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.(less)
Paula Brackston’s The Midnight Witch transports us to 1913 London, to a country on the brink of war, and a young woman grieving for the loss of her beloved father. However, the death of her father is not all that Lilith has to contend with. She must prepare herself to become the new Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven, to take over the title that her father held until his untimely death. When she begins the ceremony that will cement her new place as Head Witch, she is challenged, and must call a demon and send it back into the Darkness in order to prove her worth. This she does, but at terrible cost. Soon, she realizes the Sentinels, a band of sorcerers that are even more ancient than the witches, are determined to undermine her position as head of the Lazarus Coven, and not only that, they are after a sacred and very powerful artifact, one that Lilith, and her coven, are bound beyond all else to protect. Bonds are a big theme in The Midnight Witch, actually. Lilith and her coven are bound to secrecy, not allowed to reveal their status to those outside the circle. Lilith is engaged to marry a fellow witch, Louis, who she cares deeply about (they grew up together and are dear friends), but does not truly love, although he loves her deeply. Lilith is also the daughter of a duke, with a brother who is hopelessly addicted to opium, but whom she fiercely loves. She’s expected to take part in all that high society has to offer, but when she meets Bram Cardale, artist and son of a steel worker, love begins to bloom, and it’s a love that she can’t ignore. Can Lilith fulfill the obligations of her coven, and her station, and make a life with Bram as well?
In The Midnight Witch, Brackston lovingly crafts the sights and sounds of prewar London, and the opulence of Lilith’s high society lifestyle, while giving us a heroine, and even a hero to root for. If Lilith seems a bit selfish and spoiled in the beginning, the ensuing events do quite a bit to mature her and by the time the story (drawn across several years) concludes, she’s a mature young woman, worthy of her coven’s trust and more than able to fend for herself and those she loves. Her journey isn’t without danger. In fact, as a woman that constantly hears the voices of the dead, she is keenly aware of the thin veil between life and death, and how easy it is to lose everything in a flash. She’s also up against some very determined, power hungry adversaries. The narrative alternates between first person with Lilith, brief interludes with the villain, and a third person account of Bram’s experience as an artist’s apprentice to a stone sculptor, and witch, Richard Mangan, who lives with his wife and children, and his utterly glamorous German mistress (and muse) and her child in his Bohemian household. Bram’s medium is paint, however, and there is no better muse than Lilith herself. Bram’s love for Lilith is all encompassing, and he’s determined to win her at any cost.
I enjoyed this love story set against one of my favorite periods in history, and although there is magic, this is Lilith and Bram’s story, above all, and of course, they are a very much star-crossed lovers. Although it didn’t grip me quite as much as The Winter Witch (there were a few slow patches and I didn’t warm to Lilith until a bit later in the story), I’m kind of a sucker for these kinds of love stories (a bit of magic doesn’t hurt.) Also, the utterly charming and larger-than-life Mangan and his noisy, robust, and very unconventional family were an undeniable treat.(less)
It’s 1968 London, and a young girl’s naked body has been found by a Nanny in a trash heap, not far away from EMI Studios (Abbey Road Studios), home of The Beatles, and it’s up to DS Cathal “Paddy” Breen to find the killer. Unfortunately, after an incident in which he left the scene during the attack on a fellow cop, he’s not exactly a favorite at headquarters, but he’s trying his best to keep his head down and work the case. He’s also been partnered with Temporary Detective Constable Helen Tozer, and he doesn’t know what to make of this young woman who is so brash, forward, and more than willing to throw her two cents into the investigation, and take more than enough initiative for the both of them. Tozer also has her own tragic reason for being so determined to find the killer of this young girl.
Breen is a man out of time and place, in a city that’s in flux. His father has just passed away, and he’s still reeling from that loss, and a bit adrift after having to care for him for so long. He’s continually bemused by a London that, in spite of retaining its post-war look, has suddenly taken on an explosion of color, sound, and people of all nationalities. His father was an immigrant and his name, Cathal, pronounced Cah-hal is a constant source of embarrassment for him, so he generally goes by Paddy. However, Helen’s refusal to call him anything but Cathal, is, I think, rather sweet (you’ll see why I think this, and it’s a very telling, even endearing scene.) He’s intimidated by the influx of young people into the city, with their long hair and cocked hips, and he feels as if they are silently accusing him of not standing for anything. It causes him to wonder if he’s ever stood for anything.Regardless, it’s Breen’s dogged pursuit of the truth in this case that carries the day and leads him and Tozer to a group of people committed to stopping the Biafran War, as well as to the victim’s own family. The mystery is a fascinating one, but it was Breen that made this a standout story. Quiet and complicated, he’s just the kind of hero I love to root for, yet he is flawed and very human. Helen and Tozer is also a pleasure, and her willingness to tell off her fellow coppers for their lip is refreshing for a time when women were not all that welcome in that profession.
She’s Leaving Home (A Song From Dead Lips in the UK) is a very strong first effort from William Shaw, who has a background in pop culture journalism, which shows. Beatlemania is going strong in 1968 and his exploration of that obsession, against a background of a country, and a generation in flux, makes for absorbing reading. There are a lot of heavy themes here, but the author handles them so expertly, you won’t realize you’ve just gotten a heady dose of history until it’s over. I can’t wait for the next book-I’ll follow Breen and Tozer anywhere.(less)
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.(less)
It’s been 13 months since Marnie Logan’s husband Daniel disappeared, and she’s barely scraping by. She’s behind on rent on her tiny flat and has a teenage daughter and young son to support. Unfortunately, Daniel had a serious gambling problem and owes a substantial amount of money to a gangster named Hennessy, and he’s forced her into working as an escort to pay off the debt. It’s an untenable situation, made even worse because she can’t get Daniel declared dead in order to collect on his life insurance, even though it’s becoming increasingly obvious that he’s most likely not alive. Things really come to a head for Marnie when she fails to collect money from a client and her minder, Quinn gives her a beating. He’s found dead the next day with his throat cut and hers is the last number dialed from his cellphone. She’s now under suspicion of murder and her reticence to admit to working as an escort leaves her looking even more suspicious to the police. Meanwhile, she’s been seeing psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, who becomes very concerned about Marnie after she shows him her bruises from the beating. When his office is burglarized and her file is the only one taken, he starts to suspect that there is even more to her story. He recruits friend and retired cop Vincent Ruiz to help him look into Marnie’s past, and they start to notice a pattern of violence that can’t be ignored, and for a while now, Marnie has felt like someone has been watching her…
