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I have to admit that going into Gigi Pandian's new novel, The Accidental Alchemist, I was a bit skeptical. A reformed alchemist, a French gargoyle that cooks, a murder, AND recipes? I thought that, perhaps, she was a bit ambitious.
I was wrong. She's great!
Zoe Faust has decided to settle down in Portland, OR, at least for a while. She can't spend the rest of her life there since she doesn't age, the result of having inadvertently discovered the Elixir of Life. But Portland feels like it could be home for a while, so she's purchased a run-down house with a great basement, and she's ready to dig in.
From the beginning, though, things don't go smoothly. While unpacking the crates she's had shipped from her storage in France, she discovers that she's picked up a hitchhiker, a French gargoyle named Dorian Robert-Houdin, who needs Zoe's help deciphering an ancient text, the one used to animate him. You see, there's an unexpected side effect to the spell, and Dorian needs a true alchemist like Zoe to counteract it. The problem is that Zoe stopped practicing alchemy centuries ago, so she's not sure she can help.
But when a teenage boy breaks into her house and sees Dorian, followed by the murder of the contractor Zoe hired to renovate the place - on her front porch, no less, well, Zoe finds that she's going to have to rely on 300 years of experience at avoiding being caught if she's going to get everyone through this mess safely. And she's really out of practice!
The Accidental Alchemist is complex, and that's delightful. Zoe Faust, for all her years, is a bit naive and has moments of innocence that I found refreshing. She's experienced love and loss, but her time spent alone has left her unjaded, and that's not something you see in most characters that are ageless. She's a nice person.
And the humor of her inadvertent sidekick, Dorian, is a nice touch. Dorian's a fine chef and he's appalled to discover that Zoe is vegan. It certainly cramps his cooking style, and not all of his experiments go well, but he perseveres. He's not just a two-dimensional character. He has a personality and a temper all his own, and his idea of justice is a bit old world.
The pace never lets down, the people are multilayered, and the plot is complicated enough so that it all blends into what promises to be the beginning of a fun new series. And while I'm decidedly omnivorous, I have to admit that the recipes Gigi Pandian has created are mouthwatering to read, and I suspect they'll be just as yummy to try!
So yes, I was wrong, and this is a fabulous beginning to a series I'm looking forward to following!
What do Ender’s Game, The Last Starfighter and War Games all have in common? Wrong! Ernest Cline is the answer!
Ernie’s new book, Armada combines those basic storylines in what I can only percieve to be an homage to the genre. Zack Lightman’s dad died when he was a baby – and try living down being the boy whose father died in a wastewater explosion – so he’s spent much of his life imagining what his dad was like. Xavier’s huge obsession, aside from Zack and his mom, was videogames, and Zack has followed in his dad’s footsteps, making his way into the top 10 internationally in the game, Armada.
When one of the enemy ships buzzes his school, Zack figures he’s finally snapped. But then he discovers that it’s all too real, and his onine activity has put him in the perfect place to save the world. If he can survive.
I had fun with Armada. It didn’t have the impact that Ready Player One did since it is following so closely in the paths of those earlier stories, whereas RP1 was unique in many ways. But Ernest Cline can find something new even in standard scenarios, and he’s got a couple of fine twists in there, especially at the end. And again, his nod to the 80’s shows up in the mix-tape soundtrack Xavier compiled for his gaming sessions, and Zack has learned why that music is so great when you’re piloting a spaceship, turning the fight into a great kind of dance.
There are some who are going to say that Armada is derivative, and I can’t argue with that. But Ernest Cline has a talent for making his characters come alive, and he’s created some vibrant and fun people here. I also have to admit that I admired the way he got into a teenage boy’s head. Zack makes decisions that an adult wouldn’t, simply because he IS a teenager. Late teens, granted, but still working with “boy brain”, not grown-up perspective. And that’s a good thing. It gives Armada the rollercoaster vibe that keeps things moving.
One thing you can count on with a story by Jenny Milchman is that it'll keep you up at night, and As Night Falls is certainly no exception!
Sandy Tremont is quietly satisfied with her life. Her husband, Ben, is working hard and they have a great home in the country near the Adirondacks, their 15-year-old daughter, Ivy, is going through typical teenager sullenness but is doing well in school and is generally a good kid, and their rescue dog, Mac, isn't quite as limber as he used to be, but he's still got his great. devoted all-mutt heart. Things are good.
But Sandy's been keeping a secret. She's kept it so deeply hidden for so long that it almost feels like it doesn't exist anymore, and she's good with that. Until he breaks out of prison and decides he's got a score to settle with her before he vanishes into the world.
Jenny Milchman has a solid talent that makes her characters live. They are all complex and complete and even her bad guys have something redeeming about them - and in this case, there's one very good bad guy. Trust me, it'll make sense when you read the book! But what matters is that you care what happens to these people. They're not super-sleuths, they're not tormented geniuses, they're not otherworldly. They're just ordinary folks who find themselves in trouble, and that's where Jenny Milchman excels. If you've enjoyed her other books, I know without a doubt you'll enjoy As Night Falls. It certainly kept me up until 3:00 in the morning!
Advice for Visitors to Whisper Hollow:
1. If you hear someone call your name from the forest, don't answer.
2. Never interrupt Ellia when she's playing to the dead.
3. If you see the Girl in the Window, set your affairs in order.
4. Try not to end up in the hospital.
5. If the Crow Man summons you, follow him.
6. Remember: Sometimes the foul are actually fair.
7. And most important: Don't drive down by the lake at night.
Yasmine Galenorn has built plenty of worlds before the one in her new "Whisper Hollow" series, but this may very well be her best yet. In Autumn Thorns, we meet Kerris Fellwater, newly returned to her hometown of Whisper Hollow following the death of her grandparents. Kerris is called to follow in her grandmother's footsteps as the spirit shaman of the town, the one who helps - or forces - spirits to the other side of the Veil.
But Kerris is untrained, and Whisper Hollow has kept its secrets hidden for hundreds of years. And now there are those that would take over the power building in this small town on the Olympic peninsula. In fact, they started long ago, and a novice spirit shaman can't possibly be strong enough to stop them. Or can she?
It was obvious to me from the first page that Yasmine Galenorn loves these people and this town, that she is fully invested in Kerris and Bryan and Peggin and Ellia and all the other residents of this troubled but beautiful town. Whisper Hollow is a complex and multi-layered place, and I think that all the books she has written before have prepared her to dive into this series. We, the readers, learn about Whisper Hollow along with Kerris, since so much has changed while she's been gone, and it's exhilarating and wonderfully disturbing.
If you're already a fan, you're going to love the "Whisper Hollow" series, and if you've never read Yasmine Galenorn's work before, Autumn Thorns is a brilliant way to begin. I almost wish she didn't have two other series going, because I want to know what happens next! I can already tell this is a series that begs to be re-read, once for the story and again for the nuances. I actually wish for a “director’s cut”, if you will. In traditional Yasmine Galenorn style, this is fast action, diving right into the problems to be faced, and in a way, I wish it was a slower build, if only because I so enjoyed spending time with all the characters. Yeah, it’s that good.
This is the time of year when I generally go into my reading slump, which is not necessarily a bad thing since I’ll have to come up with my Best Of lists soon, and we all know how long those can be for me!
However, I picked up Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s latest “Pendergast” book, Blue Labyrinth and it was just the book I needed to read right now.
I don’t want to go into too much detail. If you’ve read the series (and you should), then I can tell you that Blue Labyrinth starts off with a dead body deposited at Pendergast’s front door, followed by a car chase that leaves Proctor badly injured and the Rolls quite possibly beyond repair. And that’s just the opening chapter!
Many of our old friends are back, and it’s good to be back in this world, even if what being thrown at Pendergast is both disturbing and, oddly, a relief. The case Acosta has taken up is equally intriguing, and of course it takes Pendergast’s insight to make sense of what’s happening there.
I think one of the best things about this series, in addition to the characters and the intricate and astonishing plots, is the sprinkling of scientific and historical tidbits. Pendergast is one of the greatest repositories of arcane knowledge that I’ve ever encountered, and Preston and Child throw in sparkling gems with off-handed casualness that is just delightful and educational.
