inside. But, ultimately, it’s Daniel alone that will be the catalyst in a magical war, and his heart, and of course, his legacy, will be greatly tested.
This is a Los Angeles that I didn’t want to leave, with clever homages to real-life legends such as Disney and Mulholland, and it’s as much a love letter to L.A. as it is an absorbing blend of urban fantasy and heist caper. Equal parts terrifying and delightful, California Bones shouldn’t be missed, and I can’t wait for the next book!...more
Over the course of a couple of years, the bodies of homeless men have been turning up along the shores of Lake Mead, right outside of Las Vegas. Not just one or two at a time, either, but piles of bodies. Detective Salazar has been working the case, and, on the cusp of retirement, he’s determined to put it to rest, as the last good thing he can do. All of the dead are a burden on his soul, but it’s one body that stood out the most, that of a red headed young girl, found amongst a pile of the dead. He’s soon called to the shores of Lake Mead again, where a park ranger has found conjoined twins in the lake, one seemingly holding the other under the water. A container full of blood is also found nearby. Not sure if he has attempted murder, suicide, or something else on his hands, Salazar calls in Dr. Sunil Singh, whose specialty lies in studying the nature of psychopaths. Little does Salazar know, Dr. Singh knows more about the body dumps than he’s letting on, and the twins, Fire and Water, are much more than they seem.
Chris Abani is the author of six novels and numerous works of poetry, and he’s won too many awards to count. The man very accomplished, and is highly respected in the literary world, for good reason. The Secret History of Las Vegas is, on the surface, a mystery, but underneath lies a fascinating story of a complicated, and at his core, good man whose past haunts him and who continues to seek redemption, in spite of his current work. Sunil Singh’s studies on the nature of psychopaths aren’t exactly what anyone would call humane, and its intended applications are terrifying. Singh’s past in Apartheid era South Africa has instilled in him enough horror to last a lifetime, and the heartache that he carries for a lost love is an undercurrent in the sadness that follows him like a dark cloud. Singh doesn’t know what to think of the twins, but he does sense something else at work, and he hopes to get to the bottom of it. Singh’s past is about to catch up with him, and a desert showdown is on the horizon.
The narrative mainly follows Salazar and Singh, and delves into both of their pasts, but this is really Singh’s story. The book, however, begins with the story of the twins’ mother, their birth, and eventually, her death right before they are to join a sideshow, and the scenes with the twins were some of my favorites. There’s a distinct nourish feel and Salazar is appropriately gruff, but like Singh, there’s nothing simple about him either. The horrors of Apartheid are explored through Singh, but never gratuitously, always in a very matter of fact way and perhaps this was why, for me, it was so upsetting, especially his memories about the chilling Vlakplaas,which served as the headquarters of the South African Police counterinsurgency (C10) during Apartheid. Singh is a man shaped by his past, by much tragedy, and yet constantly hopes for brighter things. His love for a prostitute named Asia punctuates his sadness, and longing. Abani is a master of subtlety, and it’s the little things that are important in this novel. Abani’s exploration of racial identity are also a big part of this book, as are those of the nature of family, and even love.When I started the book, I never could have imagined how it would end, but I can tell you that it was surprising, and ultimately, very satisfying. Amongst so much darkness, there can still be hope, and light, and it’s on this note that the author leaves us. This is an unusual, fascinating, sometimes very creepy, and ultimitely optimistic novel, and it’s not to be missed....more
Ruby Red,set in present day London,follows 16 year old Gwyneth Shepherd as she discovers that she has a gene that enables her to time travel into the past,sometimes multiple times per day. Her cousin Charlotte has been prepared for this eventuality her entire life,but it turns out Gwyneth has the gene instead. This,of course,creates more animosity between the already at-odds cousins,and even more problems for Gwyneth since she hasn’t been prepared for time travel at all,since her mother hoped she wouldn’t inherit the gene. Ruby Red is told from Gwyneth’s point of view,and she makes a mildly charming teen heroine. Unfortunately,for me,that was the problem with this book. It was only mildly charming. It was mildly a lot of things,actually. I had high hopes since it’s gotten such stellar reviews,but not much really happened in Ruby Red. Gwyneth hops back in forth through time,interacts with her best friend and family,nurses a mild crush on Gideon,who’s also a time traveler like herself,and puzzles over secrets kept by the Guardians,the group responsible for taming time travel using a device called the chronograph. She can also see ghosts,a talent which provided some of the most entertaining scenes in my opinion. This was firmly a young adult novel (which is certainly not a bad thing),and really just didn’t have much cross-over appeal to this 34 year old,although I tried,I really did. The writing is just fine,although it is translated from German,so a lot depends on the talent of the translator. I chuckled a few times and found the characters likeable,but it just didn’t do it for me. I do,however,think my 12 year old daughter will adore this book,and see nothing wrong with recommending it for young teen readers. The next book in the series,Sapphire Blue,is set for release in Spring 2012....more
A Man Came Out of a Door In the Mountain is mostly told in the voice of Leo Kreutzer, a teen that lives with his mother and ailing Uncle Lud, to whom he is a caretaker, along with his mother. For the most part, life is a struggle for Leo and his friends Bryan, Tessa, Ursie, and Jackie. They spend a lot of their days at the refuse dump, shooting rats, and Leo’s life is punctuated by the correspondence course in physics that his mother is making him take, and the increasingly odd emails he’s getting from its instructor. Physics eludes him, but the trajectory of his friends’ lives does not. Leo’s Uncle Lud is a longtime storyteller, and it’s through these stories that Leo gains insight on the evil that seems to be lurking among them, especially in the form of an ethereally pale, unusually strong girl that calls herself Hana Swann. Then there’s Kevin Seven, a man that’s staying at the local motel and is especially gifted at sleight of hand. Ursie works as a maid there, and has fallen under his thrall and Jackie has fallen under the spell of Hana Swann. If you’re thinking this all sounds like so many loose ends, I suppose it does, but it does together in the end, in quite a shocking way.
The novel takes place in British Columbia, in a mining town pretty much run by Gerald Flacker, a man that keeps his meth addicted girlfriend submissive and her two small children feral and scrambling for handouts. It also helps that he has a family member on the police force and almost a whole family at his disposal in the form of the Nagles. As girls continue to disappear along the highway, Flacker maintains a hold on one of Leo’s friends, Bryan, but Bryan is starting to form a plan to rid the town of its resident menace.