WATCHING YOU is Robotham’s 8th novel featuring Joe O’Loughlin, and it’s not my first, but it’s been a while since I’ve read a Robotham book, and really, that’s a bit of a crime in itself. It took about two pages to hook me into Marnie’s story. She’s a single mom in a desperate situation, trying very hard not to let her children suffer in any way. After all, they’re suffering from Daniel’s disappearance, and although she’s resigned to the fact that he’s most likely dead, her daughter especially hasn’t lost hope that he’ll come back to them and even has a Facebook page dedicated to finding her dad. Not only is Marnie under suspicion for murder, but she also has to endure the judgment of people that think she’s just out to collect her husband’s insurance money. As for Joe O’Loughlin, he’s separated from his wife and is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, so losing himself in Marnie’s case is a welcome distraction, but one that may prove to be very dangerous. As he digs into Marnie’s past, it starts to look like there’s much more to her than meets the eye. Could Marnie be holding something back? Robotham peels back the layers slowly, just enough to ratchet up the already high tension and introduce new doubts into the narrative. There were a few times that I thought I knew what was going on, but I didn’t know the half of it, and I love it when an author surprises me. This is a fast paced and at times, scary, read and even if this is your first Joe O’Loughlin book, it’s very new reader friendly. It takes a pro to make a tale this twisted believable, and Robotham pulls it off. This is a solid, very creepy thriller that will keep you up late, and keep you guessing.(less)
The Oversight is one of those books that, about two pages in, I knew I was in for something good. It begins with an excerpt from The Great and Hidden History of the World by Rabbi Dr. Hayyim Samuel Falk, detailing the function of the Free Company known as The Oversight of London, specifically in protecting innocent humans from the actions of untoward supranaturals. The Oversight has always been manned by people with both supranatural and human blood, so that they may better understand the kinds of beings that they are sworn to protect the human population from. So it begins that a young girl is brought to The Oversight’s Safe House in a sack, mouth covered and hands wrapped, by a man who has been told that the proprietor of said headquarters would pay a pretty penny for young girls. Sara Falk, head of the last Hand of the Oversight, is looking for no such thing, but she finds out that the young girl in question, Lucy Harker, is much like her, and vows to protect her. Lucy’s arrival, however, seems to be the catalyst for bad things to come, and Mr. Sharp, Oversight sentinel and Sara’s protector (whether she likes it or not), is suspicious of Lucy’s arrival from the beginning. He’s right to be suspicious, because there are those that know that the once hundreds strong Oversight is now only five, and they are looking to not only destroy them, but take for them a key that could shift the balance of power in a profound way. Soon, Lucy is separated from the Hand and tragedy befalls Sara. Mr. Sharp is determined to make Sarah whole, even if it threatens their entire existence, and Lucy must make her way amongst a traveling carnival that hides its own dark secrets.
Victorian England is one of my favorite settings for a novel, especially one involving magical things, of which The Oversight has plenty, and although the setting is wonderful, it’s the characters that make this book a standout: a pair of villains that have many “sons” that they’ve procured from the local orphanages, creating a network of eyes and ears all over London, the creepy Slaugh with which the villains have entered into unholy alliance, a breath-stealer that stalks its unwitting victims in the shadows of an unsuspecting city, and of course, the Hand themselves, consisting of Sara Falk, Mr. Sharp, Cook, Hodge, and the Smith. There are magic mirrors, a golem named Emmett that protects our heroes, and so much more. Fletcher’s London is something I pictured out of a Tim Burton movie, with overhanging gables, crushed together buildings, and precariously uneven skylines, and of course, characters I absolutely fell in love with.
This is a book to be savored, and its secrets are revealed slowly and deliciously, entrenching you more and more into a Dickensian, delightful world. Will our heroes survive such diabolical evil with their numbers so utterly diminished? Will Lucy, so lost and unsure of her past, find a semblance of herself, and will she do it in time to thwart the powers that mean to possess her? The ending settles a few things but leaves plenty open for another book, and I can’t wait to get to know The Oversight better, not to mention go back into the wonderful world that Charlie Fletcher has created. The Oversight is a clever, entrancing, and of course, magical read, with plenty of surprises. Don’t miss this one. (less)
Lyda Rose has just gotten out of the detention facility where, recently, a 17 year old committed suicide. Turns out the girl had taken a drug called Numinous, which helps its victims find God, but when she came down from the mind altering substance, joy turned to despair, and death is the only way out. However, Lyda is a little bit different from the typical addict. Numinous sounds suspiciously like a drug she herself helped develop, and she’s determined to find the source. The drug that Lyda developed, like Numinous, helped the user find a higher power, but if you OD’d the hallucinations stayed with you. That’s where Dr. Gloria comes in. Dr. Gloria is an angel, and she is Lyda’s permanent hallucination. Lyda’s goal is to find out where and how the Numinous is being made, and eliminate the threat. The use of this drug must NOT spread, and Lyda will do anything to make sure that it doesn’t. But there’s much, much more at work here then just one bad guy (or girl) heading up the manufacturing. Luckily, Lyda has a few friends (plus an angel) to help her out.
Afterparty is one of those books that’s very hard to write about. The reason for this is that it refuses to be pigeonholed, which is a good thing, but sometimes hell on the reviewing process. But, I’ll try. Afterparty is told mostly in Lyda’s voice, with interludes into the doings of other characters, and Lyda makes for a fascinating narrator. She’s a rather brilliant neuroscientist with an addict’s sensibility. You’ll of course guess pretty quickly that Dr. Gloria is Lyda’s subconscious made whole, but Dr. G is so vibrant, you’ll soon begin to think of her just as Lyda does, as a very alive, breathing entity. Lyda knows that Dr. G. isn’t “real”, but to Lyda, she is real. That doesn’t seem to make sense, but it will when you read it, I promise. Her motivation seems pretty clear at first; to find out who is manufacturing some new and very diabolical chemjets (drug making is as easy as printing out your resume in this book, when you have the right stuff), and get Numinous off the street, but soon becomes much more complicated when she runs into a couple of dead bodies and the cunning and ruthless lady leader of an Afghan criminal gang who doesn’t want anyone honing in on her drug turf, and plans to use Lyda to make sure that doesn’t happen. Lyda recruits one of the team that helped develop the original drug, and her friend Olivia (Ollie), whose experience in special government ops make her an invaluable asset. Ollie is also in love with Lyda. See? It’s complicated.