Always interesting, consistently entertaining, and strangely educational. What more do you want from a thriller?
When Deborah Harkness came in to sign The Book of Life, talking with her inspired me to re-read the first two, to read the completed trilogy as a whole. So I started with Discovery of Witches, continued with Shadow of Night and finished up the trilogy four days after I started the whole journey again.
Man, are these good books!
For those who are already in love with the “All Souls” books, Ms. Harkness fulfills the promise of the first two books. Her resolutions to the various problems, including what Ashmole 782 really is and can do, and how it relates to Diana, is beautifully complex, and is completely satisfying. She’s left herself openings to continue in this world if she wants to, but if she doesn’t, that’s fine too, although I hope she does come back to it, because I really love these people.
For those who are unfamiliar with the trilogy, Diana Bishop is a professor of history focusing on alchemy. She’s also a witch, one who hates to use her magic and keeps track of any infractions she indulges in. When she “calls” a dusty old book to her for her research, Ashmole 782, Diana sets into motion events that will change more than just her life.
You see, Ashmole 782 may very well be the history of the origins – and possibly the ways to destroy – all the witches, vampires and daemons roaming the earth. Each species wants it, and will do anything to keep the others from finding it. However, Diana teams up with Matthew, a vampire with a secret. She and Matthew challenge the established order of things, and in doing so, find each other.
Deborah Harkness is herself a professor of history, so her take on the creation of Ashmole 782 and the impact a single book can have on whole populations. What happened to witches in the past, and various historical events that highlighted the vampires’ lives is brilliantly depicted and elegantly woven. You know you can trust the facts as well as her interpretation and spin on what happened. Her writing is rich and lush, and she has built a world that is completely believable and real.
But it’s her people who are at the heart of the trilogy. All the beautiful background in the world wouldn’t matter if you didn’t care about the people, and in the pages of these books. You meet some amazing, troubled, determined, and memorable characters. Even her secondary and tertiary characters are fully developed; they matter.
I enjoyed re-reading the first two, and I know without a doubt that I’ll re-read these time and time again. This is, without a doubt, one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read.
In Kelli Stanley’s new “Miranda Corbie” novel, City of Ghosts (We’ll let you know about signed copies) Miranda has just wrapped up a case - jade missing from a socialite’s house - when the man who made her license possible knocks on her door with a deal. He’ll pay her, and pay her well, and he’ll get her a ticket on a freighter for London so she can track down her mother. The price? She’s got to follow a chemistry professor who may be dealing with “degenerate art”, the art confiscated by the Nazis who are rapidly taking over Europe. The State Department, for whom MacLeod works, is afraid that the professor is dealing in more than art; he has access to some high level secrets. If Miranda can verify the professor’s dealings, one way or the other, her trip to London is assured.
But then murder rears its ugly head and Miranda’s caught squarely in the crosshairs. She has to clear her name or the only place she’ll be going is the pen.
If you ever wonder about the “city” in Kelli Stanley’s Miranda Corbie books (City of Dragons, Minotaur; City of Secrets, Minotaur, City of Ghosts, ), she explains in City of Ghosts:
“San Francisco, built and rebuilt, wicked and always willing, forever old, forever young, smelling of sex and sin and newly minted money, guardian, lover, mentor, the cobbled streets and dim lights and salt-stained tears and wave lapped piers, the smell of fresh-baked sourdough and jook from Sam Wo’s, grappa in front of the Italian saints, quiet Victorians nodding on quiet streets, ice shaking in cocktails at the Top of the Mark.
“Lying city, dying city, Lazarus and the phoenix. Wide open and proud of it, a city built on stolen sand and abandoned ships, reclaimed by the ones that stayed and built for the ones that left. A city made by dreamers who died paupers and paupers who lived like kings, dream keeping them alive in the only way that mattered.
City of Dreams, broken or not, it didn’t matter.
No need for a City of Angels when there’s gold in the mountains and cars that climb hills and bridges that span seas.”
With a pace as fast as Miranda’s tapping stilettos and prose as lean as a street hustler, Kelli Stanley brings us into 1940’s San Francisco at a dangerous time, when cops play for keeps and everyone has secrets. If you’ve read the first two, you won’t want to miss this one. If you haven’t, now’s the time to start.
Mitch Berger and Des Mitry are back!
In his latest book, The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb, David Handler lets us see some of Dorset’s past. Newly elected selectwoman, Glynis Fairchild-Forniaux has decided that historic Dorset Street must be repaved, since it hasn’t been since 1967. There is all manner of opposition, especially from Dorset’s aristocracy, including newly defeated selectman Bob Paffin. But Glynis will not be denied and the road is ground down to prepare it.
But the paving grinds to a sudden halt when a body is discovered over the asphalt, and judging from the clothing, it’s Bob Paffin’s older brother, Lance, who has been missing and presumed dead in a boating accident. And when was that? Suspiciously, in the summer of 1967…
And to bring even more pressure on resident trooper Des Mitry, her father, The Deacon, is taking an interest. So with mounting pressure to make this go away, Des and Mitch have to figure things out in a hurry.
Filled with the colorful characters that David Handler has led us to expect along with great film references, The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb is absolutely fun and charming, and fans of this series are going to want it right away.
“The newsroom was so crowded with people that Mitch felt as if he’d just walked into a color-drenched remake of Front Page Woman, a zippy little 1935 Warner Brothers newsroom drama helmed by Michael Curtiz. All that was missing were Bette Davis, George Brent and the zippy. There was no zippy.”
Let me state once more for the record that I am sorely put out that the first books in this series are not available. Without the background, the history of these people and this town, someone picking up The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb won’t understand how great it is that Des gets most – not all, but most – of Mitch’s movie references, or why Buzzy makes some of the choices he does, or why Glynis is so shocked. Darn it, publishers, let us have the first NINE in paperback, please! Thank-You!
Lots of authors are trying their hands at breaking into the Young Adult market, and justifiably. It’s got great potential, and a lot of YA books are incredibly smart, and are well worth reading even if you’re no longer part of the “Y”.
This is true of the husband/wife combo of John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, whose YA science fiction debut, Conquest (a few signed copies remain available) is one to make anyone sit up and take notice. John’s a long-time hit here; it’s no secret that I love all his books. And by incorporating his wife’s talent, Conquest has a voice that is unique to them, which is great.
The Illyri have conquered Earth, and they’ve done much to improve life here. Life expectancy is up, businesses are still flourishing, and yet mankind still wants them gone. The story follows two sets of teenagers: Syl and Ani are Illyri, while Paul and Steven are human. Syl is the daughter of the Governor living in Edinburgh, and Ani is her best friend and daughter of the general whom Governor Andrus trusts most.
But things are troubled among the Illyri in ways that have nothing to do with Earth’s Rebellion. There is significant jockeying for power and postion among the two competing branches, Military and Diplomatic, and the influence of the shadowy Nairene Sisterhood is weaving its way through every negotiation.
When two separate bombings occur just before an unexpected visit from Illyri VIPs, the two Illyri teens and their human counterparts become inextricably linked, and the four may have to learn to work together to defend both their planets.
Conquest is a complex and intricate novel, and the trilogy it’s leading into is going to be one to keep a close eye on. While I found myself sometimes being reminded of other books and stories (and no, I won’t tell you what; you need to read this with your own background. It may be just me, after all), the world that Connolly and Ridyard has created is vibrant and unique, and the people who inhabit it are going to be well worth following through the series end.
This is not a series for younger kids. There are fairly powerful and disturbing elements, some almost verging on horrific, that truly younger readers might find unsettling. But for readers who are tired of glitz and sparkles, who want solid science fiction, this is a series to follow. I know I will!
For those of you who have been following the adventures of Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Nurd and the rest of the crew in Biddlecombe (and other, less salubrious locations), John Connolly’s The Creeps is a must-read. It’s hard to say much without giving things away, but Mrs. Abernathy is back despite having her atoms scattered all about, Nurd is bored, the Great Malevolence is threatened by something even worse than it is, and there’s an upbeat and generally happy gelatinous cube sliming around.