A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is not a straightforward mystery, or thriller. It really isn’t a straightforward anything, but what it is, is entrancing. It magnifies mountain life down to the smallest, most squalid details and you’ll get to know most of the characters intimately, yet with the sense that you’re being held at arm’s length. However, as bleak as things are, these kids are decent to their core and have hopes for the future. Even one of the Nagle boys longs to be a better man, and sees a shining beacon of hope in Tessa. The dash of magic realism adds an intriguing layer to an already richly layered, and beautifully written, almost poetic story, of hope, and evil, among the ruins. If you appreciate the work of authors like Stephen Dobyns, or really, just stories with prose that veritably sings, you’ll enjoy this one....more
In the 4th installment of Stacia Kane’s wonderful Downside Ghosts series, we get to see much deeper into Chess’ psyche than in any previous books, and to me, that was a wonderful thing. My favorite Churchwitch is still Debunking ghost claims, but this time, her dealer wants her to investigate a rash of fires that involve murder and magic, and his employees. Chess is forced to go to a school on the other side of town for answers, and her presence there is anything but welcome. It also doesn’t help that she’s on her ex’s territory, a fact that he’s very aware of. This really doesn’t help her current precarious relationship with Terrible and certainly keeps Chess on her toes. Then there’s the nasty ghost she has to contend with…
Like I said in the beginning, this was the most emotional of the series. Chess is not only navigating the nasty murders that are being committed, but she’s also navigating the unknown world of being loved; really and truly loved. Our favorite enforcer Terrible is firmly in the picture, but Chess can’t see past her own self-loathing in order to give everything she has to the relationship. It makes for frustrating reading, for sure, especially since we love Chess, and we want her to be happy. She steps on her own toes time and time again, to sometimes tragic effect. There’s one scene in here that will break your heart into a million pieces, and then some. However, Ms. Kane gives us some much needed insight (without being particularly graphic), into why Chess is so, so damaged, and that will break your heart too. It will also make you understand so much of why Chess is, well, Chess. We also get a little closer to some of the other characters, and the scenes with Elder Griffin are especially charming. Yes, charming. The author’s trademark tight plotting and prose are on full display here, and the killer in this one will give you chills (the ghost too *shudder*). This is a watershed book for Chess, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her in the next book!...more
My favorite enigmatic FBI agent,Aloysius Pendergast,is back,and he’s determined to find out what really happened to his wife,Helen,in Africa,where she supposedly died at the jaws of a vicious lion. Cold Vengeance starts off with a bang,with Pendergast on a hunting expedition in Scotland with his brother in law,Judson Esterhazy. Esterhazy tries to do away with Pendergast,but,if you’re familiar with this series,then you know Pendergast is tough to kill,very tough,and it’s going to take more than a silly murder attempt to stop him. When D’Agosta,cop and dear friend to Pendergast,learns of the attempt on his life,he insists on traveling to Scotland to help,and Corrie Swanson (Still Life With Crows),also lends a hand back in New York. Constance Green plays a significant part in this book as well,and there will be revelations about her and her past. Esterhazy isn’t exactly a walk in the park,but we also meet a villain that puts him to shame. Pendergast is single minded in his mission to find out the truth,and he’ll employ all of his cunning and genius to do so. He’s also not afraid to resort to a bit of blackmail to get his way.
The authors put Pendergast through the physical ringer in this one,but he bounces back in typical Pendergast fashion,and he’ll stop at nothing to root out the truth. Cold Vengeance is like a big onion,and I had a hell of a time peeling back the layers! The action never stops,and I had a really hard time putting this one down. Most of the Pendergast novels can be read individually,however,you really need to have read Fever Dream to get the most out of Cold Vengeance. There are more twists and turns than you can count,a sadistic villain,secret Nazi groups with shadowy agendas,action galore,and of course,a cast of characters that we’ve grown to love. I’ll drop everything to pick up a Pendergast book,and Cold Vengeance was no exception! I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next book in this wonderful series!...more
Captain Alexander Napoleon Outland can’t seem to get a break. Along with his crew, he’s out to score some magma when a pirate armada tries to shanghai his ship, the Sixty-Nine. Yes, his ship really is called the Sixty-Nine. Trust me, as you get to know Nap better, this will not surprise you one bit. Forced to land on a planet known for its military and distinct lack in the sense of humor department, Nap and crew find themselves in one sticky situation after another in their attempts to escape the planet and get back to business as usual.
Alexander Outland is told from the point of view of the Captain himself and strikes the perfect tone for a rollicking space opera from the get go. Nap is equal parts Han Solo, Jack Sparrow, and Buck Rogers, with a liberal dash of Spaceballs and Peter Venkman. He can’t resist the ladies, and usually they can’t resist him, which is why he is so puzzled that his weapons chief, Slinkie, is so resistant to his “charms”. However, in spite of his near overwhelming preoccupation with the gorgeous Slinkie, he manages to take care of his crew and inspire an odd sort of loyalty among the strange bunch. I fell in love with Nap from the beginning in spite of his overlarge libido and laughed out loud at his dry wit. There’s plenty of action here, but the real fun (for me) came from the dialogue between Nap and his eccentric crew, including the always cheerful, humanoid Audrey (the ship’s AI in a rockin’ bod). Interstellar spies, a pirate armada with a ridiculous name (trust me on this one), and a memorable (and smelly)trip through the sewer system of Herion are just part of the fun, and I was happy to ride along! Fans of space opera and sci-fi will have a great time with this one, and of course, fans of GJ Koch’s (aka Gini Koch) Kitty Martini series will find lots to love too! Will Nap and his crew escape the pirates and live to plunder another day? Will Nap ever bed the irresistible Slinkie? You’ll have to read it and find out! I promise you won’t be disappointed....more
When I started The Happier Dead, I expected a British procedural peppered with some SF elements, and I got that, but it’s really so much more…. Ok, so, here’s the gist: It’s 2035, and DCI Rob Oates is called to the scene of a brutal stabbing that’s taken place within the environs of The Great Spa. The Great Spa caters to those that have gone through the Treatment, but have had…problems. The Treatment takes those that can afford it back to an age usually somewhere between 20 to 25 (this is ultimately up to the person receiving the Treatment), and immortality is granted as part of the package. Britain has a monopoly on this technology, which of course give them quite a leg up on the world stage. However, immortality comes with a price. When one lives too long, one can become bored and require more extreme experiences in order to enjoy life, which can lead to bad things, even psychopathy, so in order to combat that, The Great Spa was built five years ago and contains a whole other reality that grants the new-young a sort of rebirth that will hopefully rejuvenate and rebuild their damaged souls. When Oates arrives at The Great Spa (technically called Avalon), he’s informed that they already have a suspect in custody, and he’s confessed. Oates is particularly good at ferreting out Eddys, which are people that have been paid to confess and serve time for someone else’s crimes, often with the promise of ultimately receiving the Treatment. Oates’s gut tells him this man, Ali Fazool, is innocent, but he confessed, so proving it is going to be the trick, and he may not have much time, because rioting has begun around the city by those that oppose The Treatment and what it promises, and tensions are rising to deadly levels.
So much for just a gist, huh? It’s really not a simple premise at all, and in fact, the author covers some pretty heavy themes but manages to cleverly wrap them up in a book with the pacing of a police thriller. As Oates begins his investigations, he learns that the dead man has ties to the Treatment’s creator, who has been missing for quite some time. It turns out he was working on something else, something with heinous implications, and there are factions, like the Mortal Reform, that will do anything to stop it. Oates is fighting not only the escalating violence around him, but also the violence in his own past, and his current capacity to do harm. He loves his wife and two boys deeply, but also carries the pain of his daughter’s death like a shroud. And for Oates, pain is a weapon for those that would seek to take him down. The Happier Dead takes place over only a few days, and particularly creepy are the scenes within The Great Spa, which for Oates is like stepping into a façade, a farce, but for the people within, it’s an escape, and a state of the art one. Its overseer, Miranda, almost takes on a supernatural aura, as not only the brilliant mind that had a hand in the Treatment’s creation, but also as the seemingly all powerful entity in charge of the new-young within the facility. She’s also a new-young herself, and the new-young are just kind of creepy. They just are…you’ll see.