This book is complicated, but not in the way you might think. It reads like a near future thriller, and is paced much like one, but it also explores the nature of faith and also the vast ability of the human mind and our perception of the world around us. I mean, perception is everything, right? The “world” of Afterparty is pretty much like our own, but you’ll notice, aside from the chemjet technology, small futuristic details like the pens that are used like phones and data tablets, and even bigger ones, like a fully interactive “smart” interface that encompasses an entire house. Gregory uses this to fantastic effect in the last quarter of the book. Afterparty is very, very good, but Gregory’s biggest talent lies in his characterizations. They’re just…interesting. Every last one of the characters in this book is three dimensional (even the bad guys, and girls), and your mind will fill in some little details even if the author doesn’t hit you right on the nose with them. I love that. Everyone has their motivations, and they’re never black and white. Lyda isn’t black and white either. She can be quite selfish, but she’s damaged (and Ollie, oh Ollie…), and I’m leaving out a lot, because to tell you would be to spoil this excellent novel. Afterparty is a unique experience, sometimes dark, sometimes hopeful, with a bit of satire thrown in, some fairly black humor, and some of the neatest little touches (keep an eye out for those tiny bison.) There’s no neat little bow tying everything together at the end either, and that’s ok.(less)
If you’ve been wondering what Joe Ledger and his team have been up to, wonder no longer, because the new book in this fantastic series, CODE ZERO, is here! First of all, Joe is happier than he’s been in a long while. Junie Flynn’s cancer is being treated with experimental drugs, and he’s most definitely in love with her, so he now certainly has something good to go home to. Unfortunately, when he goes to question a man named Reggie Boyd, who works for DARPA and has been selling secrets, the kind of secrets that can get people killed. DARPA is supposed to keep us safe, and a software package called VaultBreaker is at the forefront of helping to stop terrorists from shutting us down. If it gets into the wrong hands, it could be devastating. It looks like Reggie was approached by a woman calling herself Mother Night, who leads a team of cyberhackers from China, North Korea, and Iran. Soon, acts of terrorism start popping up all over the country, and innocent people are getting hurt, and dying. At the core is Mother Night, and her army of disenfranchised youth that are eager to please her, and do anything for her. However, all this isn’t just to cause chaos and panic, although for Mother Night, it’s just icing, but she’s got something up her diabolical sleeve. A very dangerous auction is about to take place, and extremists in numerous countries are preparing their bids. Mother Night is also sending out millions of Trojan Horse viruses, infecting untold numbers of computers. By this time, Joe has already been attacked by a mob of young men and women bent on murder, and as the acts of terrorism build, he’s tasked with screening new recruits, since the DMS is stretched pretty thin. Unfortunately, out of over 90 hopefuls, only a handful are measuring up to DMS standards, and they need all the help they can get. It doesn’t help that Church wants Joe to roll the new recruits out immediately, without Joe’s preferred three weeks of additional training. All in a day’s work for Joe, right? In addition, the Berserkers have made an appearance again, after Joe and his team thought they’d eradicated the last of them. And, after all, this is the direct sequel to Patient Zero, so of course the horrible plague that played a huge part in that book will certainly be back in play in Code Zero. If you think Joe has dealt with some weird shit in the past, well, he has, but Code Zero hit 11 on the scare meter for me, because there are a lot of bioweapons being thrown around by Mother Night’s minions and this stuff, at least to me, is dizzyingly terrifying. In fact, it’s so terrifying, that Joe, who has always had to fight the three distinct personalities taking up space in his head, is finding that the Warrior wants desperately to find Mother Night and do horrible things to her for the terror and chaos that she’s wrought. So, I suppose an important question for Joe and crew is just who is Mother Night. The author lets you in on that early on, and it’s a fascinating look into the making of a villain, and Night’s complexity and motives make the progression into utter mayhem even more chilling. Also, if you thought you’d seen the last of the repugnant Vice President Collins, think again. He’s still around and bent on taking over the Presidency. He’ll do anything to do that, and if it includes bringing down Church and the DMS, that’s just icing for him. He’s into this mess up to his neck, and if he can’t gain the Presidency, the power he can gain from working with Mother Night will do just fine. Now, if I keep going, I’m going to let something slip and spoil the great, rollicking, violent fun that is CODE ZERO, but suffice it to say, fans of Joe Ledger won’t be disappointed, and also, new readers could jump into this one with no problem. Even though it’s a direct sequel to PATIENT ZERO and the 6th in a series, it’s rather nicely self-contained and Maberry gives enough background that you won’t feel lost. However, I firmly believe in starting with Book 1 if you haven’t read them, only so that events will resonate more strongly with the reader (plus, they’re all awesome.) I will say, though, that in terms of Joe’s mental state, CODE ZERO is the toughest on him yet. Fighting the Killer is becoming harder and harder, and faced with an enemy like Mother Night, who is as brilliant as she is cunning and ruthless, he’s very much starting to worry about the state of his psyche. CODE ZERO is written in the same nail biting countdown style as most of the series, and it races toward a spectacular stunner of an ending. It’s a game changer for Joe, and it’ll knock your socks off. If you think that CODE ZERO is just a kick ass adventure novel, it is, but it’s so much more. It’s about good vs. evil, a nation’s loss of innocence, and our ability to rise above what attempts to tear us down. Heavy stuff, indeed, but roll it up in Maberry’s signature brand of nerve-wracking prose and high-stakes situations, and you’ve got one excellent package. Don’t miss this one. Hell, if you haven’t discovered this series, what are you waiting for? (less)
In Venice, a woman’s body, clothed in the robes of a Catholic priest, washes up during one of the city’s regular bouts of flooding. She’s been shot in the head twice, and mysterious tattoos point to possible occult involvement. Detective-Colonel Aldo Piola is at the scene along with his new partner, Captain Kat Tapo. She’s about to experience her first murder investigation. She admires Piola a great deal, and is eager to impress him, but her first case might be more than a straightforward murder.
Meanwhile, at the Caserma Ederle American army base, Second Lieutenant Holly Boland receives a request for information from a woman named Barbara Holton, who’s interested in atrocities committed during Operation Storm during the break-up of Yugoslavia. As Holly looks into the request, she finds information that could paint the Army in a very bad light.
Meanwhile, Piola and Tapo continue their investigation which leads them to a website called Carnivia, a virtual reconstruction of Venice. Its creator, Daniele Barbo, has just been convicted of breaking internet privacy laws by not allowing the government access to Carnivia’s user data, and is awaiting sentencing. Barbo is a genius who was kidnapped as a child. He was left disfigured and is now a recluse, unable to connect with others.
The story becomes more intricate as Piola and Tapo come into contact with various police authorities with jurisdiction in Venice – the Polizia di Stato (answering to the Interior Ministry), and the Carabinieri (part of the Ministry of Defense). There seems to be mistrust of the law on all sides, and within its own bodies in Italy, but they follow the clues and as more bodies start piling up there appears to be a link to the US military.
Upon receiving this news, the powers that attempt to cripple the investigation. Piola feels that organised crime is taking over Venice, and Tapo is inclined to agree but she wants to fight the good fight and strike out on her own to solve the crime. Further complicating matters, Kat Tapo is increasingly attracted to her boss even though he’s married, and is her superior. Some impulses are impossible to ignore, even if giving in to them could mean disaster.
In parallel, Holly Boland continues her investigation and is horrified at what she learns of Operation Storm and atrocities that occurred during the Bosnian conflict. Eventually she comes into contact with Tepo’s investigation and the IT wizard Daniele Barbo. They all team up – with explosive results.
The Abomination is the first in the Carnivia trilogy and is a fantastic debut for English author Jonathan Holt. Kat Tapo is determined, strong, and very good at her job while Holly Boland is loyal to the US Army, and her home country. However, after a childhood spent in Italy with her well-known father, she’s glad to be back in a country she also loves and is determined to do the right thing. When Holly and Kat ask for Daniele Barbo’s help, the disfigured man at last gets the opportunity to connect with other people in a meaningful way.