From the very first book, The Gates, John Connolly’s narration of the events surrounding Samuel and Boswell have charmed me to the point of goofy grinning. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve stopped perfect strangers to read passages aloud, generally the footnotes, quite honestly. They make me laugh as well as being informative! And The Creeps is no different. The footnotes are brilliant, the story races around incredible twists and turns but never loses its traction, and I was sorry to see it end, although the ending is quite satisfying.
It looks like John Connolly has wrapped up his YA series with Samuel Johnson and faithful Boswell in The Creeps, but he has left himself wiggle room for more books, should he decide to revisit these fabulous people. Although you don’t have to bring Miss Moffett back, John. She truly gave me the creeps!
(Amber Here: The Gates age range is, according to the publisher, 12+, and I suspect The Creeps is the same!)
You may have noticed that I haven't been reviewing much lately. Frankly, my head hasn't been in the game. I've got a double stack of books that are to-be-read next to my bed, and I just...can't. And honestly, if I can't bring my best game to a book, I figure it’s better off without me reading it and letting my sour attitude spill all over it. The only things I've been able to read (because I have to read; that's a compulsion) are the J. D. Robb "in Death" books. I read three or four of the early ones and then picked up with Creation in Death, and am reading in order now. I'll probably finish the series.
But in the meantime, I have Yasmine Galenorn's newest book, Crimson Veil waiting, and Yasmine's not only one of my favorite authors, she's a friend. She deserves my best. I figured I'd give it a shot, and if I just couldn't do it, I'd tell her straight up. She's a smart and sensitive lady, and I knew she'd get it.
So I cleared my head; took a deep breath and jumped in.
I'm not going into too much of what happens. If you haven't read the series, it won't make sense, and if you have, I don't want to give anything away. Let me just say that the girls find out what happened to their father, they find out what Lowestar Radcliffe is really up to, discover a new ally, get to know their new cousin a bit better (and he's not at all what we expect!), Shamas makes a decision, Delilah meets Shade's sister to get family approval for their relationship, and the sisters finally find a way to get that nasty little skeleton, Rodney, in line (which had me laughing out loud).
I read Crimson Veil in two sittings (pesky laundry) and it was, as always, fascinating and fun. I've read this series from the beginning, and now, fifteen books in, I'm even more pleased with how Yasmine has her characters developing. This is a Menolly book, and watching her come to terms with her relationships, with figuring out that marriage is more than just a word but a commitment, to see how the sisters face adversity, grow and change, find hope and passion even when things are bleakest, well, there's a reason these are bestsellers. And I'm glad the series is continuing. I can't wait to see what happens next!
But for now, back to Eve and Roarke and Peabody and McNabb and…
You could pick up Val McDermid's latest book, Cross and Burn and read it without having read the earlier books in the "Tony Hill and Carol Jordan" series, but I wouldn't recommend it. Yes, it's wonderful, and the central crime is resolved, but the power of this book comes from knowing the characters, being invested in them. That's the power of any long-running series, isn't it? You care about the people.
I can't say too much about the plot without blurting out spoilers. There's a man kidnapping women who look a lot like Carol Jordan. The bodies are turning up, badly beaten and disfigured. All the evidence points to Tony. Things go very badly in many ways.
After the events in The Retribution, I have to admit I approached Cross and Burn with a certain amount of trepidation. So very much had happened in The Retribution and none of it was good. I knew that if anyone could salvage something from that firestorm, it would be Val McDermid, but I was still apprehensive. I have to, at times, remind myself to trust my authors, and that was never more true than this time.
There's a fluidity and power to Val McDermid's writing that makes her books flow smoothly and easily, and that talent makes reading the hard things she depicts compelling. But it's the people! Flawed, deeply damaged, but struggling to do the best they can, often at odds not only with others but with themselves, it's the people in her books that will bring you back time after time. In Cross and Burn, we get to see a lot more of Paula McIntyre, and I have to admit that I was pleased to see her take a more prominent role, to find her own strength while holding true to her core values.
If you haven't read this series and you like powerful, gritty, brilliant books, begin with The Mermaid's Singing and brace yourself for a real treat!
One of the best things about Young Adult writing today is how very intelligent it is. Punches aren't pulled, bad things happen, and it's not sugar-coated or incredibly sweet. Well, certainly not the best YA writing - you know, the kinds of books that kids actually read, not what their parents think they're reading.
Holly Black's upcoming YA book, The Darkest Part of the Forest (Jan. 13, 2015) takes on all kinds of powerful issues facing teenagers today: racism, isolation, gender identity, parental neglect - and she does it in a compelling, easily readable, highly relateable way.
Teenage siblings, Hazel and her brother, Benjamin, have lived in Fairfold most of their lives. Fairfold is a unique small town in that all the residents, child and adult alike, are aware that the fae are real. There have been fae folk around, well, since Fairfold was established, and there's an unspoken agreement: the fae will leave Fairfold's citizens alone (tourists are fair game) and Fairfold's people will respect the fae, leaving gifts and respecting the fae's rules.
At the heart of the town's tourism trade is a crystal coffin in the woods. Inside is a young man, with ears as pointed as knives and horns curling gently out of his head and curving down behind those pointy ears. He's been there for as long as people can remember. There have been numerous attempts to break the crystal, but all have failed, and the more serious attempts have left those humans who have tried badly injured. Hazel and Ben both love the boy in the coffin, whom they call "their prince".
But the prince in the coffin isn't the only fae they know. Ben's best friend, Jack, is a changeling. He was left in place of a baby named Carter, and when Carter's mother noticed the switch (which was pretty much immediately), she did what was necessary to get Carter back. But instead of returning Jack to his fae mother, Carter's mom defiantly kept both boys, raising them as brothers.
When the crystal coffin is shattered and the horned boy vanishes, everything changes.
Holly Black's books are not for people, young or old alike, who are not willing to look at the darkness that exists in everyone. She understands that everyone has secrets, some more dangerous than others, and that some of the most awful lies are the ones we tell ourselves. When I was a teacher, I often saw the disparity between what parents thought their kids were up to and what said kids actually did; it wasn't always pretty. Holly Black lets us see some of the bleaker sides of being a teenager, and how an inability to communicate easily can make a situation tumble from bad to worse in a heartbeat.
She also challenges her readers to accept situations they may not be comfortable with. Hazel's defiance of gender stereotyping by her need to be the knight, Ben's gayness, Jack's "otherness" that sets him apart, Hazel and Ben's parents' bohemian lifestyle that sounds like fun but had very dark repercussions, and all the messy relationships that happen simply because people are people, these are all the things that Ms. Black handles deftly and compassionately without being condescending or preachy, both of which are unfortunately easy to do.
Last year, Amber and Yasmine Galenorn both insisted that I read Holly Black's book The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and that got me hooked. Holly Black tells one heck of a good story, and The Darkest Part of the Forest is every bit as good. I know I didn't want it to end!
Stuart Neville does noir in a great way. His latest novel, The Final Silence is, to me, the epitome of the true heart that drives a bleak noir story. Jack Lennon is damaged, and in some ways may not recover, but he’s still got some fight left in him and his guilt will drive him on.
You see, Jack is contacted by an old flame who’s found a terrifying scrapbook in her late uncle’s house, and Rea wants Jack to find out if what’s pasted in there is real. If it is, it could mean the end to her father’s career, but Rea doesn’t care. She wants justice. But when Jack arrives to look at the book, it’s vanished. He’s not sure he believes Rea, and he’s got his own problems – a growing addiction to pain killers and complete denial about his ongoing PTSD, along with the fact that he’s at odds with his daughter’s other side of the family.
But then Rea is murdered, and Jack is the last person (aside from the killer) to see her alive. And he makes an excellent suspect. But to clear his name, he’s going to have to stay clear of the police force from which he’s been suspended, and he’s going to have to face his own demons.
I’ve loved Stuart Neville’s writing from the very beginning, and The Final Silence is just as breathtakingly gritty and powerfully dark as anything he’s ever written. It’s certainly not a book for the squeamish, and if you’re looking for a warm and cuddly protagonist, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But if you love a hard-hitting story about doing the right thing, about families and their secrets, about figuring out that some battles aren’t obvious and are often the hardest to win, then The Final Silence – or anything by Stuart Neville – should be right up your alley.