Oates is my favorite kind of cop, and it doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge fan of British procedurals. When he dons his body armor and steps out onto the streets of London, he feels protected from the violence that always seems to be simmering just under the city’s surfaces. He’s not afraid to use his considerable size to intimidate, but is always wary of giving into more violent impulses. It’s a razor thin tipping point for our hero, and he knows it. As I got to know him, I began to understand how someone like him would find the Treatment attractive, and it’s for that reason that his resistance to the very idea of it is all the more poignant. Immortality, murder, class warfare, and a city on the very brink all come together in this fantastic book. I wouldn’t mind seeing more books with DCI Oates, but if this is the only one, that’s ok, because it’s a helluva book. Ivo Stourton writes with a very sure hand for such a relatively young author (he’s also written The Night Climbers and The Book Lover’s Tale), and The Happier Dead deserves to reach a wide audience. If you like genre benders that make you think, but are very accessible, this one is for you....more
My favorite wise cracking police constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant is back in Moon Over Soho! It seems that jazz musicians are dying all over London, and Peter is in a race against time to find out who, or what, would want to kill these musicians, and maybe just as importantly, why. Providing an extremely unwanted distraction from that case is a, er, maneater, of sorts, tearing her way through the nightclub scene and leaving the bodies of men behind that are missing more than just their lives. With the help of his teacher and mentor, DCI Thomas Nightingale, and a motley crew of jazz musicians dubbed The Irregulars, Peter must follow the bodies, and the magic, to solve the case.
Moon Over Soho, like Peter’s first adventure, Midnight Riot, is a ton of fun. I love the magic infused London that the author has created, and Peter is a wonderful narrator, clever and wry in his delivery. Peter has a lot on his shoulders,though. He’s still learning the basics of magic, solving cases, and dealing with his friend and former partner, Leslie, as she suffers with the heinous injury obtained while working their last case. Peter does get a bit of a reprieve though, in the form of a gorgeous jazz moll by the name of Simone Fitzwilliam, who works her own form of magic on our hero. The rich, urban, London history that made Midnight Riot so interesting is back, and there’s plenty of action to satisfy any fan of police procedurals. A couple of nice twists round everything out, and plenty of meaty material is left for the next novel, which can’t come soon enough! Highly recommended! ...more
Harlan Vetters is dying, and he has a secret. A plane crashed long ago deep in the Great North Woods and when Harlan and his friend, Paul Scollay, discovered the plane, they also found a bag of money and evidence that the plane may have been carrying a prisoner. There’s no sign of a body or bodies, only the dark presence of a young girl who’s said to haunt the surrounding area. So, Harlan and Paul took the money, and kept the secret, until Harlan told the story to his son and daughter, right before his death. Now, Marielle Vetters and Ernie Scollay have approached Charlie Parker about the mysterious plane, and the secrets it may still be hiding. There’s a list of names that were found with the money, and it seems that each person on the list are being met with untimely ends. There are those that will do anything to get their hands on that list and when Charlie finds out that his is among the names, things start to get very dangerous, and very personal.
John Connolly is a master at creeping, atmospheric dread, and The Wrath of Angels is no exception. If you‘ve been keeping up with the series, you may remember a particularly nasty bad guy that went by the name of Brightwell. He should be dead, because Charlie killed him, but he’s back, in the form of a very creepy little boy. The boy’s “mother” Darina, is as evil as she is beautiful, and she’s also out to find the list. Charlie Parker is known as a man that can get things done, sometimes in less than legal ways, and is always on the side of the angels. However, there are those that would see Charlie undone, in mind and body, and his name on that list may mean that the Collector is also on his trail. Charlie and the Collector have had an uneasy truce for some time now, but there’s reason to believe the Collector is not as discerning as he once was and the word “mercy” is not in his vocabulary. Charlie calls on Louis and Angel for their help in finding the plane and help also comes from unexpected places, in the form of a deaf/mute young woman who is much more than she seems.
John Connolly writes with his always superb, poetic prose and its beauty is wonderful contrast to the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, horrors he describes. Charlie is a quietly moral, flawed man, but his heroism lies in his intolerance of injustice, and his willingness to go the distance in order to fight it. Louis and Angel are capable, cranky, and wonderful as always, and be on the lookout for a charming scene involving them and Charlie’s young daughter, who is in awe of the duo. I usually say this with each new book in this series, and I’ll say it again: with each one, I expect they can’t get better, and they always are, they always do. Connolly’s superb fusion of noir and the supernatural is to be savored, and not to be missed....more
**Contains inevitable spoilers if you haven't read FEED or DEADLINE**
After the shocking ending of Feed and the intensity of Deadline, are you ready for more? Hope so, because Blackout is just as good, and it was so good, I didn’t even think about the fact that it’s the conclusion to the trilogy (well, I didn’t think about it much.) Shaun and company are at Dr. Abbey’s remote lab helping to gather subjects (aka zombies) for her studies of Kellis-Amberlee, and Shaun’s mental state isn’t getting any better. That’s to say, not only is he still hearing George’s voice in his head, he’s starting to actually see her. Little does he know that George is alive at the Seattle CDC. Well, sort of. A clone of Georgia Mason is alive and being held by the lovely folks at the CDC, who plan to use her as a tool for their own nefarious means. For all intents and purposes, she is Georgia Mason (97% of her, at least). They’ve found a way to transfer memories as well as clone someone physically, and the new Georgia is about as much like the old Georgia as she can be, and being held in a white room, deprived of her beloved internet connection is not the way to win points with her. That’s not even taking into consideration the constant medical tests they’re running on her to prove her “viability.” So, Georgia needs to get out of her new prison, but how? Knowing who to trust is a shell game, but it seems that she may have some friends on the inside. Well, more like “the enemy of my enemy…” Anyway, she must find a way out before they decide she’s little more than a practice model. Then there are those KA infected mosquitoes…
In Blackout, Mira Grant returns us to the post apocalyptic, zombie ridden world of Feed and Deadline with a fierceness, made all the more poignant because of our affection for Shaun and Georgia. These books don’t take place in a wasteland, but rather in a world 20 years out from the outbreak that started the zombie apocalypse, and it’s a world a little like the one we know, but with some important differences. Like, the blood testing units at nearly every entrance and exit, and the vast amounts of land that has been declared uninhabitable, overtaken by zombies. The CDC is a rather nefarious entity too, when they should be a bastion of safety, and conspiracy abounds. When Shaun and his crew are sent to bargain with his adoptive parents, the Masons, for help gaining entry into Florida to save Alaric’s sister, they get a little more than they bargained for, and I’ll admit, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Shaun and Georgia to be reunited. They’ve also been tasked with finding out the truth about the KA infected mosquitos that have begun spreading the virus all over again. I wouldn’t consider this series funny, except for some excellent banter between characters, but a high point in Blackout was a series of meetings with The Monkey and his crew, who are known for providing bulletproof fake IDs and papers. The Fox is a homicidal delight, and you’ll chuckle (some seriously dark humor here) and cringe in equal measure.