What unfolds is a fascinating murder mystery involving war crimes, conspiracy, human trafficking and an intriguing virtual reality world where secrets are traded. The traditions of the past meet with the technology of the future. The two very strong and smart female characters are great, but attention is required throughout since the plot has many layers to it. Its conclusion will absolutely have you on the edge of your seat.(less)
When The Stolen Ones opens, Jessica Balzano is in law school and eventually plans to leave the force, but she still works in the Special Investigations Unit in homicide. She catches a case that involves a businessman, Robert Freitag, who was found in Priory Park in early 2013 with a railroad spike through the head. His apartment has been sealed until now, and of course Jessica jumps at the chance to gather more evidence. The only problem is, the evidence they do have (which is minimal and at times, nonsensical) was put together by the detective working the case at the time, John Garcia, who suffered from a brain tumor that eventually killed him. She and her partner, Kevin Byrne, first visit the original crime scene, then head to Freitag’s apartment, where they uncover a few things that might have a chance of leading them to his killer. Meanwhile, a man named Luther roams Philadelphia’s underground, and his ties to a killer named Eduard Kross is leading him to his next victims. When more bodies start to appear in Priory Park, the case ramps up very, very fast. If things weren’t already strange enough, a mute little girl is found in the middle of the road with ties to a past case, and a retired detective is pulled back into a nightmare that he never escaped from.
This is my first experience with Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano of the Philadelphia Police Dept., and it certainly won’t be my last. In fact, I plan to catch up the first six as soon as I can! Most of the narrative follows Balzano and Byrne as they pick apart the puzzle that is Luther, but we also get glimpses into Luther’s past at Cold River, where he was born into very tragic circumstances, and of the diabolical dream studies and experiments that were conducted there. The making of a killer is a fascinating thing, and Montanari tackles the subject, and his detectives’ race against the clock to catch him, like the seasoned pro that he is. I like the fact that Balzano is a smart, busy wife and mother who is trying to get her law degree in addition to her day job, and she does it with dedication and humor (and more than a little exhaustion.) Byrne is quiet and methodical and the two form a great partnership, one of absolute trust and loyalty. As a newcomer to the series, I never felt that I was missing anything I needed in order to fully enjoy the story, so it can definitely stand on its own. If you enjoy creepy thrillers that move at a blistering pace and have more than their share of the macabre, THE STOLEN ONES should be on your must read list. Also, the ending gave me chills-can’t wait for the next one!(less)
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.(less)
Virgin “Ginny” Jackson loves working at Birrimun Park, a protected piece of land set against the city sprawl of the Western Quarter. She particularly enjoys watching the sunset in the park, and one night, she discovers that she’s not alone. In fact, there’s one dead body where moments before she had heard two distinct voices. She can’t linger at the scene, however, because she’s been tasked with picking up US Marshall Nate Sixkiller from the airport. He’s arrived to help her with the increasing problem of drug runners at the park, but Virgin doesn’t really want his help. Sixkiller is brooding and enigmatic, and Virgin isn’t quite sure she can trust him, but when she’s threatened in her own home, he’s got her back, and when she starts seeing an eagle she’s named Aquila that hasn’t shown itself since she was a teen, Nate seems to know more than he’s letting on. It doesn’t help that the detective in charge of the investigation of the death in the park seems to be gunning for her, and Virgin is the prime suspect. She’ll have to go to some pretty dangerous places to find out what is really going on, and as she follows the evidence, some of it seems to lead back to her father’s death, which she’s never thought was an accident. Luckily, she’s got Sixkiller, her off and on lover, Heart, and her best friend Caro, an investigative journalist, on her side, but will it be enough to keep her out of increasingly hot water?
Tired of the same old thing when it comes to urban fantasy? Look no further than Virgin Jackson. First off, it’s sent in a future Australia teeming with oddities, outlaw enclaves, and some fun future tech, and second, it’s just…different. I love the idea of a huge preserved oasis in the midst of a future urban coastal sprawl (even if it is as a result of human environmental damage). It’s a bit like Westworld, but without, you know, the automatons. Virgin patrols the Park on her enhanced horse Benny and the Western Quarter is packed with bars that are a mash up of different themes, like gangsta and western. Then the author throws in spirit animals and gang turf wars and it elevates things to a whole new level of awesome. Most of the action takes place outside of the Park, so I’m hoping we’ll get to explore it a little more in the next book, but I really like the headstrong Virgin, and also the fact that there wasn’t a heavy focus on her romantic life. She has one, but it fits in with her no-nonsense attitude and it’s certainly not the main focus of this fun book. Virgin gamely takes on everything that’s tossed at her (physically and spiritually) and begins to discover something much bigger than your everyday criminal activity. Much of the book sets up what will obviously be a series, and the author kind of throws the kitchen sink at Virgin at book’s end, which definitely makes one anxious for the next book, which is ok, because I personally like that anticipation. I’ll hang out with Virgin anytime, and am really looking forward to the next book!(less)
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.(less)
When The ‘Geisters opens, Ann LeSage is on her first date with the young, handsome lawyer, Michael Voors, but something starts to go wrong. She feels The Insect emerge (and Michael even witnesses its handiwork) and attempts to contain it by calling a friend and mentor that has helped her through this many times before. In her mind, she visualizes the tower that should contain The Insect, and eventually things quiet down, but it’s not over, not by a longshot. Soon, she and Michael are planning their wedding, and she’s introduced to an “old” friend of Michael’s, Ian Rickhardt. Ann dislikes him immediately and finds him to be boorish and intrusive, but she soon finds out that he’s offered to pay for the wedding and host it at his beautiful vineyard. Since Michael seems to view him as something of a father figure, she reluctantly lets herself be swept into his vortex. And what a vortex. They can’t even have a honeymoon without Ian flying in to show them the beautiful job that his people have done on their wedding video, and The Insect seems to emerge once again. During the flight home, tragedy strikes, and Ann finds out that things were not as they seemed. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. Ann’s entire world comes crashing down, and when she’s approached by a man that seems to know all about The Insect, and in fact, has plans for it, she has no choice but to run for her life.
David Nickle managed, throughout the first half, to convey a kind of quiet menace. There were flashbacks to Ann’s childhood, when The Insect first began to make itself known, and up until the accident that took her parents and crippled her older brother. So, except for a few friends, and Michael, Ann is fairly isolated, and there’s really no one she feels that she can turn to for help. When Ann goes on the run, things ramp up fairly quickly and menace turns to downright terror. As bound as Ann is to The Insect, she’s never really known its true motives, or its true origin, but she does learn that it’s not the only one, and she’s certainly not the only one with a very special, and very powerful, companion. David Nickle sets up the reveal fantastically, and if you’ve read anything by him, you know how good he is at imagery, especially very creepy imagery, and he’s also fairly subtle about it. I love subtle horror, and The ‘Geisters actually, at times, reads like classic Koontz (for me, this is a good thing.) But, make no mistake, David Nickle has a very unique touch and while this is a supernatural tale, it’s also a story of individual empowerment. Also, Dungeons and Dragons aficionados will be delighted at some of the references (Ann plays the game as a young girl.) If you enjoy ghost stories with a twist, you’ll really like this one.(less)
“The most wonderful enchanted things happen here-the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow.”