I was looking for something a little different to read, so I picked up Sean Pidgeon's Finding Camlann because it had things I'm interested in - archaeology, linguistics, Arthurian legend, Wales. And it was wonderful.
Archeologist Donald Gladstone knows there's no actual proof of Arthur's existence but believes there has to be some truth behind the myth. A find in a barrow near Stonehenge begins a quest that will take Donald, and linguist Julia Llewellyn, in search of an ancient Welsh battle poem, and will force them both to examine their lives.
This is a quiet, well-written story. There are no car chases, no gun fights, and no high tension. There's no definitive time frame for it. There are cars and telephones, but no cell phones or computers. It's reminiscent of a book written in the 60's or 70's. I found myself comparing it to Charlotte Armstrong's writing, actually. It's intelligent, complex and - to me - fascinating. I needed to pay close attention to the various time periods discussed, and my knowledge of Welsh history is sadly lacking (along with my ability to pronounce much of the language), but the people and their overwhelming need to know what happened caught my interest and didn't let go.
There's no single mystery, per se. Of course, the biggest question is whether or not the bodies found in the barrow are Arthur and Guinevere, but there's the question of an explosion in the recent past and whether or not it was an accident or sabotage, what role Julia's husband might have played in that explosion, and there is a death, so there are mysterious elements, but I'm not entirely sure you can classify Finding Camlann as a true whodunnit.
Whatever you call it, it was a thoughtful, restful break from the more action-packed adventures I normally indulge in, and I was pleased to have spent time in the Welsh mountains, exploring the history of the area and the origins of the Arthurian legend.
I fell for the characters that Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco brought to life in The White Magic Five and Dime. Alanis McLachlan is trying to make amends for the long con her mother pulled, but there were surprises galore, not all of them good.
In the second book, Fool Me Once, Alanis is dealing with the repercussions from her earlier adventures, and it starts with a knock on the door of the shop. From that point on, Alanis and her half-sister, Clarice, are doing their absolute best to protect one of Alanis's new friends, Marsha, from her abusive husband. However, some of the mess Marsha is in stems from something Alanis did earlier, and it just gets more complicated from there, especially after Marsha is arrested for murder.
You absolutely have to read these in order. No waffling, no hedging, this is not a series you can just pick up anywhere. And even without reading the rest, I can guarantee that's going to hold true. But if you like a well-written, twisty, humorous and intelligent series, this is the one for you. It falls in the "cozy" category since all the cursing is mild at best, and at times when stronger language is used, it's cleverly masked.
"You've got to be ducking kidding," said I.
Without the bird."
And for those of you who are tarot fans, the cards do play quite a role in the story, and the interpretations Miss Chance has written up about them in her most excellent book, Infinite Roads to Knowing, are truly fabulous! The White Magic Five and Dime deals with the major arcana, and Fool Me Once is all about the wands. That leaves me hopeful for at least three more books, and I find myself speculating on the order. Will swords be next, or coins? I think they'll end with cups, but I could be wrong, and I can't wait to find out!
So if you're in the market for a little lighthearted, intelligent and entertaining reading, Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco's Tarot Mysteries are the perfect answer!
David Wong's new book, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits is a "trust me" book, and it is decidedly NOT appropriate for everyone! But man, is it a hoot!
It's set in the not-too-distant future. Zoey Ashe is a short, chubby, twenty-two year old barista living with her mom, who's a stripper, in a trailer park in a small town in Colorado. Unbeknownst to her, she's being stalked by a serial killer who can't decide on his moniker (he's favoring The Hyena, right now, but he's not entirely sure that's right. Maybe The Jackal? He'll decide later). In this future, pretty much everyone is online and has a video feed, called a Blink. Because The Hyena (or The Piranha?) has surgically enhanced jaws that can bite through pretty much anything and a love for eating his victims, he's got a pretty solid following.
However, Zoey's main concern is getting her cat, Stench Machine, off the roof. Stench Machine has a visceral dislike of holograms, and all the trailers in the park have some sort of Christmas hologram doing their things, and he's upset.
It also turns out that Zoey has a huge bounty on her head because her biological father, whom she'd met twice, just died. He was unbelievably wealthy and he left it all to her. And her father's entourage of Suits is determined to keep Zoey safe and alive no matter what and despite her unwillingness to cooperate.
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits is ongoing mayhem, sardonic humor, innovative technology in the new city of Tabula Ra$a, Utah, where Zoey's father built an empire, peopled mostly by criminals of some sort or other. And there are eyes everywhere. Everybody has a camera, the drones have cameras, and everyone has a live feed of everything they do. Someone is always watching.
"She turned toward Armando.'Is there any hope at all of keeping me safe during something like that?'
'As safe as anyone can be, doing what you're about to do.'
Andre said, 'You'll have help.'
Zoey said, 'So...is this just the type of thing you people do?'
Will said, 'You mean staging elaborate traps for psychopaths, just to see what happens? All so we can get a look at their strengths and weaknesses, at tremendous danger to everyone in the vicinity? Yes, actually. With some regularity.'"
David Wong has created a world that is both terrifying and outrageous, people who are complicated and puzzling and very, very human, and one very smelly cat. If you’re bothered or offended by violent situations, bloody body parts and cursing on a regular basis, this is not the book for you. But if that's the sort of thing you don't mind, and want a massively funny and twisted story, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits is right up your alley. I'm still smiling at it.
And he'd better be working on the sequel!
"Quiet mouth, bright mind."
Those are the watchwords Hild learns to live by in Nicola Griffith's stunning new work, Hild. Set in seventh century Britian, Hild takes us from the time she's three years old and follows her as she grows into womanhood, leaving room for a sequel (perhaps?) where Hild will eventually become St. Hilda of Whitby.
Hild is the daughter of a fallen king, neice to the reigning king, Edwin, and she becomes his seer, his light, the one who predicts for him, tells him what is going on. Hild is not so much mystical as wickedly intelligent; she sees patterns, puts things together from a hint here, a dropped word there, and her understanding of how people search for power gives her prominence and sets her apart. Because she has trouble articulating what she knows, she's considered a prophet, one to be guarded and honored -- so long as she makes no mistakes.
Hild is a complicated novel. This is not a light read, a beach read. Nicola Griffith has proved her research capabilities beyond doubt. There's a map, a glossary and a pronunciation guide for a reason. But despite the strange names and convoluted relationships, the heart of the book is Hild's story, who she is, who she becomes. Life in the seventh century was in many ways brutal, and Griffith's telling of it through Hild's eyes makes the reader know that it was ordinary, everyday life, however different it is to us now. The casual violence, the constant awareness of danger, the deep bonds that can be broken by the whim of someone in power, all of these are just the way of Hild's world.
And central to the story is the influx of the Christ priests, bringing their new religion into the lives of those who have worshipped Woden and the older gods. Not only does Hild have to navigate the dangers of Edwin's court, she must see her way through a new and powerful religion. Often lonely, searching for herself as she finds her way through a rapidly changing world, Nicola brings Hild's story to vibrant life.
The writing is lyrical, the story is complex, and knowing that most of the people in Hild's life were real makes for a rich and powerful tale, one you won't easily forget. For anyone interested in this time period, I suspect that Nicola Griffith's Hild will become one of the definitive works illuminating an age that has perhaps gone unremarked for far too long.
The more I read Mike Lawson’s books about Joe DeMarco, the more I really think Hollywood’s dropped the ball by not picking up this series, and that’s still true with his latest, House Reckoning. However, with this one, I realized that a movie just won’t do. It’s gotta be a series, probably through HBO or something similar (please, god, not SPECTRE).
We’ve always known that DeMarco’s job options have been limited because his father was a hitman for the mob. In House Reckoning, we find out what Gino’s story really was, and how he died. But more importantly, Joe finds out what his dad was involved with, and the circumstances leading to his death.
Now Joe is out for vengeance. Turns out, he’s more like his dad than he ever knew. But will this cycle of revenge be his undoing?