The focus is not on the zombies in Blackout (it never really, truly was), although there are zombies and some zombie action, even a zombie bear. Rather, the focus is on finding the truth of the Kellis-Amberlee virus and where it originated. And you know how Shaun and George feel about the truth, don’t you? Alternating between Shaun and George’s narratives, the author keeps the tension tight, and the action nonstop. I mean, cloning, zombie bears, conspiracy, kidnapping the president: it’s all in a day’s work for these guys, right? I promise you’ll be up late with Blackout, and you’ll love the explosive and satisfying ending. This superb series is absolutely not to be missed!
The death of one of Jackson Lee’s sisters, Tessa, at a very young age, a death that Jackson himself was able to “see” using his gift, spurred a retaliatory act of violence that led young Jackson to the Cane Lake County Home for Boys, where he was called Shotgun Jack, a name he came by honestly. As things go, Cane Lake could have been much worse (it was bad enough), and Jackson even met someone that would later influence his life, but it wasn’t to be his last stop before adulthood. In fact, the carnival was, where he read cards and moved his hands over a crystal ball to make his way, and also where he met a sweet young girl named Abby who would make an indelible impression on Jack and would come to be an important part of his future as well. As an adult, Jackson finds himself making a decent living in Atlanta finding lost items, since all it takes for him is a touch. The only problem is, Jackson sees everything, but he’d never tell his clients that. It’s not a bad living, and with Abby as his secretary, he’s fairly content. Abby is away visiting family, however, and so he’s been on his own for a bit when a man walks into his office that will change his life forever.
When a man calling himself Dr. John Chang comes into Jackson’s office, he’s immediately suspicious, and with good reason. Dr. Chang wants him to participate in a “study” of his abilities, but Jackson isn’t having it, and after seeing Chang on his way, he thinks he’s seen the last of him. He hasn’t. In fact, Chang isn’t his name at all, and he’s using the fate of Jackson’s remaining sister, Glory, as leverage in securing his help in a government project gone wrong, one that involves the energy of violent death and someone from Jackson’s past; someone Jackson cared about very much. Finding it impossible to say no, Jackson joins the project, and what a ride!
This is my first novel by Rob Thurman, and if it’s any indication of her other work, count me as a fan. Jackson serves as narrator and I found myself drawn to his seemingly unsentimental façade, but of course, he’s not as unfeeling as he’d like people to think. In fact, if anything, it’s the complete opposite, since his gift allows him to completely read people at a touch. It’s caused him to put up a wall, forever shutting all but a few people out, but over the course of the book, that wall begins to erode, much to his chagrin. In fact, revelations from his violent childhood will come to light and everything is not quite what it seems. This also applies to people, of which he’s already painfully aware. The twists and turns in All Seeing Eye are legion and I was constantly kept guessing. In spite of the action, if you’re looking for a shallow thriller, this isn’t it, and in fact, in reminded me of some of Dean Koontz’s best work. Some portions are downright scary and Thurman doesn’t shy away from some of the more graphic aspects of the narrative, but I like some horror elements in my thrillers, so that was just fine with me. I found All Seeing Eye to be both unique and terrifying, even poignant, and a journey well worth taking! Fingers are crossed for more books in Jackson’s world!...more
My partner in crime, Chelsea, from Vampire Book Club raved about Blood Rights, and I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Kristen Painter at the Readers n’ Ritas recently, so I was anxious to dive right in¸ and I’m so glad I did! First off, the cover is just lovely, and really does a good job of giving a spot on visual of Chrysabelle’s markings and her otherworldly beauty, and sets up the mood for the book perfectly. Chrysabelle is a comarre to a noble vampire. In other words, a certain vampire is her patron, and he (or she) owns her blood rights exclusively. When her patron is murdered, Chrysabelle is assumed to be his killer, and she goes on the run, hoping to escape over a hundred years of servitude. She immediately seeks out her “aunt”, a former comarre who won her freedom long ago, and who may be able to help Chrysabelle clear her name. Chrysabelle is no weeping violet, in spite of her career choice. She’s spent her life training in the killing arts, and does a fine job of defending herself at every turn, making pretty short work of anyone that chooses to threaten her or those she cares about. The author did a really nice job of balancing her physical strength along with the vulnerability that comes with over 100 years of pampered existence. She eventually meets up with Mal, an anathema vampire with a curse who has a shapeshifter and a ghost for sidekicks. Sparks inevitably fly¸ but probably not how you think.
From page one of Blood Rights, the author sets up the settings, in Romania and Paradise City in New Florida, to be characters in and of themselves. Keep in mind, this is the future (2067), and there’s a blending of old and new that really serves the story to great effect, but is very subtle and never heavy handed. Little details are sprinkled throughout that really enhance the story’s effectiveness. The push and pull of Mal and Chrysabelle is exquisite from the get go, and Ms. Painter gives us a villain, in the awful Tatiana, to rival the worst of them. Mal is the epitomy of “tortured soul”, and getting through his many layers was a big lure of this story, not to mention the delicious (and dangerous) tension between him and Chrysabelle. Tatiana is determined to become an Elder, now that Chrysabelle’s patron is dead, and she’s willing to go about it any way she can. Greedy and power hungry, Tatiana is a force to be reckoned with, ad you’ll love to hate her. Twists and turns abound, and there were a couple I saw coming, but also quite a few that I didn’t! The author has created an unusual and fascinating “othernatural” mythology that was refreshing, especially since the vampire genre is anything but fresh. Even if you feel “vamped-out” lately, I urge you to give this highly imaginative series a try! You won’t be disappointed!...more
It’s really difficult to review a book in a series, unless it’s the first, without giving some things away. That said, I’m going to keep this review as spoiler free as possible.
In The Iron Queen, we rejoin Meghan and Ash after they’ve been exiled from Faery as a result of Ash declaring his love for Meghan. They return to Meghan’s home only to be attacked by thugs sent from the Iron Court and she realizes she cannot stay, or her family would be in grave danger. The characters we love from Iron King and Iron Daughter are all here, and there’s still a bit of a love triangle with Meghan, Ash, and Puck, although Ash will make a promise that will change things between him and Meghan forever. When they get word that the Winter and Summer Courts have banded together to fight the invasion of the Iron Court and the end of the Nevernever, Meghan is made an offer that she can’t refuse, but to accept it could cost her not only her life, but the lives of the ones she cherishes the most. In a race against time, Meghan and her friends must enter the Iron realm and defeat the Iron King, or she will lose the people, and the world, she’s come to love so much.