If you know anything about the prison system in this country, it’s undeniably broken. There are a lot of people trying very hard to make it better, but it’s an uphill battle, and one that has a long way to go. That said, for a book that puts a magnifying glass to this issue, The Enchanted is a surprisingly hopeful book. I read The Enchanted in one night, and as I write this, it’s still got me near tears, but I digress. The book is narrated by a mute inmate on death row who imagines golden horses snorting and shuffling their hooves beneath the prison and small men with tiny hammers within its walls. A man on the block, only known as York, will be up for execution soon, and a death row investigator, only referred to as “the lady” has come to find out if it’s possible to get York off of death row. Not out of prison, just out of death row. Meanwhile, a fallen priest administers comfort to the inmates and contemplates his own past, and his growing attraction to the lady, as he helps in her investigation. The prison warden, emotionally broken from his wife’s struggle with terminal illness, and weary from his attempts to improve conditions for the men in his prison, must settle for providing small kindnesses to these forgotten men, and in the shadows, a corrupt prison guards pulls inmates strings like those of a puppet, far beneath the well- meaning, but distracted gaze of the warden.
As the lady methodically investigates York’s past, she discovers parallels to her own too obvious to ignore, and begins to identify with this monster that was created by tragedy and circumstance. Her need to reconcile the darkness within herself to the light she so desperately craves becomes all encompassing. Surely her past, things undeniably beyond her control, does not define her, and surely there is wonder to be found, and beauty. Wonder and beauty are not usually to be found amongst the men in the prison, but our narrator manages to find it in the smallest of things and he rises above the ovens that turn the dead to ash, the rotten food that has caused teeth to fall out and bones to turn brittle, the abuses that the stronger heap upon the weak so often, and the infernal machine that deals death from its tubes and dials at the prick of a needle. These are the forgotten, the abused, the mentally ill, and yes, even the evil among us, and while The Enchanted doesn’t look away from what these men have done, and the suffering of their victims, it does reveal the possibility, and necessity, of compassion for those that society has failed; criminal and victim.
“Even if the outside saw another nameless number, even if the mattresses of my life said just another, the warden saw something different. He saw what had been done to me. He saw me. And in that moment, I mattered.”
Among the horrors of a place such as this, there is humanity, and The Enchanted is the kind of book that will change you for reading it, if you let it, certainly for the better. In fact, it made me weep, and as dark as it is, there is hope, and a light at the end, even if it’s hard to see, or imagine. Rene Denfeld’s prose is poetic, and strangely enough, is made even more beautiful by the horrors that it describes. She herself is a death row investigator, so is more than qualified to write a book like this, and what a book. The Enchanted will break your heart in two and leave you the better for it. It’s a brutal, heart wrenching, and even, at times, magical book, and to be able find beauty and hope among such sorrow is an enchanted thing indeed.(less)
I’m betting, if you’re like me, you had a ton of questions at the end of the wonderful ANNIHILATION. If so, you’ll be glad to know that Authority answers quite a few of them. Not all, but a few, and it’s a perfect filling in the sandwich of awesome that is the Southern Reach trilogy. Authority picks up a few months after the disastrous events of Annihilation and the biologist is in the custody of Southern Reach after being found standing in an empty parking lot after returning from Area X’s twelfth expedition. John Rodriguez, aka “Control” has been brought in to replace the missing Director and question the survivors. As soon as he arrives at Southern Reach he encounters pushback from the Assistant Director, who fervently believes the Director is still alive, a scientist named Whitby that may or may not be hiding something, and of course, the biologist, who gives cryptic answers to his questions and seems intent on stonewalling him. He has access to the former Director’s files and her office certainly yields more than a few oddities. He must report to an entity that he only knows as The Voice, but as he digs into the mysteries of Area X, he seems to only have more questions, and not many answers. Soon, things begin to fall apart around him, and he starts to suspect that the forces that are guiding him are much closer to him, and his past, then he could ever have imagined.
For those that haven’t read Annihilation, Area X is a vast coastal area that was inexplicably changed at a time known as the Event, and an invisible border appeared. For 30 years, Southern Reach has been sending in teams of scientists, linguists, psychologists, you name it, to explore Area X and report back with their findings. Some didn’t make it back, and some that did came back…different somehow. Authority explores the aftermath of the 12th expedition, but it’s more than that. Authority is Control’s book, and we get to know him almost as well as we got to know the biologist in Annihilation. If, after reading Annihilation, you expected more of the same in Authority, put that thought out of your head. Authority takes place almost entirely at Southern Reach HQ and gives its reader a tour of an off the books clandestine government agency (with frequent detours into weird territory.) I love VanderMeer’s brand of weird though, and he layers Control’s story with very creepy moments during his research into Area X . This is what VanderMeer is really, really good at: creeping, crawling dread that plucks at your sleeve when you’re not looking and scuttles back into the shadows when you finally get up the nerve to face it head on. Annihilation had some real scares, but Authority is built of subtler stuff, a mounting dread that slowly increases in intensity until culminating in something that I wouldn’t call an end. To me, it was more of a beginning, but, well, you’ll see. Giving away too much would be to ruin this creepy gem of a book. It’s a worthy, if different companion to Annihilation, and while it stands just fine on its own, to read it without Annihilation is to deny yourself a near perfect reading experience. I imagine the author has some great stuff in store for Acceptance, and I can’t wait.(less)
It started with a wormhole, and the fleet of alien ships that emerged from it defied anything that mankind could ever have imagined. Soon, Earth prepared itself for attack. However, there was no attack, no destruction rained down out of the sky. Instead, technology failed, and society fell apart. Eventually, every government office received the same word on their computers: Surrender. So, with no other choice, they did.
The Illyri had been hiding their tech on Earth for decades, and the time had finally come to invade. Even though they claimed to want as few fatalities as possible, there were many, many deaths caused by the breakdown of society after the initial phase. Humanlike in appearance, but with notable differences, the Illyri proceeded to ensure that our weapon systems remained inert and indeed starting instituting a very different kind of draft: one tenth of every person between fifteen and twenty-one had to serve in the Illyri Military Brigade for five years. The Illyri did lend their technology to improve their new conquered planet, and virtually eliminated world hunger, as well as addressing the problem of global warming. For many humans, though, these “concessions” weren’t enough, and the human resistance was born.