Mike Lawson has a talent for creating characters we care about, and his writing is so smooth, so seamless, that you don’t realize how far you’ve been submerged in DeMarco’s world until you find yourself wanting to get involved in his life. I found myself muttering, “Joe, don’t do it, don’t , please don’t!” Joe and Emma and Mahoney and MaryPat are all friends, and I don’t get to visit them nearly often enough!
If you haven’t met Joe DeMarco, start with The Inside Ring (Grove, $7.99). And if you haven’t, I envy you. You’re in for quite a treat! If you have already spent time with DeMarco, this is a must-read. The backstory you get, the insight into Joe, is not to be missed!
It’s inevitable, I suppose, that people will compare Mercedes Lackey’s new series beginning with Hunter to The Hunger Games, and it’s true, on a superficial level, they have a lot in common. Post-apocalypse living, a girl with special talents going from living in the back of beyond to the center of civilization to prove herself.
But where The Hunger Games were great, rambunctious fun (and make no mistake, I thoroughly enjoyed them!), Hunter is more complex, more meaty, more subtle and I suspect it won’t be wrapped up in a trilogy. Mercedes Lackey has built a great world, and it would be a shame to limit it to just a few books.
Joyeaux Charmand is a Hunter. After the Diseray, the change of the old world into the current one, Othersiders broke through and took over our world, bringing all the old stories from myth and fairy tale to life, and flooding the world with magic. But they also loosed the Hounds, otherworldly creatures that can bond to a person, become partners in a very real way, and the Hounds are dedicated to hunting down Othersiders.
Joy grew up on a mountain in what was the Rockies, and she was trained by the best Masters of all disciplines. But life on the Mountain isn’t known to those who live in Apex and to stay undetected, a Hunter needs to be sent from the surrounding neighborhoods; it’s been a long time since one has come from this quadrant, and people are beginning to wonder what’s up. Joy is chosen to go to Apex since all Hunters are required to report there; besides, her Uncle is very high in the government, and he wants her near him.
Obviously there are troubles and turmoil, political machinations and all kinds of action. But there’s a subtle and powerful message that Ms. Lackey is interweaving in her story about the nature of friendship, of trust, of duty that makes Hunter the beginning of what I suspect will be a powerful, possibly classic, series.
Hunter isn’t a great book. It’s a very good book. But I think the series is going to be epic.
One of the great things about this job is that once in a while, you pick up a book and partway in you get that little shiver that tells you this one has the potential to be extraordinary.
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is that book.This debut has amazing scope and depth. Hayes is a former journalist and screen writer, so he knows how to tell a tale and how to keep things moving, and he proves it here. And if even half of what he's writing about is true, this is a scary book on a lot of levels!
There's far too much in I Am Pilgrim to begin to summarize, but basically, Scott Murdoch (at least that's one of his names) was once the top of his field, and his field was intelligence for the US. He was burning out, so he walked away, but we all know that isn't possible. He befriends a police officer who asks for Murdoch's opinion on a strange murder that happened in a ratty hotel not far from Ground Zero in Manhattan. What Murdoch sees there is the beginning of a twisted, complex, multi-layered story that ranges from New York to Afghanistan, from the White House to a small town in Turkey.
As always, I'm drawn to the people, and one of Terry Hayes's great gifts is to make his characters human. We should loathe the man known as The Saracen, but Hayes gives him humanity and depth. From the espionage agent who figures out that Murdoch is the only one who can solve the problem to the drunken Australian doctor, each of the people in I Am Pilgrim matters.
And that's one of the great things about this book, and perhaps my only complaint. It's a monster, 607 pages (the hardcover is 612 pages!) in the advanced form, and Hayes has layered in so much action, so many people, so many strands woven in that it's almost unwieldy. Almost. Because he pulls it off, and well. And in ways that are understandable and believable.
I have no idea if there's going to be a sequel. He's left one thread open for it, but the way he did it leaves I Am Pilgrim complete and satisfying. If you're a fan of thrillers, of espionage, of international terror, this is the perfect book for you, and is easily going to be on my Top Ten for the year!
Peter May is the first author I’d ever met who came to a signing in a kilt. He’s a tall Scotsman, but his first series was set in China and his second was set in France. I nagged him (as did other folks) to write about Scotland, and he has. When he drops by I’ll be able to thank him.
The first in the “Lewis” trilogy is The Blackhouse, where we meet Fin Macleod, a detective inspector sent to his home island of Lewis in the outer Hebrides to investigate a murder that seems suspiciously like one that has happened in Edinburgh, where he’s living now. Still reeling from the death of his son, Fin isn’t sure he’s up to the task, especially since his memories of his time in Crobost. But it gets him out of the house and away from his wife, so he goes. The man who has been murdered was a bully back when Fin was in school, and he’s not entirely surprised Angel’s come to a bad end, but the more he investigates, the stranger things appear.
The second in the trilogy is The Lewis Man. Fin is now living on the island, rebuilding his parents’ home, when a body is discovered in the peat. At first it’s believed to be an ancient mummy, but closer examination reveals a tattoo of Elvis on the arm, so obviously the body’s been in there a much shorter time than originally believed. Fin becomes drawn into the investigation when it turns out that the dead body is related to his old flame’s father.
The third one in the series, The Chess Men, won’t be out until at least next year and I am wildly curious to see what happens there. This is a beautifully dark series, and the people are shaped by their culture and the unrelenting weather. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the wind itself is a character in the books, and Peter May’s writing makes me want to visit these harsh and unforgiving islands in the worst way. Despite the bleakness of the countryside and the resigned acceptance of so many people making what they can of their lives, there’s a fierce independence and resolute strength that just shines through, and I fiind that I truly care what happens to Fin and Marsaili and George and young Fionnlagh.
It’s interesting to note that, in The Blackhouse, the book is written in third person for modern events, but when seeing what happened in the past, we’re viewing it through young Fin’s eyes in the first person. In The Lewis Man, the same is true except our portal into the past is from Marsaili’s father’s point of view. It shouldn’t work, it should be choppy and disruptive, but Peter May is such a skilled storyteller that it flows beautifully and smoothly. And even when things are darkest – and they are, frequently – there’s that thread of strength and hope and determination, regardless of the time frame, that makes these books incredibly powerful.
I can’t wait to read The Chess Men. And I can’t help wondering if Peter will show up in a kilt. Probably not, because it is only a stock signing (so you will reserve your books, right?), but hey, I gotta have dreams, right.
Last year, I met - and introduced you to - Gigi Pandian's wonderful alchemist, Zoe Faust, and now Zoe's back, along with the comrades we've come to know and love. And I don't want to say too much because if you haven't read The Accidental Alchemist (Midnight Ink, $14.99) yet, I don't want to spoil anything. So read it!
In The Masquerading Magician (Midnight Ink, $14.99, signing Sat. Jan. 23, noon), Zoe is still searching for a solution to Dorian's condition. He's getting worse, and the infusion Zoe makes for him is both temporary and damaging to her. She's finally reached the point of looking into backward alchemy, the alchemy of death rather than transformation. But she knows very little about it, and Dorian's precious book is maddeningly vague. It looks like Zoe's going to have to find another alchemist to help her, but who?
And then, a pair of magicians - performing magic in the old, traditional ways like Houdini himself - come to town, and it's possible that one of them is truly a real alchemist. But even if he is, can Zoe trust him? Does she have a choice if she's going to save Dorian?
The Masquerading Magician is a somewhat darker book than The Accidental Alchemist, and that's not a bad thing. Things are looking decidedly grim for Dorian and Zoe, and the tenor of the book reflects that. In fact, I heard myself grumbling at Zoe, since I found her to be a bit whiny and angry at times. I remember that at one point I muttered, "Oh, just do it. You know you're going to, we know you're going to, so just bloody do it!"
And that's the great thing about Gigi Pandian's writing and her skill at creating characters - they stop being characters and start being real people. Or a real gargoyle. Whatever. You understand me, right? I wasn't at all frustrated with Ms. Pandian's writing style, I was irritated by the characters and their actions. They were believable, they were behaving in ways that were completely in their natures, and it was like watching friends make decisions that made me grind my teeth. Just like some real people I could mention.