The novel moves right along with Meghan’s first person narrative, and as usual Ms. Kagawa’s prose flows beautiful and lush across the page, taking us into Meghan’s adventure as if we were by her side. Family secrets are revealed and battles are fought on Faery battlegrounds while the fate of an entire world hangs in the balance. Meghan has to gather every bit of strength she has to journey into the Iron realm and kill the false king. Along the way she’ll meet new friends, fight her way through a steampunk wasteland filled with magma lakes and mountains of lost things, iron fey attacks, and traitorous Winter fey, all while keeping her friends safe, and not losing herself in the process… Oh, and did I mention she gets to fly?
This is probably my favorite of the three novels and I’ll be anxiously looking forward to The Iron Knight!...more
“As I write this, I can only pray that Frankenstein’s twisted soul is rotting away in whatever crevice within Hell it has surely sunk into.”
So begins Dave Zeltserman’s electrifying novel presenting the classic story of Frankenstein’s monster, from the viewpoint of the “monster.” The monster in this instance is a man by the name of Friedrich Hoffmann, who, on the eve of his wedding to his beloved Johanna is drugged and when he comes to, in an alleyway, he is covered in blood and has Johanna’s locket in his coat. He soon understands that she is dead, murdered in a most heinous way, and he has been blamed for the crime. Broken, tortured, and set to die on the executioner’s wheel, Friedrich can only hope that he will be joining his true love soon. Little does he know that a fate worse than death awaits him.
Monster is told from Friedrich’s point of view, and as he takes you from the wheel, into death, and back to a sort of unlife as the creation of the wicked, diabolical Dr. Frankenstein, you won’t be able to look away, although you may want to. I found myself pausing to cover my eyes for a moment every now and then, not only as I processed the horror that Friedrich is experiencing, but also at the moments of beauty that he manages to find in the midst of this nearly inconceivable ordeal. And there is beauty, in the most unexpected of places. When Friedrich first “awakens” and finds that he cannot move, cannot speak, and can barely keep his eyes open, he is soon introduced to Charlotte, who is only a head, in a bowl of milky liquid. At first, Charlotte repels him, but soon he realizes that she too, is a victim of Dr. Frankenstein’s depraved experiments and it is her stories (he lip reads, because she cannot speak), and assurances that he is still a gently and kind soul, in spite of what is surely hideous appearance, that make his days bearable. When Charlotte is taken from him, at the behest of the Marquis de Sade, and he is inexplicably abandoned, he realizes that he must be free, and find the man that made him into this monster.
Eloquently written (like a certain classic that comes to mind), Monster will take you on a journey of death, rebirth, and vengeance, and is about a man trying desperately not to sink to the depths of his tormenter. I fell in love with Hoffman, and his grief, not only at losing Johanna, but at his own condition, is palpable on every page. However, rays of light do shine through the darkness, and kindness comes from some of the most unexpected places. During his journey, he will encounter vampyres, satanic cults, and more, and it will take him to a crumbling castle, where all will be revealed. Or will it? Brace yourself when Friedrich reaches that castle. Frankenstein is a villain that will make your skin crawl, and is the ultimate embodiment of evil. He even outdoes the Marquis, and that says quite a lot. Monster weighs in at just over 200 pages, but manages to pack a huge punch. If you’re a fan of Frankenstein and the mythos that surrounds it, and love literary horror, this one’s for you. Highly recommended!...more
Zoey is half owner of a bridal consulting firm, Happily Ever After, with her best friend Sara. She’s also an empath, although until recently, has always thought she was just particularly sensitive to others’ feelings. When she gets up one morning and there is a monster at her kitchen table, humming to himself, reading the paper and sipping coffee, her world is turned upside down, very suddenly. The monster’s name is Maurice, and did I happen to mention he makes a mean muffin? Well, he does, and his wife has kicked him out, so he needs a place to stay. Soon, a fairy ring is being built around Zoey’s house, there’s a family of brownies taking up resident in her closet, and an incubus named Sebastian that’s out to get her. It’s a lot to take in, but when people start dying, Zoey knows she must do something before the body count gets even higher.
I enjoyed Monster in My Closet so much, and Zoey is my kind of heroine. She’s instantly likeable, has a penchant for loud outfits, and adapts to her situation pretty quickly, considering how fast things begin to happen. I appreciated that once her initial surprise passes, she goes with the flow and does her best to learn about her new friends. And what friends! They call themselves the Hidden, and pretty much encompass any being that humanity doesn’t know about. They prefer to keep it that way, but Zoey is a special case. Turns out her mom, who disappeared when she was just a girl, helped out the Hidden, so it kind of runs in the family. So, we have an empath that’s slowly learning how to keep from being emotionally bombarded, a house full of the Hidden, a skunk ape for a bodyguard, a fox named Milo, and a sex demon that’s determined to make Zoey one of his conquests. Then there’s the hunky paramedic, who may be a little more than he seems, and is certainly interested in getting to know Zoey better. Zoey will have to gather her friends, and her power, to fight a force that’s determined to steal her soul, and the souls of those she loves. Although things wrap up nicely, there’s plenty of material for the next book, and of course, the mystery of her mother’s disappearance still hasn’t been solved. Fans of Molly Harper’s novels will be delighted and it’s sure to appeal to urban fantasy fans that like their creatures charming as well as their heroines. I can’t wait to read more about Zoey and her fascinating friends!...more
In the Ozarks, in the tiny town of Henbane, 17 year old Lucy Dane dreams of the world outside of Henbane, but for now, she’s happy working at her Uncle Crete’s general store and spending time with her best friend, Bess. When the body of a girl named Cheri is discovered, after her disappearance a year ago, Lucy is horrified, not only at her death, but at the town’s lack of concern. Oh, they’re concerned alright, for their own safety, but the fact that a teenage girl has been killed and dismembered, shoved into the hollow of a tree, pitifully exposed and on display, seems to come in a close second. Soon, Lucy enlists the help of her friend (and hopefully more), Daniel Cole, to help her to find out what happened to Cheri, and in the process, starts to seek answers to what really happened to her mother, who also disappeared when Lucy was very small.
Lucy feels that no one cares about what happened to Cheri, and is disgusted by how, until the news vans showed up and everyone clamored for attention, people would have been happy enough to let her murder go unsolved. Rumors flew through the town, most seemingly meant to frighten young children the most, but Lucy wants to know what happens to this simple girl who was so trusting, and so lost. Where was she for an entire year before her murder? This passage gives a good glimpse into what Cheri’s life was like, and why Lucy’s guilt weighed so heavy:
“I replayed our mornings together, Cheri’s and mine, sifted through our last conversations. She’d talked mostly about her “boyfriends,” pervs who hung around her mom’s trailer and told her she was pretty and tried to feel her up. Boys our age, the ones at school, were cruel. They called her a retard and made her cry. I told her to ignore them, but I never told them to stop, and that’s what I remembered when Cheri’s body turned up in the tree: the ways I had failed her. Like how I’d been her best friend, but she wasn’t mine. How I’d worried something might have happened when she went missing, but didn’t do anything about it.”
