We’ve all seen the set up before: A small group of strangers are invited to an opulent mansion beyond the reaches of civilization. They get to know each other, somebody dies, strange events ensue, then the waiter comes around with dessert.
“Creative Spirit” is anything but bad dinner theatre.
The book opens with an introduction to the frantic Sylva. She’s going to the home of Ephram Korban: land baron and occult figure. We get a brief glimpse of the enigmatic Korban as his strange powers emerge and fade into flame.
We are then thrown into the modern day mountains of NC, where artists both legitimate and delusional meet for a retreat. Some are present because of charity, others because of the enormous wealth they possess. At the end of the day it will not matter. The mansion has a life all its own. It possesses others with its spirit, which tends to make the artists far better than they are, and deceive them into thinking that they are the source of their genius.
At its heart, “Creative Spirit” is a morality play that rails against the twin sins of Vanity and Pride. One can only imagine the author returning from yet another party full of stuffed shirts and pretension to a beckoning keyboard. It is there he displays the horror of these vices for all to see: A pompous writer on the verge of obsolescence returns to the mansion to regain his standing as a literary genius. A humble sculptor is transformed from a charity case into a dreamer driven to obsessive madness by the promise of fame. The spirit of the mysterious Korban occupies this atmosphere, seemingly guiding these artists to heights previously unknown. To what end?
Amidst all this, Anna stumbles through the twilight of her dreams and treads on ground that is both unstable and eerily familiar. Why does she feel so connected to the mansion? Is there a reason it feels like home? Unlike the others, she seeks neither fame nor fortune. Rather, she searches for the answers to her questions, so that she can enjoy the short time she has remaining and die in peace.
The remaining cast of characters is fantastic, which is one of the factors that separates a book that is simply “ok” from a book I recommend. Even the most minor characters are well used, and make their appearance at the right time to push the story forward. Boy, does this story move, through reality, imagination, and things that stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the border between the two.
If could use one word to describe this book, it would be “balanced”. Mystery gives equal time to humor. Horror gives way to humanity. The dialogue blends effortlessly with description. This book is pure fun. The plot twists are unexpected. Nicholson will make you the victim of your own reason. I mentally flogged myself for falling victim to this misdirection many times.
Overall, “Creative Spirit” deserves the 5 stars I am giving it. It is creepy in the best way possible: It avoids cheap thrills through the use of character development, and builds a feeling of true suspense and dread.
This was my first Scott Nicholson book, and I can give you good odds that it won’t be my last....more
This review for Chain Gang Elementary originally appeared at Indie Books List. This book was the winner of January's "Book of the Month".
What can IThis review for Chain Gang Elementary originally appeared at Indie Books List. This book was the winner of January's "Book of the Month".
What can I say about Richard Gray? He’s a flawed, kind, well-meaning man who calls meetings to order with the “rap-tap-tap” of a Duncan yo-yo. As the protagonist in Jonathan Grant’s “Chain Gang Elementary”, he’s pitch perfect. Gray possesses a conflicted social conscience, a sharp tongue, and has the cojones to be an unapologetic, stay at home father. He’s a Southern male that isn’t a simpleton, a redneck, or a dandy…I mean…Charlestonian.
When Richard is drafted to be head of the Parent Teacher Organization at Malliford Elementary, he is aware that his presidency will face obstacles. The aging Miz Rutherford is at once Principal, non-benevolent dictator, and Nurse Ratched to the children and parents who inhabit Malliford. She’s not fond of Gray’s impudent questions, or the changes he would make in student life.
Rutherford is intent on making her school a “five-star school of excellence”. The only people standing in the way are Richard Gray, agent provocateur Rita Malloy, and the academic pariahs that inhabit the Chantilly Arms apartment complex. Of course, the school isn’t racist for wanting to reassign them to another school. It’s strictly an issue of test scores and property values.
This is where the war begins. This war will be won not through frontal assaults, but from good old-fashioned skulduggery and passive-aggressive behavior. This book is the show “Desperate Housewives” wishes it could be, and has the scathing social satire “Suburgatory” pretends to provide.