16 year old Syl Hellais is the first Illyri to be born on Earth, and her days are spent behind the walls of Edinburgh Castle. The Illyri are constant targets for the human resistance, and although typically young Illyrians aren’t usually in danger, they have been the targets of kidnapping. Syl’s father is the powerful Lord Andrus, chairman of the Ruling Council and governor of all of Europe. Syl longs to explore the world outside of the castle. When she decides to leave her confines on her birthday to explore the city, it’s then that she meets Paul Kerr and his brother Steven, both humans and members of the Resistance. When there is a bombing on the Royal Mile, Paul mistakes Syl for human, and helps her to safety. When Syl returns to the castle, she discovers news that may change the course of the Illyri on Earth for good.
Meanwhile, Paul and Steven are confused about this newest bombing. Civilians were harmed, and the Resistance would never attack an area where civilians would be hurt. Soon, Paul and Steven discover that the Illyri are up to something, and it involves the tunnels that run under the city. When Paul and Steven are accused of bombing the Royal Mile, they are sentenced to death, and Syl risks everything to free them, eventually being forced to flee with the Resistance to the Scottish Highlands. Up until this point, there was a lot of set up being done in order to make clear the different factions within the Illyri themselves, and also to establish much of the Illyri backstory. Syl is understandably conflicted, especially since Earth is all she’s ever known and she understands why the humans want the Illyri gone. Her growing feelings for Paul are also a driving force for her, and part of the fun of this book was Syl’s reactions to the machinations of not only her people, but the Illyri’s increasingly complicated relationship with humans. The Resistance is a revelation to her, as are the people that make up its inner workings, and she comes to realize that her world is about to get a lot more exciting and immensely more complicated.
Conquest is rich in detail and intricate political intrigue, but Connolly and Ridyard really up the creep factor with the Nairene Sisterhood, a group of “witches” with a very strong hold on some of the upper echelon of Illyri, and there’s a secret at the heart of them that will knock your socks off. While Syl is certainly the star of the show, one of my favorite characters was Meia, Lord Andrus’s spymaster, and Syl’s staunch protector. She kicks ass and she’s so much more than meets the eye. Also of note is the psychopathic Vena, whose hatred of Syl is all encompassing and whose cruelty is legion. Vena and Meia are definitely ones to watch in the next book, and you will want to read the next book, guaranteed. I’ve been a fan of Connolly’s work for a long time, and was very excited to see how is first SF effort would go. I wasn’t disappointed, and in fact count Conquest as a must read for not only teens that are looking for something different and devoid of fluff, but anyone that enjoys rich characterization and worldbuilding to go along with their action and intrigue. Connolly and Ridyard have more than successfully set the stage for what promises to be a great new series!(less)
16 year old Austin Szerba lives in Ealing, Iowa, where nothing ever happens. Days are spent behind a thrift store owned by his girlfriend, Shann’s, stepfather, Johnny McKeon, by a field that’s been nicknamed the Grasshopper Jungle. Austin spends this time with his best friend Robby Brees, who he’s grown up with and who he loves. Austin may even love Robby as more than a friend, and he knows he’s in love with Shann. Robby most certainly is in love with Austin. It’s complicated. One day, a group of boys beat up Austin and Robby, drawing blood, and strangely enough, it’s Robby’s blood on the pavement that kicks off some very strange and frightening events. You see, Grady McKeon was a scientist (and Johnny McKeon’s much older brother), who made a ton of money from defense programs during the Cold War. When the factory closed down and began manufacturing shower heads and toothbrushes, Johnny McKeon inherited a bunch of his brother’s stuff from the old lab. A bunch of very, very strange stuff that he keeps locked in his office. When some of those items are stolen from his office, one of them comes in contact with the Robby’s blood and all hell breaks loose.
Ok, so maybe Grady McKeon was working on some nasty stuff at that lab of his, and that nastiness is now on the loose in Ealing in the form of six feet tall praying mantis like creatures that are technically called Unstoppable Soldiers (this we learn later.) These creatures like to do two things: procreate and eat. They eat people. You can see how this would be a problem. Robby and Austin may be the world’s only hope, if there is any left, but first they’ve got to get to the bottom of things. Austin fancies himself an historian, and keeps notebooks on just about everything that happens to him. He serves as a somewhat omniscient narrator in Grasshopper Jungle and frequently goes off on tangents about the town’s history and its people’s history as well as his own. Austin is wildly confused about his sexuality, and with no one to confide in, it becomes an almost unbearable distraction. At his core, though, Austin has a huge heart, and his own teenage selfishness aside, is very worried about hurting the two people he loves the most. Andrew Smith manages a pretty thorough exploration of teen sexuality alongside the horror show that launches explosively in small town America (huge, hungry, and horny praying mantis creatures!!!), and I was a little reminded of King during some of the more horrific bits. Smith has his own distinct style and voice, though, and black humor abounds. So do boners, masturbatory impulses, and Austin’s almost constant thoughts of threesomes with Shann and Robby (just about every scenario offers an opportunity.) Underneath the crassness is a heart of pure gold, however, and there are some moments that are achingly tender and even heartbreaking. I’m such a huge fan of Andrew Smith’s work, and this gross, terrifying, sometimes hilarious, glorious creation had me hooked from page one. Don’t expect a pretty bow at the end, but do expect to possibly lose sleep and find yourself grinning at the strangest times.(less)
16 year old Mia Kish’s dad is Director of Fenton Electronics, and she goes to Westbrook Acadamy, an exclusive boarding school in Fenton, Colorado. She’s also a very fast swimmer, but the thing she’s most known for is her fall down a well when she was four years old, earning her the nickname Baby Mia. One night, alarms sound in the halls of Westbrook, and Mia and her friends discover they’re on lockdown, but not before she gets a phone call from her dad telling her to get out if she can and come to the Cave, where Fenton Electronics is based. Mia stays, though, and comes to regret it very quickly. Soon, the faculty begins aging rapidly and dying, and whatever is affecting them is starting to affect the students. The terror is only heightened by the men in hazmat suits surrounding the school. Mia knows she must get to the Cave, and she and her friends, including the new kid Hayden, gear up to sneak out.