The Weight of Blood is told in alternating viewpoints: first person for Lucy and her mother, Lila, and we also get third person accounts from other characters. If that sounds confusing, it’s not. The author will let you know who’s doing the talking, and it’s a very, very effective way of telling this story. Lucy’s search for the truth about what happened to Cheri parallels her newly motivated search for her mother Lila, who arrived in Henbane so many years ago to work on Lucy’s uncle’s farm. What really struck me about this book is how well adjusted Lucy actually is. I mention this because so many times, especially when it comes to suspense, you get a lot of tortured characters or characters with dark secrets and complicated pasts. There is a dark spot in Lucy’s past, which is her mother’s disappearance, but keep in mind, she was only a baby when it happened, and she’s grown up surrounded by the fierce love of her father, her Uncle Crete, and various other family and friends of the family. Lucy is a healthy, happy, and smart young woman, and she’s also a determined one. Lucy is one of my favorite characters in a quite a while, and although her passages were among the best, I really enjoyed Lila’s tale of how she came to be in Henbane, and the time leading up to, and shortly after, Lucy’s birth and her subsequent disappearance.
As you’ve probably guessed, being set in a small town, the story has its share of secrets interwoven in the narrative. Some of these secrets are pretty dark, sometimes ugly and tragic, and Laura McHugh creates an atmosphere of creeping dread when Lucy starts getting closer to the truth. The Weight of Blood is indeed a mystery, but it’s also an expert portrait of small town life, and of the myths that can permeate a group of people, and cause paranoia and suspicion of the worst kind. The best example of this is Lila’s arrival in the community. Lila Petrovich is beautiful, indeed, exotic ,and it’s pretty much a hide-your-man and burn-the-witch free for all. After all, someone that beautiful is not to be trusted, and the spell she casts over Henbane’s male population must be witchcraft. It might be laughable if it wasn’t deadly serious. The landscape that the author creates will get under your skin and cause a most pleasurable itch, but of course, it’s also a landscape full of ghostly mystery and plenty of dark, out of the way places (all the better to hide a body or two.) Laura McHugh is an artist, the Ozarks are her canvas, and she handles her subject matter brilliantly, with compassion and realism. Yes, there is darkness in Henbane, but there is also light. Lucy pretty much nails it in one, speaking of her losses, and the siren song of home:
“The Ozarks did have a way of calling folks home, thought I never thought I’d be one of them. All my life I had told myself I didn’t belong here. Henbane was a map of the devil, his backbone, eye, and throat, its caves and rivers a geography of my loss. But I hadn’t taken into account how a place becomes part of you, claims you for its own. Like it or not, my roots tangled deep in the rocky soil. I would leave Henbane, but home sings in your bones, and I wondered how far I could go before the hills would call me back.”
If you only read a few books this year, I urge you to make The Weight of Blood one of them. This is literary suspense at its very finest, and I couldn’t put it down. Lucy is a heroine to root for, and for that matter, so is Lila. Come for the mystery, stay for the beautiful writing, sense of place, and characters that will burrow into your imagination. This isn’t a book, it’s an experience, one that you won’t soon forget....more
Working the checkout line at the grocery store is no place for Miriam Black. Little acts of rebellion like staring into the laser light of the scanner just aren’t doin’ it for her. Of course she finally runs her mouth and gets herself fired, but gets an itch that she just needs to scratch. That would be touching the woman that fired her and finding out how she dies. The only problem is, when she does that, she finds out death isn’t far off at all, quite possibly for all of them. This incident prompts Miriam into packing up and attempting to leave the trailer that she shares with Louis. Feeling smothered and panicky, she sets off on foot, but Louis tracks her down. He always does. Louis talks Miriam into using her “talent” to help an English teacher at a school for troubled girls, which leads to visions of a serial killer. Let the descent into crazy begin…
If you’ve read Blackbirds, you’re already somewhat familiar with Miriam’s personality. She’s rude, mouthy, insensitive, blunt, extremely foul mouthed, and really, really hard to like. Ok, now set that stuff aside for just a minute. Bear with me. Yes, Miriam isn’t the most charming girl, and if anything, she’s even more abrasive in Mockingbird. Seriously, the girl would begin trying my patience in about 2 minutes. However, all of that crappy stuff is mostly a defense mechanism. Mostly. Her ability allows her to see horrible stuff, and the events at the girl’s school are just about as bad as it gets. Our Miriam, foulmouthed, childish, and surly, will put herself in the path of a Mack truck if it means saving an innocent life. She reminds me a bit of a zombie, without the whole rot and braaaaaiiiiiins thing. She will keep coming, until the job is done, and she’s dead. And poor Louis feels like her must protect her. Needless to say, I don’t envy Louis the job he’s assigned to himself. A killer is indeed cutting a swath through these girls, one that dons a plague mask and uses barbed wire for restraints. The situation is much, much worse than Miriam initially thinks, though, as hard as it is to believe, and she’ll need every bit of grit she has to get through this one. Dark forces are rallying against Miriam, because she’s been messing with fate, and fate is a fickle, vengeful mistress. Chuck Wendig’s mind is a terrifying, twisted, fascinating thing, and thank goodness he puts this stuff down on paper for the rest of us. Darker than dark, Mockingbird will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget, so fortify your stomach and settle in, because you’re going to want to read this one in one sitting. Can’t wait for the next one!...more
Reeve LeClaire, formerly Regina, or “Edgy Reggie”, is now 22 years old, but when she was 12, she was kidnapped and held captive for 4 years. For six years now she’s been rebuilding her life. She loves her job at a sushi restaurant, and has been keeping regular appointments with Dr. Ezra Lerner, a therapist specializing in the psychological aspects of captivity. When the news breaks that a little girl, Tilly, has been rescued from a similar situation, and her captor arrested, Dr. Lerner asks Reeve to work with Tilly as a mentor, someone that understands where she’s been and can show her where she can go from here. Reeve reluctantly agrees, and finds herself growing attached to this little girl and her family. There’s only one problem: there’s another man out there, one that will stop at nothing to keep procuring young girls for his own sick personal harem. He’s no one to trifle with, but he may just have met his match with Reeve.
The Edge of Normal, much like The Never List by Koethi Zan, covers a pretty timely subject: that of victims in captivity. We’ve all seen the headlines of how Ariel Castro held 3 women over a period of 10 years, and it’s a terrifying reality. This is Carla Norton’s first fiction novel, but she’s well known for her non fiction account of a woman held captive in a coffin-like box for seven years. It would be so easy to mine the perverse acts that these women have to endure for shock, but The Edge of Normal is not that book. The Edge of Normal is Reeve’s story. She’s no longer a victim, and helping someone else goes a long way over recognizing her self- worth and new place in the world after her childhood was stolen from her. She yearns for intimate relationships, not just romantic, but just connecting to another person besides her therapist and the well-meaning yet sometimes smothering attention of her family. She finds that with Tilly, and when she begins to dig deeper into Tilly’s story, she becomes a woman on a mission. The Edge of Normal is suspenseful, scary, and ultimately, very satisfying. It also brings us one of the most repulsive and arrogant bad guys in a long while. Seriously, repulsive is the tip of the iceberg with this dude. The author gives us glimpses of his world, and it’s a very dark, disturbing place. The Edge of Normal is one of the most entertaining thrillers I’ve read in a while, and certainly not to be missed!...more
Shortly after the events of Wolfhound Century, Vissarion Lom and Maroussia Shaumian are on a tram headed into Mirgorod, battle weary and all too aware that they’re being pursued by Commander Lavrentina Chazia, chief of the Mirgorod Secret Police. Mirgorod is on the verge of war with the Archipelago, and they don’t have a chance against their vast armies, but for Chazia, that means an opportunity to remake the Vlast just as she wants, pure and united under her. Her patience is waning, however, and she’s convinced the Pollandore holds the keys to her success. But Chazia doesn’t know how to use the Pollandore, and she thinks that Maroussia Shaumian does. Chazia isn’t the only one after Maroussia, though. Josef Kantor wants her dead, and he plans on remaking himself anew. He has grand plans for Mirgorod and his capacity for hard work is inexhaustible, his desire for utter supplication unending, if it is to meet his goals. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away from Mirgorod, there are diabolical machinations underway of apocalyptic proportions. In the forest, an Archangel is stirring, and it whispers to Josef Kantor, much to Chazia’s frustration, and she continues to use angel flesh on herself, in an attempt to connect to the ancient being, the only living angel, but every day, every minute, it drives her more and more insane.