So yes, you're going to want The Masquerading Magician and not just for the recipes (which are fabulous! Oh my!). Never fear, there is still much hope for Dorian, and things are looking up for Zoe, both health-wise and with Max. Brixton and his friends are still underfoot, and Ivan is more involved than ever. Huge fun, with a slight edge to keep things moving.
This is a letter I wrote to Joshilyn Jackson:
“Oh you brilliant, wonderful writer! I treated myself to My Own Miraculous after reading a book that was Quite Dark and had Very Bad Things happen, saving MOM (nice acronym, by the way!) for a gentle refreshment after a serious and disturbing read. But wow, you manage to pack a lot of tension into 75 pages! I spent a good portion of my time muttering "Holy cow" and "shoot shoot shoot!" although I didn't perhaps actually use the words "cow" or "shoot". But at 3:00 in the morning, I can only say I wasn't loud when voicing my opinion. And the silly thing is, of course, that I read Someone Else's Love Story weeks ago, so I know they're okay and it all works out until they get into the Circle K, and I still vibrated with worry for them. Excellent work, as usual, my dear!”
The most recent installment of the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs, Night Broken, may be her best work yet, which could explain why it’s getting some strange reviews.
Adam’s ex-wife, Christy, calls him, pleading for sanctuary. Her latest lover has become a stalker, and may have killed her ex-boyfriend. He’s really scary, and Adam can’t refuse to protect the mother of his daughter. However, this puts Mercy in a tight spot. Christy is really good at getting people to feel sorry for her, and several pack members would love to see her back by Adam’s side, even though Christy’s fully human. And apparantly, Christy wouldn’t mind retaking her old place either…
Add to that tension the fact that Christy’s stalker is, in fact, more deadly than anyone could have imagined, and that one of the ancient Fae wants the walking stick that Mercy gave away, and he’s not inclined to be understanding about her inability to immediately produce it, and you have the makings of classic Briggs.
I suspect some of the people who didn’t enjoy Night Broken as much as I did want their conflicts to be black and white, and the dance that Mercy and Christy do is finely nuanced and does not have an easy or straightforward resolution, much like life. And besides being Adam’s wife, Mercy’s now the mate of the Alpha; she’s got extra pressure on her to do the right thing, even when that’s not obvious or easy. And Mercy’s need to protect those weaker than her is a factor.
Every step of the way, Patricia Briggs has taken the difficult path of allowing us to see the results of choices, some good, some bad, some not really choices at all. And the demands of family are always tricky to navigate. Still, if anyone can do it, Coyote’s daughter is the one who will be up for the challenge!
I’ve had the shop following Maureen Johnson’s twitter feed for a while, since she’s informative, funny and on top of a lot of things. I’ve had her series on my To Be Read pile for a while, but I hadn’t actuall y read them because I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy them as much as her twitter feed and it would ruin some of the fun. Does that make any sense?
Aurora “Rory” Deveaux arrives in London from a small town in Louisiana. She’s going to be taking her senior year of high school at Wexford, a prestigious boarding school, while her lawyer parents take a sabbatical in Bristol. She’s absolutely a fish out of water, and the British academic standards leave her reeling, but she gamely jumps in and does her best.
Then a series of killings in the area seem to be re-enacting the Ripper murders, and Rory sees the man who may be responsible. But as it turns out, she’s the only one who can see him. And he knows it.
These are YA novels, true, but they’re smart and complex and thought provoking. Maureen Johnson has created some wonderful people, with all kinds of quirks and flaws and fabulous challenges. One of the best things about her writing is that it’s never condescending to teenagers, and it’s vibrant enough for older, jaded readers like me. You can take messages about life and how people change and grow or you can just enjoy the story.
We didn’t have the third one, The Shadow Cabinet, but we have it on order and I’ll snag one as soon as it comes in today, and honestly, I can’t wait. The second one leaves off at a huge cliffhanger, so I’m jittery while I’m waiting for it. Such a good series! If you haven’t read them and you don’t mind a good ghost story, you should! And follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter if you don’t already. She’s a hoot!
When Yasmine Galenorn began the "Indigo Court" series, she planned for it to end in five volumes, and that fifth and final book, Night's End completes the story nicely.
Cicely is now the Queen of Snow and Ice, counterpoint to her cousin Rhiannon, who is Queen of Rivers and Rushes, winter and summer balanced together. But both Queendoms are in peril while Myst is still on the prowl, trying to take over and turn both lands into her own personal hunting ground.
Cicely learns that there is a spy in her midst, and she must learn what it means to be Queen, the decisions and choices that must be made to save her people, even if it costs her friendship and love. In the final battle against Myst, Cicely will have to choose between what she holds most dear and what she has to do to protect those entrusted to her. And if she can't, Myst will surely win.
One of the great things about this series, and in fact about all of Yasmine Galenorn's writing, is that she has no problems turning things around, making hard choices and dealing out surprises. If you've been reading this series (and you have, haven't you?), then I don't want to say too much because things are wrapped up. There are losses along the way, and some of the people you've come to know and love - and loathe - will have things happen that are both sad and gratifying. I know, that's cryptic, but really, once you've read it, you'll see what I mean.
While she's left the door open to revisit this world later, the series winds up in ways that are wonderful and satisfying, and it's been a fun read. I suspect now that it's completed, I'll want to sit down and read the entire series through, beginning to end, just to embrace the entire saga. But then, that's the fun of a great series, right?
The first word that comes to mind after reading Gregg Hurwtiz's new novel, Orphan X is "slick". This is not a bad thing.
Evan Smoak was brought into the Orphan Project when he was twelve. At that time, his handler told him he was part of a special group, and that he, Jack, would never lie to Evan, who would henceforth be known as Orphan X. Orphans were trained as covert assassins, infiltrators, special ops individuals who do all those things we know the government has done but we'd really rather not think about.
However, once trained and working, Orphan X is given an assignment he refuses, and from that point on he has been out of the project and off the grid, working to help those who cannot help themselves. He's known as the Nowhere Man. Then one of his rescue missions goes sideways, and suddenly Evan Smoak is beset on all sides, and he doesn't even know if his training will be enough to save him.
Gregg Hurwitz is a powerful writer and Orphan X is no exception. I can see why it's already been optioned for film; Hurwitz writes screenplays and his sense of pace and timing is spot-on. And he's obviously researched long and hard to get all the bits and pieces into place to make Orphan X as sleekly honed as it is. He pushes right up to the edge of believability but stops gracefully short so that everything just works.
And if you're the sort who cheats, don't bother. The twists keep coming so that right up until the very end, you can't be sure who to trust and what the truth might really be.
Orphan X is the first in a series, and I suspect this is a series everyone will be into. It's fast, the characters are developed and complex, and the possibilities that Gregg Hurwtiz has left open for Evan are a delightful tease. I can't wait to see where he takes us next!
We've thought of Lisa Lutz as "our" author from her first Spellman document. She'd come up, we celebrated Izzy's birthday, and even though she didn't live here, she was ours, darn it.
With her new book, The Passenger, Lisa comes home to us, both literally and literarily. While Tanya Dubois' journey takes her across the US, she ends up here in the Pacific Northwest, and we're thrilled to have Lisa back to visit!
"In case you were wondering, I didn't do it. I didn't have anything to do with Frank's death. I don't have an alibi so you'll have to take my word for it. I was taking a shower when Frank died."
Tanya's pretty sure she could get through a cursory investigation into Frank's death, but if the police look deeper, as they probably would what with a spouse with no alibi, then there could be problems. You see, "Tanya" isn't her real name. And she's been running from her past for about ten years now. So Tanya hits the road and tries to reinvent herself. And she could do it, except that she meets a woman called Blue, and Blue recognizes that hunted, haunted look. They bond, but eventually, Tanya begins to believe that Blue isn't so much of a kindred spirit as she might be Tanya's undoing.
Other reviewers have called The Passage a novel that goes at "a breakneck pace" and one says, "My advice: buckle up" and that's true, but I think that's true of everything Lisa Lutz writes. She's got a bone-deep talent for telling a gripping story with real people who grab your heart and imagination and just don't let go. From Izzy and the Spellmans to Kate and the other ladies in How to Start a Fire and now with Tanya, there simply isn't anyone like Lisa Lutz for creating wonderful people and putting them in strange but believable situations.