When they leave Westbrook, they discover the virus has indeed spread, and the horror of it is more than they could have imagined. They follow a trail of death that leads right to the Cave, and her father’s work, and the discovery of what he’s really been working on is a revelation. The Well’s End is told in Mia’s voice and the author does a nice job of juggling normal teen angst with an almost unimaginable scenario without falling prey to typical stereotypes. Mia is a strong girl, but she’s not immune to peer-pressure or insecurity, and she questions herself plenty. That actually changes a bit throughout the story, as events change her and her friends, since they have no choice but to fight to survive. There’s some light romance in the form of the mysterious Brayden, but it’s certainly not the focus of the story, and there are a few clever twists thrown in to keep you on your feet. What I really enjoyed is the genuinely fascinating premise that’s at the core of the book’s secret and if you’re looking for a book for teens that has a few female characters that not only love science, but are certifiable geniuses, this is your book. Fishman’s teens are not cookie cutter, and neither is his story. In fact, Mia is about to turn 17, and it’s turning out to be a heck of a birthday. And the ending? Well, let’s just say that it’s a humdinger, and it will definitely leave you anxious for the next book. The Well’s End is a fun, clever ride, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next!(less)
For the first time in more than two years, an expedition (the 12th, the group is told) is headed into Area X. The team consists of four women: a biologist (who narrates), an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. They’ve got a few firearms, ample supplies, and each have been given a mysterious black device with a glass covered hole in the middle. If that hole glows red, they are to get to a safe place, immediately. They’ve been sent to Area X to uncover its secrets, and perhaps to explain the (so far) unexplainable. Many teams came before them. Some didn’t make it out, and some did, but were irrevocably changed, and worse. Soon after crossing over the border (under hypnosis), they come across a tunnel burrowing straight down into the ground, but what the unnamed narrator can’t help but think of as the tower. Why she can’t bring herself to call it anything but a tower, she doesn’t know, but when the team starts the descent into the tower, they find something very unusual, and ultimately, terrifying. When the biologist comes in contact with an unknown substance, it begins to change her, and she starts to suspect that Southern Reach, the organization that sent them to Area X, may not have the groups’ best interests at heart.
Area X is lush, beautiful, and completely abandoned, except for the new expedition, or so they think at first. At dusk, the group hears a low moaning that may or may not be animal in nature, and in fact, mounting evidence points distinctly to “other.” Somehow, the biologist knows that the tower is very important, and that eventually she’ll have to plumb its depths, but first, she’s drawn to the lighthouse that features prominently in many of the previous expeditions’ accounts. It’s there that she discovers evidence of shocking violence, and when she finally goes back to the tower, frightening, and deadly, beauty.
Although we never learn the biologist’s name, we do learn a little about her life before Area X, and she soon discovers, within herself, that the control that she’s always been known for is a farce, and it has no place in Area X. In fact, Area X is the very epitome of biology run amok, and yet, for all of its strangeness, it begins to make a chaotic sort of sense to her. The secret lies in the tower, and she knows she must confront it, even if it means her death, and confront it she does, with shocking results.
It’s been a long time since a book creeped me out quite this much. It reminded me a bit of The Ruins by Scott Smith, but only in the sense that the horror of Area X is very organic, and the biologist’s descriptions of tidal pools and the organisms that dwell there only served to heighten my terror and fascination. Annihilation is as much psychological study as it is horror, and horror it most certainly is, of the best kind. Vandermeer’s uneasy narrative has that pull that makes you want to go down into that tower with the team, even though you know that would be a very, very bad idea, and he’s created such a fully realized environment, within Area X, that he could certainly go well beyond a trilogy. This is also horror with a bit of a message, although it’s certainly not heavy handed, but it’s there, and it’s a good one. The lighthouse was what did it for me, ultimately. Yeah, the tower is weird and scary and there are things down there that will cause any sane person to curl up in a fetal position and will themselves to die, but it was the silent testament to violence at the lighthouse that really sent chills down my spine. I don’t know why, but for me, monsters are one thing, but it’s horror with a human element that really gets to me the most. I made the mistake of reading this on my Kindle with a light up screen in the dark, and I found myself jumping at any small noise. So, don’t do that, unless, you know, you like that sort of thing (like I kind of do, I admit it.) This was a short read, but it packs a helluva punch. The matter-of-fact narrative (it’s a journal-and she’s a scientist- after all, and Southern Reach asked for maximum context) actually adds to the creep factor of the story, which is already at a 10, although there are passages of uncanny beauty. However, I still got a sense of her sadness, of her conviction that she had nothing to return to, which of course added a melancholy, even fatalistic tone to her story.
ANNIHILATION is psychological, and organic, horror and mystery at its very, very best, from a master of his craft. Vandermeer’s ability to create wonder amidst terror is awesome (in the classic sense of the word), and I can’t wait to return to Area X in May with AUTHORITY.(less)
14 year old Tula is headed to a distant planet, Beta Granada with her family to start a colony. When their ship, the Prairie Rose, stops at a space station with engine trouble, the colony’s leader, Brother Blue, beats her badly for questioning his handling of supplies. He subsequently abandons at the station and she’s left in the hands of its non-human inhabitants. The aliens patch her up, but they’re not too sure what to do with Tula. Tula is understandably scared and confused. After all, Brother Blue had repeatedly told her that she was to be instrumental in his dreams of colonization, that she would eventually be a leader in the Children of the Earth. When she meets Tournour, who heads up security at the station, he informs her that the Children of the Earth claim to not know who Tula is, and that everyone has been accounted for on the Prairie Rose. Tula must now fend for herself on the Yertina Feray, and hope that she can eventually get in contact with someone that can help. A scavenger, Heckleck, eventually befriends Tula and she soon becomes known as the girl that can get just about anything. It’s not a bad life, and her reputation is good, which goes a long way on Yertina Feray. But, in spite of this, being the only Human on the space station is lonely, and when three Humans arrive; the beautiful Els, gentle Caleb, and the electrifying Reza, Tula’s world is turned upside down, and she learns something about Brother Blue that will change her course permanently.
Tin Star covers about 3 years from the time Tula arrives on Yertina Feray and she goes from a scared 14 year old, to a very confident and self-sufficient 17 year old during that time. The arrival of Els, Caleb, and Reza is a game changer for Tula, and she’s undeniably attracted to Reza. Nothing has quite been what it seems, especially where Brother Blue is concerned, and by the time the book concludes, Tula has quite a mission ahead of her. The author writes in staccato, rather spare prose, but I thought that mirrored the desolation of the space station nicely. The first half or so focuses mainly on daily life on the station, and her friendship with Heckleck is endearing, but in the second half, the author threw in a few twists that really change the course of Tula’s life. Tula is a strong, smart, resilient girl, and adapts remarkably to a place filled with life forms that aren’t all that fond of Humans to begin with. I enjoyed Tin Star, and although I felt as if it was, for the most part, a set up for the next novel, that’s ok, because the author made me fall in love with Tula (she especially comes into her own in the 2nd half), and as a result, I’ll follow her anywhere.(less)
People aren’t sleeping at all anymore, but Matt Biggs is. His wife, Carolyn, is slowly going mad under the weight of the insomnia that seems to have gripped the majority of the population. Sleep is now a dirty little secret among those that are still capable of it, and in order to avoid injury, or much worse, they must sneak away and hide to in order to get any sleep at all. The sight of a sleeper can send an insomniac into a murderous rage, and when Biggs attempts to convince his wife, via the use of a few innocuous pills, that a cure has been found, hoping to trick her into sleep, she turns on him with single-minded viciousness. Biggs eventually has to tie her to a chair for his safety, and hers, but when she escapes her bonds, he goes in search of her, and emerges into a world that has descended into chaos.