I was blown away by Wolfhound Century, so does Truth and Fear measure up? Actually, it more than does, and as good as Wolfhound Century was, Truth and Fear is even better. Lom is a man whose only goal has become keeping Maroussia safe, and he’ll do that even at great, even grave, risk to himself. Luckily, he has an ally, in the form of a shapeshifter named Antoninu Florian who seems to have his own agenda, but proves more than useful in aiding the two fugitives. Maroussia is a young woman whose fate is entwined intimately with the Pollandore and believes it has the capacity to remake the Vlast into something good, not this burning mass of chaos and war that it currently is under the psychotic gaze of Chazia and Kantor.
When Maroussia is taken, Lom sets off with Florian to save her, and their harrowing journey will lead them to a glass city called Novaya Zima, and a violent, earth shattering conclusion that will change his destiny. In Truth and Fear, as in Wolfhound Century, Peter Higgins has created more than just a story. It’s an immersive, sensory experience, populated by giants, shapeshifters, earthy magic, and the power of ancient beings. Lom is a hero in the truest sense, in that he doesn’t see his actions as heroic, they just are, and they come as naturally to him as breathing. Prepare yourself for quite an ending, and the promise of more to come. The world-building is superb, and Higgins’s writing is, as usual, lyrical and sometimes brutal. I love this world, and I love these complicated, flawed, and utterly unique characters. I can’t wait to see what Peter Higgins gives us next....more
Fire on Dark Water begins in 1702 England, when 10 year old Lola Blaise is spirited away from her gypsy family by people that would sell her to men wanting to “experience” a virgin. Yeah, the world Lola lives in is nasty, brutal, and unforgiving, especially where gypsies are concerned. Lola eventually falls in with a gang of thieves and is eventually caught and sent to Newgate, where she is banished to America for 7 years to be retrained for colonial labor. On the ship, she’s befriended by three doxies, Violet, Maude, and Dollie, who do their best to shelter her from the bullying and abuse by the other prisoners. They can’t save her from the captain, however, who turns Lola into his own personal form of entertainment. After a mutiny attempt by the prisoners goes wrong, and it’s discovered that Lola helped procure a weapon, the ringleaders are promptly tortured and thrown overboard, while Lola is forced to watch. Lola then helps take care of prisoners and shipman afflicted by various forms of nastiness. So, after what I personally think of as the “Ship Ride from Hell”, Lola is sold into service to a family in Carolina that lost their previous housekeeper to fever. Lola is to help with all manner of medical emergencies on the plantation, and is determined to make the best of this situation. Such begins Lola’s experiences in the service of the girl who would eventually become Anne Bonny and her father. A fateful marriage will lead her to the West Indies, life on the high seas, and eventually, Lola would become Blackbeard’s thirteenth wife.
Fire On Dark Water is not a mystery, nor is there an epic quest. It's about a gypsy girl, abandoned and adrift, making her way in a hostile, unforgiving world. Lola’s voice is sturdy and unapologetic, even when she describes some of the horrible things she must submit to in order to survive. I had to keep reminding myself during the first part of this book, that Lola was only ten because the things she has to endure will make your heart ache. These are things no person; man, woman, or child should ever have to go through and is a glimpse into the dark hearts of men, and women. It was use or be used, and Lola clawed for her place the best she knew how. Intelligent, cunning, and resourceful, Lola survives in a world that most of us wouldn’t last more than 10 minutes in. The author creates a world rich in treachery and desire, and Lola Blaise’s story is one you won’t want to miss. If you like pirates, strong, intelligent women, and historic adventure that doesn’t let up, you’ll love Fire On Dark Water. ...more
When Alice comes home to find two strange men in the house with her father, she doesn’t know what to think. When a pair of hands reach down from the ceiling and snap her father’s neck, all hell breaks loose. Something is coming. Something big. And it wants Alice. Luckily, she’s got Gwyn and Mallory on her side. They insist she’s in danger and can trust them, and when she sees the spread of their wings, a new reality comes crashing down on her. There’s a war brewing in the realm of the angels, and the Morningstar is at the center of it. Turns out Alice is a half-born (half angel, half human), which makes her a hot commodity (in more ways than one) to the Fallen. Gwyn is an Earthbound, which means his wings have been clipped and he’s been exiled to Earth to carry out his sentence. His crimes aren’t detailed at first, but suffice it to say he made a few bad decisions. Mallory is a Descended, which any angel that comes to Earth is called. Gwyn is assigned to watch over Mallory, much to Mallory’s chagrin, and Mallory is in charge of Alice. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Alice will need all the help she can get, and with a team of angels in her corner, what can possibly go wrong?
For years, the Fallen have been opening hellmouths and taking thousands of people, whole families, down into the depths of hell. This overabundance of souls has tipped the balance in hell’s favor, and it’s all about balance. Alice is the key to restoring balance and Mallory, Gwyn, and Co. must train her to use her powers as a half-born in order to stop the hellmouth machine and bring order back. Little does Alice know, there’s more at work here, and revelations about her mother, Lucifer, and the rest of the angels will soon come to light, and it will change the stakes. Alice won’t be going to Wonderland. Instead, she’ll be descending into the freezing depths of hell alone. A clash of fire and ice is coming, and a war will be waged at the bone gates of hell, while Alice struggles to come to terms with her power, and her destiny.