And while there are no footnotes (which I do genuinely miss), the mysterious emails between Ryan and Jo hearken back to Lisa's novel with David Hayward, Heads You Lose, and give you that little extra touch that makes all Lisa Lutz books rise above the others. I promise, you'll enjoy this book, and I know I'll read anything - including grocery lists - that have her name on them!
To recap, Van Shaw grew up under the rough and criminal tutelage of his grandfather, the respected but feared Dono Shaw. Van knew the tricks of heists, scams and crimes large and small but at the end of high school, he broke with Dono and ran away to join the army. Now an Army Ranger, Van has added a new raft of talents to his arsenal but believes he’s left his past in Seattle well behind him.
Then he receives a cryptic message from Dono, the first communication between them in years and sent in a way that lets Van know he is needed back in Seattle. So home he goes.
Past Crimes is action packed, that’s true, but it’s more than a heist novel. Van has to come to terms with who he really is, and he finds himself walking a very thin line between the folks he knows from his criminal past with Dono and his desire to stay out of the criminal world in the life he’s now built. The people we meet along the way are also a mixture of good and bad, like any of us. Okay, some of these folks are more honestly criminal than anyone I know, but in a way, that makes them more interesting!
But I have to admit that I was enchanted by the way Hamilton uses Seattle as a character in Past Crimes. I know these places, a lot of them anyway, and he captures the feeling of being in Seattle beautifully. I was talking to a couple of folks here in the shop about it while I was reading it, and at one point, I said something about a crime in the book taking place on Capitol Hill, and the response was basically, “Break in of car? Or house?” Well, house, now that you mention it. Then I commented about a dive bar with a bad band, and someone else observed, “Well, THAT never happens here!” and we all laughed.
This is quite the promising debut, and one I honestly think is going to be a solid hit. Because it’s labeled a “Van Shaw novel”, I’m hoping we’re going to see more of the folks in Glen Erik Hamilton’s world, and I hope he stays close to Seattle for most of them.
I finally got around to reading Karin Slaughter's latest book, Pretty Girls, feeling a little guilty about taking so long since I ditched a dinner with her earlier in the year (So sorry, Karin! Next time?), and I should have gotten to it sooner because it's truly amazing.
On March 4, 1991, 19 year old Julia Carroll went missing and was never found. In the aftermath of her disappearance, her family fell apart and away from each other. Twenty-four years later, a seemingly random act of violence brings her loss back to her sisters, Claire and Lydia. In the wake of the death of Claire's beloved husband, Paul, she and her estranged sister find themselves brought together again, caught up in a twisting mess that could very well result in more tragedy.
In Pretty Girls, Karin Slaughter has woven a seductive, tantalizing story so perfectly paced that you're drawn inexorably down the rabbit hole with Claire and Lydia. Old resentments that only family can hold onto make finding the truth at the heart of the puzzle a greater challenge, and Ms. Slaughter deftly leads us right where she wants us at such a pace that, when she springs her twists and traps, they truly are shocking.
I did have one issue with Pretty Girls, and that was the level of violence that was brought to bear in the last third or so of the book. I'm not squeamish by any stretch of the imagination, and I had no problem reading about what was done, but I'm not entirely sure that the details were absolutely necessary to convey the horror of what had happened.
That being said, Pretty Girls is a powerful novel, and it has moments of odd humor, great music and cultural references, and an unexpected poignancy that really grabbed me, and I think it'll move you as well. This is a great read for a stormy night, and as the daylight fades, you might want to have Pretty Girls nearby. It'll keep you up, I promise!
Rennie Airth isn't a book-a-year writer, which is frustrating for us, his fans, but the trade-off is that, when one arrives, you know you're in for a wonderful read, and his latest book, The Reckoning is just as good as you know it will be.
The year is 1947, John Madden is retired from the Yard and he's quietly content being a farmer and sometimes looking after retired Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair's roses while Sinclair's visiting his sister in Scotland. Then a man named Oswald Gibson is murdered, and among his papers is a letter to Scotland Yard, asking how to find John Madden. Despite Madden's phenomenal memory, he has no recollection of Gibson, and further investigation leads Madden to believe that what's happening now stems from something that happened in the Great War. With Billy Styles taking the lead, Madden is drawn into a race to catch what may be the most ruthless executioner they've ever tracked down.
Full disclosure here, I figured out whodunnit partway through. But the joy of Rennie Airth's writing is that, in a way, it took pressure off me and I could relax and enjoy the seamlessness of his writing, the beautifully crafted story that is compelling and human and a total joy to read. The Reckoning had the enviable and almost impossible to fill position of being an old friend I'd met for the first time.
If you haven't read the John Madden series, you really do need to read them in order. Begin with River of Darkness and continue on through The Blood-Dimmed Tide and The Dead of Winter so that when The Reckoning comes out in August, you'll be ready to spend quality time with wonderful and complex people. I can't recommend this series highly enough!
I’ve enjoyed Ian Hamilton’s “Ava Lee” series since I read the first one that’s available here in the US, The Disciple of Las Vegas – the actual first novel, The Water Rat of Wanchai isn’t yet available in the US (comes out in May!), which is irritating because I got my hands on a copy and it’s excellent, but we can’t get it -- and his latest, The Red Pole of Macau is just as good as the others, but it has Ava doing something new and unexpected.
Ava has barely gotten home from the events in The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, when she gets a call from her half-brother, whom she’s only met once, but who needs her help now. She’s hesitant, but family is family, so she heads off to Hong Kong. Michael and his business partner, Simon To, have invested in a real estate project in Macau, but the project isn’t moving forward and the bank is about to foreclose on their loan. Michael wants Ava to see if she can navigate the financial waters for him.
But the men Michael and Simon have gone into business with are rogue triad, and they have no respect for the way business is to be run. Ava doesn’t want to bring Uncle into the family mess, but it becomes inevitable, and even he is unable to influence the miscreants. Ava finds a solution but before she can implement it, Simon is kidnapped and will be killed unless an addition few million are found.
Now Ava is really in a jam, and if she makes a mistake, not only will Simon die but her entire family could be ruined.
Ava Lee usually works pretty much by herself. Uncle sets things up, and occasionally provides muscle, but Ava is the one on the front lines. In The Red Pole of Macau, though, Ava finds herself working wth a group, heading up an operation that involves a fairly large number of people, and it makes her uncertain and unsure. I liked the fact that she’s taken out of her comfort zone, that Uncle isn’t as all-powerful as he has been in the past, and that Ava is showing a much more human side. She’s got family matters that she never had before, her love life is going well which is actually a bit of a distraction, and she has to navigate her way with people she’d rather avoid but can’t. I like very much the fact that we get to see this uncertainty and altogether human side of her.
While The Red Pole of Macau stands on its own, as do all the Ava Lee novels, reading them in order and getting a feel for who she is and how all the relationships work is really the best way to enjoy the depth that Ian Hamilton has brought to this series. They’re complex and intelligent, and they just never slow down. I look forward to many more adventures with Ava Lee!
Amber had been after me to read Daniel O'Malley's The Rook ever since she read it, what was it, last year, I guess? And I've said before that I should have learned by now that when she nags me to read something, she's right.
Darn it, she's right again.
In The Rook, Daniel O'Malley has created a great protagonist in a familiar world that's beautifully strange. Myfanwy Thomas becomes aware that she's standing in the rain, there's a ring of dead people all wearing latex gloves around her, and she has no earthly idea who she is. And there's a letter in her pocket that begins:
The body you're wearing used to be mine."
From that point on, the new Myfanwy (which she pronounces to rhyme with "Tiffany") has to figure out who she is, what she's supposed to do, and who removed the memory of the Myfanwy before her. She discovers that she was a Very Important Person in a secret government organization in Britain, and she's a great organizer. But she's going to have to figure out how to survive - and where she lives, what she likes to eat, and how to get into her office - all while keeping her amnesia secret. Because someone close to her is out to kill her.