This is one of those book that when I finished it, I had to just sit there for a minute, wondering what I could read next that could possibly follow it. Calhoun offers a terrifying vision of an apocalypse of a very different kind. We know that when people don’t sleep, bad things can start to happen. In Black Moon, the author concentrates on the psychological breakdown that occurs when sleep ceases to exist. People hallucinate and become unable to distinguish reality from delusion. Speech becomes rearranged and fragmented and people are reduced to their basest forms. I’m sure parallels will be drawn to zombies, especially during attack scenes when the insomniacs converge on someone that is asleep. That said, Black Moon isn’t really an apocalyptic book, at least to me. It’s a love story, and while the focus is on Matt Biggs and his wife Carolyn, it also follows a young man, Chase, in his search for the girl he loves, Felicia. Felicia happens to work at a sleep study center, and we get glimpses of her work there throughout the novel. We also follow Lila, a sleeper who is forced to go on the run after her parents cast her out for fear they will hurt her.
However, this is really Biggs’s book. When he first met Carolyn, he dreamt about her, and in sharing that dream with her, started what would eventually be a fraught, but ultimately loving marriage. Carolyn, a visual artist, had a few secrets though, and these unfold as Biggs searches for her amongst the ruins of humanity. What is always evident is his fierce love for her, and the lengths that he will go to in order to find her are endless. The narrative frequently takes on a dreamlike quality (keep in mind, people are hallucinating), and is ripe with symbolism and meaning. Calhoun, who has a musical background, certainly makes terrifyingly good music on the page, and the result is brutal, surreal, and gorgeous. The characters’ threads do intertwine in the end, and the conclusion, and what it reveals, hit me like a sledgehammer. It’s not ironic at all that a book about insomnia will keep you up at night reading the whole damn thing in one sitting, is it?
Simply put: stunning book, stunning ending, stunningly talented author. Put this one on your Must list.(less)
So, maybe you’re like me, and there hasn’t been a ton of stuff in the urban fantasy realm lately that’s floatin’ your boat. There are a couple of standout series, but other than that…but I digress. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that I think Lauren M Roy might be onto something with Night Owls. As the book opens, a young woman named Elly is on the run from something she calls a Creep, but their kind are also called Jackals. In her possession is a book that the Jackals want, but Elly doesn’t know why, she just knows that her mentor died for it and she can’t let it fall into their hands. What she thinks is a safe haven turns out to be just the opposite, and she finds herself asking someone she hasn’t seen for two years for help, a young man named Cavale, who she was raised with and considers her brother, if not in blood, certainly in spirit. Cavale’s friends end up getting involved too, and that’s where the real fun starts, because Cavale’s friends are actually pretty awesome. Val McTeague is a world weary vampire that runs the titular bookstore along with her friend, and Renfield, Chaz. Also in the mix are two lesbian succubi, Sunny and Lia, that delight in taking the form of your biggest crush, although they only crush on each other. And here you were thinking “oh no, not another vampire.” I like that Val is a bit of a loner and doesn’t like to call on other vampires unless absolutely necessary, and she loathes having to feed. She’s a conflicted lady, but she has a heart of gold, even if it’s not beating. Chaz is to-the-bone loyal to Val, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for a scene between him and the succubi that’s very revealing, but it’s probably not what you think. Elly is adrift without her mentor, Father Value, but she’s quite a hand with magic and she’s glad to be rebuilding a relationship with Cavale, who left her and Father Value under unhappy circumstances. There’s also a student, and Night Owl employee, Justin, who becomes involved with the book very intimately, and his sweetly awkward scenes with the tough, but somewhat naive, Elly are adorable.
So, yes, the book! This book could have the power to bring the Jackals down, if only it can be decoded, but it could also help them increase their numbers, so you can see how it’s a very big deal, and it’s up to the gang to make sure they don’t get it. Easier said than done, because the Jackals are nasty, nasty customers. There are some crackling fight scenes and plenty of action, but where this book was strongest was in how it defined a family as much more than flesh and blood. I have to admit to liking Val the best, and the last third is especially enlightening since the Boston Strigoi (those vamps that Val wants nothing to do with), is called in to help. There’s quite a history there, and it made me want to learn so much more about Val (can you say vamp politics and a painful past?). Night Owls is a solid, just plain fun urban fantasy with flawed, but interesting characters, and some very nasty baddies,and I’m looking forward to spending more time with this very peculiar group of friends.(less)
When an Seraphim dies, the heavens scream with pain and the monkeys below (that would be us humans) usually perceive its death as just so much space junk. So, when Gabriel is murdered, the fallen angel Bayliss turns his face up to the sky to witness his death, and he also must find someone to take his place, but the mark that he picks out isn’t the one that ends up dead. Molly’s not sure what hit her when her body disintegrated on those train tracks, but the world she’s now in isn’t the one she left, and Bayliss is the only rudder she has in her new reality. Too bad for her, because they don’t exactly get along like gangbusters. Not only has an angel been murdered, but the Jericho Trumpet is missing, and Heaven is in distress. Who murdered Gabriel, and where is the Trumpet? Looks like Bayliss and Molly are the ones that have to find out, but at what cost?
Most of the book is told from Bayliss’s viewpoint, and those familiar with the works of Dashiell Hammett will recognize a good bulk of Bayliss’s affectations. Angels each have their own Magesteriums in the Pleroma (get out your physics and theology texts folks), and Bayliss’s Magesterium comes complete with an old time café where he can get coffee and keep an eye on the dames. As fun as Bayliss’s story was, I found myself wanting to get back to Molly more often than not. She’s a fish out of water when it comes to her new powers and surroundings, and she’s also still pining for her ex-girlfriend, who left her heartbroken. It doesn’t help that her brother is an addict, and he also witnessed her death. Much of Molly’s journey is coming to terms with her own death and her still strong ties to humanity and the ones she left behind. Yes, there’s a fascinating mystery (a murdered angel!!), and when it becomes clear that a group of angels want to break free from heaven, things really got wild, but it’s Molly’s story that, for me, made this book so damn good.
I’m not going to lie. Ian Tregillis has a doctorate in physics and boy does it show in this book. I was never so happy to have the dictionary feature on my Kindle (I used it a lot, and am not ashamed to admit it.) Don’t let that scare you away, though. I learned the terms pretty quickly and Tregillis is so good, his language just flows. I loved his reach-out-and-touch-it descriptions of memory and what I started to think of as the science of heaven. His prose made some of the sad passages (and there are a few), that much more poignant. Just be ready, though: there are a few surprises in this one that may make you exclaim out loud (I did, earning funny looks from my family.) Something more than night is a complex, exquisite, wonderfully written book, and it’s taken me forever to post this review because I didn’t feel like I was doing it justice-but this will have to do. If you like fantasy that’s a bit out of the box and a lot awesome (with enough noir seasoning to please a Hammett fan,to boot), Something More Than Night will make you a very happy reader, indeed.(less)