I’ll be the first to admit that so far, with the recent popularity of angel themed books, I haven’t been all that impressed with some of the offerings, but I loved this book. Mallory is a slovenly, hard drinking, gun toting, smart mouthed angel with plenty of attitude, and I loved him. Vin, her angelic bodyguard, follows a close second, and Alice is a strong, brave heroine who’s had to deal with plenty of backlash in her life because of her otherness, and has always blamed herself for her mother’s abandonment. Can you imagine the news that you will have to go to hell and use your newfound powers to restore the balance in order to save humanity? If you’re a fan of Mike Shevdon’s Courts of the Feyre series, you’ll find much to love in this wonderful debut. Lou Morgan has a gift for visuals, and the final battle with the Fallen is something to behold. She expertly weaves fantasy and horror elements into a creepy, exciting, roller coaster ride of a book. Lou Morgan’s angels aren’t warm, fluffy, and halo’d, either. They’re fiercely beautiful warriors, and distinctly “other.” The angel mythos is fascinating and rich, and the author has laid the groundwork for what promises to be an explosive sequel. Luckily, Blood and Feathers: Rebellion is out in 2013, and I’ll be the first in line for it!...more
Vissarion Lom of the Podchornok provincial police, has tried many times to get transferred to the capital city of the great Vlast, Mirgorod. He eventually gets his wish, but when he arrives, he finds out that he’s been summoned to catch a revolutionary by the name of Josef Kantor. Kantor, an “impresario of destruction”, is responsible for countless lives lost and horrendous atrocities in the name of freedom, and he’s also a ghost; a legend, an enigma, and a man shrouded in mystery. It’s made very clear to Lom, upon his arrival in Mirgorod, that he will be on his own in seeking Kantor, with no help from the police. He seeks out an old friend, a professor named Raku Vishnik, with whom he parted ways with when Raku went to university and Lom stayed in Podchornok to join the police. Eventually the university fired Raku after finding out about his family and his connection to artists and poets, and now he is the official historian of Mirgorod. He wanders the streets of the city with his camera, photographing the things that can’t be seem, the universe underneath of Mirgorod. Raku is welcoming to Lom, and Lom settles in with his old friend to get to work in finding a terrorist. Lom soon finds out that Mirgorod is a very dangerous place, and that he’s under threat by much more than just Kantor and his band of murderous revolutionaries. Amongst the death that hovers over Mirgorod like a haze is the Archangel, fallen from the stars, mired in the woods, a stone monolith with an alien intelligence… and it’s awakening.
Lom is much more than a policeman, and possibly much more than a man. Angels have been falling to earth for centuries, and humans have been taking pieces of their stone bodies and using them for “enhancements”. Lom has a piece of angel stone implanted in his head (placed there as a child) and sometimes he gets glimpses of another world, one lying just beneath the one he lives in, and at times, seems to exhibit certain powers. The Pollandore is the world that might be, that hasn’t been, and Kantor wants it destroyed, but he’s not the only one. Laverentina Chazia, Commander of the Secret Police, also wants to see it destroyed, and she’ll go to any means to do it. It’s up to Lom and a young woman, Maroussia, whose past lies in the dense forests surrounding Mirgorod, to save the past, as well as a future without constant war and bloodshed.
Peter Higgins has taken an alternate Russia rife with squalid alleyways, secret police, cabarets where artists gather to discuss their forbidden work and indulge in equally forbidden behavior, and thrown in fallen angels and pocket universes for good measure. I can’t forget to mention the rusalkas (water ghosts or nymphs), giants that are used as slaves, and the Gaukh Engine, which is the machine of steel and electricity that is the heart of the city’s archives. While Wolfhound Century tackles some pretty big ideas and themes (among them, transhumanism and cosmism ), the author has cleverly wrapped these ideas up into a story about a man, and a woman, who came from nothing, but are destined for greater things, and where myth and reality are sometimes indistinguishable. Wonderfully atmospheric and alive, not unlike the verdant, sentient forest that surrounds Mirgorod, and beautifully written, Wolfhound Century is equal parts nightmare and dreamscape, and what a dream. If you find yourself getting confused about the role of angel flesh and how it works, don’t worry, all will be revealed at the end. Speaking of the end, it’ll knock your socks off, and leave you hoping for the next book very, very soon. Wolfhound Century is a strange, complex, earthy, sometimes violent read, and one of the best debuts I’ve gotten my hands on....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.
Don’t expect a straightforward crime novel from What We’ve Lost is Nothing. In fact, this book is an examination of the 24 hours after the crime happens. Oak Park, Illinois is a lovely, posh neighborhood, and it butts right up against Chicago’s notorious west side. Ilois Lane is a peaceful, and some might say very ordinary street, but its inhabitants are anything but, and their stories are what make up the considerable meat of this novel that very effectively mines the undercurrents of our daily lives, and explores how isolated we can be from our neighbors. The McPherson’s daughter, 15 year old Mary Elizabeth, is under her family’s dining room table with her friend Sofia, getting high when the burglars hit her home in broad daylight. She’s not discovered, but she’s left to explain why she was skipping school and who she was skipping with. When they find out that her friend is Sofia, the daughter of Cambodian refugees, suspicion is immediately cast on them, especially since they seem to have had the least stolen among the residents. And just who, really, are the teen boys (supposedly Sofia’s cousins), with their loud music and bandannas, that spend quite a bit of time at Sofia’s home?
The McPhersons form a neighborhood watch group, of sorts, and of course the police are conducting their own investigation. We do get to know each of the residents that were burglarized, and how the aftermath of such an intrusive crime affects each one. There’s Étienne, a chef with a failing restaurant who claims he was in France at the time of the burglary but in truth, never went. There’s Arthur, who has hemeralopia, and who mourns the gradual loss of not only his sight, but also his independence, but takes comfort in the time Mary Elizabeth spends with him reading aloud. And of course, there’s Mary’s mom, Susan, who has been a crusader for melding the east side with their own idyllic community, but finds herself doubting everything she’s ever stood for, and Michael, Mary’s father, who feels oddly detached, not only from life, but from his own failings as a father and husband, and whose boiling anger would eventually consume him. And of course there is Mary Elizabeth, whose infatuation with bad-boy Caz will make any woman’s stomach clench that remembers what it was like to make that boy like you. And we can’t forget Sofia’s family, Cambodian refugees that rely largely on their daughter for social interaction, but will do anything in order for her to succeed and have a good life. They are a constant source of pride, love, and yes, embarrassment to Sofia, and some of their scenes are heartbreaking. Then there are Alicia and Dan. Alicia has a past of mental illness and has been coddled by her parents, even after marrying Dan, and feeling as if she’s not a participant in her own life, finds her carefully constructed world falling apart, bit by bit.
All of these lives come together explosively on Ilois Lane, and the pain and fear that the crime causes will coalesce into a miasma of mistrust and a kind of rage at their collective loss of control. Loss of control over their tidy lives, and the invisible boundaries that they mistakenly thought kept the bad things away. The narrative is sometimes uncomfortable, but ultimately, this is a book about hope, and how one event can be a catalyst for action and change, sometimes good, sometimes tragic.
Rachel Louise Snyder is an experienced journalist, and it shows with her eye for detail, and a compassionate, no nonsense touch. Her knowledge of Oak Park isn’t fictional either; she lived there right after college and experienced firsthand the efforts for integration and the positive effects of community activism. She also lived for a time in Cambodia so is able to give us particular insight on what it is like for refugees to live so outside of one’s true home and be the unfair subjects of suspicion and doubt. What We’ve Lost is Nothing is put together so well, that when the shocking ending comes, you may not know what hit you, but this is one book you’ll want to dive into and stay there, because it’s insidious, in the best way, and will stay with you long after you finish the last page....more