Gray’s personal life is hopelessly endangered by his success as PTO President, with his son Nicholas providing an unbiased look at the effects of his professional achievements. Richard’s frosty wife, Anna Lee is alternately unimpressed with, and angry about Richard’s “accomplishments”. Her emotional indifference creates a situation ripe for extramarital excursions. These aren’t too difficult to initiate when you are a powerful, stay-at-home dad, surrounded by bored housewives.
The question Gray finds himself asking is “Will it be worth it?”
The answer is “Yes.”, but only in response to the question “Should I read this book?” Chain Gang Elementary has a massive cast of characters that are all fully developed, with sub-plots that weave in and out of the main storyline gracefully. It’s rare to look at a book and say “This was crafted.” This book combines loving attention to detail, page-turning tension, with a wry humor that stops short of meanness. This is a long read. A lesser story would make the length of ”Chain Gang” unbearable. As things stand, it’s a satisfying experience, worth far more than the price of admission. ...more
Ok, so the protagonist of this book is a mutant. Cue the comparison to X-Men, Spiderman, random-supeThis review formerly appeared on Indie Books List.
Ok, so the protagonist of this book is a mutant. Cue the comparison to X-Men, Spiderman, random-superhero-who-is now-superhuman-because-of-some-random-freak-event. What’s that? Our heroine is a mutant because she lacks something. She’s defective. She’s able to hear, and yet hearing impaired? Tell me more. She did. I read this book straight through, in a single sitting. It was late, I kept reading ’til dawn.
I’m guessing that I’m not the first person to do this, and I won’t be the last.
If you’re a teenage girl, you’ll love it because of the attractive guys Kira is torn between, and her brave struggle as an outsider. If you’re an adult, you’ll like it because of the subtle ethical propositions, and intelligent dialogue (more on that in a minute). If you are a Sci-Fi fan, you’ll be right at home in a believable, futuristic world that is plausible and immersive. If you’re a teenage guy, you’ll like it because…well who wouldn’t love to wreak a little havoc by controlling the mind of another person. Sure, you might enjoy the romance a little bit more than you should, but you’ll never admit it to another soul.
What I enjoyed the most about this book was Mrs. Quinn’s assumption that readers are intelligent, but not omniscient. This doesn’t always happen when someone is dealing with world-building. Generally an author will:
1.) Explain every single new term or linguistic phrase like they are writing an encyclopedia entry, or 2.) Assume you’ll figure out what they mean by inference
Both approaches are equally exasperating. In Open Minds, the author chooses to drop a term, then wait a page or two before casually explaining the meaning, in a context that doesn’t shout “BEHOLD, THE MEANING OF LIFE, THE UNIVERSE, AND EVERYTHING! ” (last I checked, it was 42) , or interrupt the flow of the book.
Mrs. Quinn also communicates dilaogue in a clear tone, free from emulated teen-speak. She found no use for the words “Not.” or “Duh.”, and “cool” has been replaced with “mesh”. It may be because humanity switched to Latin in 2090. As a reader and post-teen who remembers his parents awkward usage of outdated “cool” phrases, I am grateful for the respite, regardless of the reason.
The author also manages to tackle biothethics, transhumanism,the ethical use of data, and racism without getting heavy handed. She gives a brilliant ethics lecture, without the lecture or a term paper due at the end of the semester. It’s almost like she designed the story that way. After all, Mrs. Quinn is an engineer, and a rocket scientist at that. Design is something she is finitely familiar with. (*Sheldon Cooper gives a nod of approval.*)
I loved Kira. I almost forgot she was a girl, but in a good way. She simply does the right thing. There’s no preachiness about how great she is. There’s always the temptation in YA to overcompensate for the fact that a character is a girl. Suddenly, if a girl throws litter away, she becomes Joan of Arc. Mrs. Quinn handles her character differently. Things happen, Kira responds in the right way. There’s no praise for “doing the right thing.” She just does it, and leaves the accolades for someone else.
I think the word I am searching for here is “noble,” and the definition is “Kira.”
What about the plot?
This book was remarkably hard to review, in the sense that their are spoilers everywhere. It’s not your typical book where you get the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. It’s all interwoven…it’s basically a minefield for any reviewer, because the book moves through so much ground.
It suffices to say that the plot was superb, the tension was unrelenting, and that this a fantastic book. Your teenager will love it…after you finish reading it, of course. Final Verdict
Open Minds receives my highest award of 5 stars. It’s a Young Adult book, with an emphasis on “adult,” as in “The author treated me like an adult.” It’s fiction that doesn’t talk down to its audience, with a heroine worthy of emulation, and a story that will leave them hanging on by their fingernails....more
People like stories about wealthy people. My particular affinity for lifestyles the suThis review originally appeared at http://www.indiebookslist.com
People like stories about wealthy people. My particular affinity for lifestyles the super-rich is not based on the things they own, or the power they possess. I am more interested in the psychology of the rich: The mindset and choices that brought them to, and kept them at the top. The Philanthropist’s Danse delivers smart, psychological drama of the type I haven’t seen in quite some time.
Take “12 Angry Men”, the psychological gymnastics of ”The Game”, add a little sexual innuendo, and tie it all together with 12 personalities that clash incessantly. Then, let an impartial lawyer lay out and enforce the ground rules with the assistance of a highly skilled majordomo. With that, the Danse is off to a smashing start, full of arguments, tantrums, and a fair bit of grousing about who “deserves” the money. The question is a legitimate one, as many in the room don’t even know why Mr. Thurwell summoned them posthumously.
Johnston Thurwell continues to assert his control through carefully planned contingencies that give us some insight as to why he was so wealthy to begin with. All of his commands are executed with swift and exact justice. His wishes are honored exactly. People may dismiss this scenario as far-fetched. They would be wrong. One of the things I find engaging about this book is its realistic portrayal of the ultra wealthy. Individuals who possess a great deal of money, respect, and power attempt to keep that once they are dead. The Pharoahs did it? Why should this aspiration be beneath your common, modern-day billionaire? The author gives us ample detail as to Thurwell’s motivations and machinations. Every twist is worth the wait.
The crew assembled in the mansion is textured and diverse, with a spattering of family, business associates, servants, and those of indefinite categorization.
Familiar jealousies and tenuous alliances form quickly, as money forges and breaks the most fragile of bonds. Fraternal rivalries soon surface, along with marital quibbles and relationship issues. This turmoil, along with the pressures of time keep the situation quite fluid. Just when you think you have the motives and arc of a character nailed, a deft twist comes along to destroy your theory entirely. These people all have secrets. Some are sinister, others are pleasant. It will be your pleasure to uncover most of them.
William Bird is Thurwell’s handsomely paid lawyer with an equitable disposition. The fascinating bit is that he’s in the dark as to what is taking place. Some of his instructions are activated quickly, other scenarios make you wonder “What if?”. He’s part referee and part player, except he has no stake in the game. Jeremy, the majordomo is well used throughout. He displays noble character, and the utmost in humility and kindness. He restores balance and order in the middle of raging, emotional tempests.
A Perfect Blend
I personally haven’t read a better book in this genre. It’s an atypical “whodunnit” containing characters with realistic flaws and virtues. All are adequately exposed for scrutiny. Page-turner is a cliche I happily give to this particular novel, although “button-masher” may soon take its place.
The language in this novel is realistic, and one particularly hot-tempered misogynist in the bunch uses the full vocabulary of profanity when proffering his opinions. It fits the character, and the situation.
My only complaint with regard to this novel is that Mr. Wornham didn’t have second novel that I could purchase. Hopefully, he will remedy that situation quickly.
The Philanthropist’s Danse is a brilliant mystery, chock full of smart dialogue and plot twists that will keep you intrigued until the last page. Because of this, I happily award “The Philanthropist’s Danse” five stars. Buy it or borrow it(if you are a Prime Member). If you can’t afford that, email me, and I’ll happily use the single lend Amazon has given me so I can loan it to you. First come, first served....more