In general, I'm not a fan of amnesia stories, but Daniel O'Malley blows this one out of the water. He's created two great characters in Myfanwy, both unique and distinct from each other, both incredibly likable, and then he surrounded her/them with a host of wild and unpredictable people, none of whom Myfanwy is sure she can trust. The letters the old Myfanwy writes to her new self are fun and sometimes poignant, and incredibly clever. The way the new Myfanwy attacks her surprising life is nothing short of inspirational, in a darkly funny way.
Make no mistake, this is not a gentle, cozy book. There are some truly awful things that happen, the language is often adult, and the bodies are not at all off-stage. But the humor is laugh-out-loud and the pacing is both breakneck and impeccable. Amber tells me there's a sequel early next year, and I cannot wait!
Once again, she was right. The Rook just moved to the top of my "Best Of" list, and you know how long that list is! Someday, I swear I'll listen when she shoves a book in my hands and hollers, "READ THIS!" And you should too. Seriously. Read this.
If you're looking for an example of a man who knows how to write realistic women, strong, flawed, dynamic, human, then your go-to guy is Mike Lawson. Anyone who's read his "DeMarco" series knows he's got what it takes to create women that other women can relate to, so when he decided to create a whole new series with a female protagonist, I know I was excited. If anyone can make it work, it's Mike.
And Kay Hamilton, his DEA agent protagonist in Rosarito Beach fits the bill and then some. She's hard-hitting, no holds barred, and tough as nails, but there's no doubt she's female through and through.
Hamilton's been assigned to San Diego after her memorable stint in Miami, and she's got her eyes focused on bringing down a Mexican cartel. Caesar Olivera runs the cartel in Mexico, but his younger half-brother, Tito, is an American citizen and is handling Caesar's interests in the States. Kay's found a way to bring Tito down, but she knows that if she does, Caesar will bring all his incredible and powerful influence to free his kid brother. She can't wait.
"Kay kept moving forward. When she was three feet from him, she raised her gun and pointed it at his head. Tito just stood there, not knowing what to do, then Kay took one more stride and placed the muzzle of her gun against the center of his forehead.
'Drop the gun, you moron.'"
But plans have a nasty habit of going sideways in big busts, and when a mysterious stranger appears on Kay's doorstep, things become more complicated than anyone could have planned for. Kay will have to decide what's important to her, and what she's willing to sacrifice, because this is one time where she can't win it all.
Rosarito Beach is slick, smooth, professional, and I can see why it's been optioned for television. I found myself casting it in my head. It's fast-paced and twisty, filled with memorable people and demanding situations. DeMarco and his crew will always be first in my heart (and darn it, Hollywood, you need to option those as well!), but Kay Hamilton is going to be someone we'll all be following for years to come, I suspect!
I had heard about Belinda Bauer, but I hadn't read anything by her until I picked up Rubbernecker and now I suspect I'm going to have to track down her earlier work because she's great!
Rubbernecker is told from multiple points of view which should be annoying but with Bauer's deft touch, it works smoothly. Mostly we're following Patrick Fort, a young man with Asperger's syndrome, who is studying anatomy at college in Wales, searching for an answer to death. He doesn't understand a lot of everyday metaphors, being a very literal sort, but he's obsessed with finding out what happens after a body dies. We also see things through his mother's eyes; she's overwhelmed by the death of her husband and how difficult it is living with Patrick. We see how Tracy, a nurse in a coma ward, views people and her place among them, and we hear the internal thoughts of one of those coma patients who is emerging from his coma into awareness around him.
An anomaly in the dissection of a donated body disrupts Patrick's sense of order and he begins to think that the body he and his classmates have been working on was actually murdered rather than having died of natural causes. He is aware that he doesn't relate to or think like other people, but he's adamant about his belief and will chase down an answer no matter what.
Belinda Bauer has, I believe, delved deeply into the mind-set of someone with Asperger's syndrome, and into the lives of those who live and work with someone who has it. Her writing is fascinating, the story moves along like silk, and I know I certainly learned something about anatomy. But, as usual, I was drawn to the characters. Patrick himself is fascinating, but all the surrounding characters - his mother, his roommates, his lab partners, the nurses, and the man in the coma - are all complex and vulnerable and surprisingly resilient. Rubbernecker is a masterclass in storytelling and in weaving threads together to create a satisfying whole.
Last year, Jenny Milchman swept the critics with her debut, Cover of Snow (Ballantine, $15.00), so I was curious about how she intended to follow it up; could she maintain the quality of writing. Second books, you know?
She knocked this one out of the park.
In Ruin Falls, Liz Daniels and her family are on vacation, going to visit Liz’s husband’s family in southern New York State. Because it’s so hot and the kids, Reid – age 8, and Ally – age 6, are fretful and restless, they decide to stay over at a hotel and reach Paul’s family refreshed the next day. The fact that Paul doesn’t seem to be excited about seeing his parents is a minor worry to Liz. Cool air and a pool are too enticing to pass up.
The next morning, Liz wakes up to find the children are missing. She and Paul search everywhere, call the police, but the children have simply vanished. As the day progressed, Liz becomes more and more frantic while Paul becomes more stoic. But then, partway through the afternoon, Paul vanishes too; he’s taken the children and disappeared.
Left on her own – the police can’t help because there’s no real crime; Paul has the right to his children since there’s no custody question – Liz has to find out where Paul and the children have gone, and why he’d take them like that.
In both Cover of Snow and Ruin Falls, Jenny asks the question, how well do we really know anyone? Everyone has secrets; what can a person do when their lives are turned upside down by those most trusted?
Jenny Milchman's talent lies in creating characters you care about, ordinary people doing ordinary things who find themselves in situations that any of us could experience: suicide, loss of a child, a deeply controlling family member. And she brings that blossoming fear to life in ways that anyone can relate to, making her books relentlessly page-turning and her novels completely compelling.
It's been a long time since I've read a book that I felt compelled to just carry around with me, simply to be next to the words, it was that good.
Saturn Run is straight up science fiction, a thriller set about 50 years in the future. Technology has progressed quite a bit, but not out of the reach of today's knowledge. The US has a manned space station that can be routinely visited in a matter of hours. The Chinese are planning on a visit to Mars, ostensibly just to visit but it's an ill-kept secret that they're planning on colonizing.
Then Sandy Darlington, playboy reprobate whose job at Caltech Astrophysics Group was obviously purchased for him by his extremely wealthy father, notices an anomaly in one of Saturn's rings. He brings it to his superior's attention and it goes quickly up the chain of command to President Santeros. The object Darlington saw was decelerating, stopping in the ring. Aliens are no longer theoretical.
And the race is on. The Chinese scramble to repurpose their colony ship while the US tries to figure out how to retrofit the space station into an interstellar vehicle. Who gets to the technology out there, who makes First Contact, will determine the Earth's future, and each country is determined to be that superpower.
In addition to being a world-acclaimed photographer, Ctein is a physicist, and he made sure that the actual physics necessary to make those ships functional within a tight timeline actually work, and that they're understandable to those of us, like me, who didn't fare well in high school physics. There's an explanation at the back of the book that you MUST NOT READ until you've finished the book (serious spoilers), that explains how the two authors came up with the calculations and designs they ultimately utilized. It's fascinating and completely over my head, but I suspect engineers everywhere are going to go glassy-eyed considering possibilities.
That's not enough, though, to take this from a good book to a great one. John Sandford has a proven ear for dialogue, a talent for pacing and action and humor, and a true sense of story that makes Saturn Run the fabulous book it is. The breakneck pace and the ratcheting tension are further proof of his incredible talent, but it's the people. Oh good heavens, the people.
I cared. I cared about all of them. There's the possibility of a saboteur, and the idea that it could be one of these folks whom I have come to admire and trust was disturbing. Literally, I stayed up nights thinking about it, and I hated my conclusions. And I must admit to a tear or two during some of the scenes, I care that much. Just amazing. With a cast this big, keeping all the personalities separate and distinct takes huge talent, which Sandford has in spades.
In the interests of fairness and honesty, I have to admit there is one kind of clunky bit that I found a bit disappointing, but that's a small bit in comparison to the overall brilliance of the book, and I can say with absolute certainty that it will take something beyond spectacular to knock Saturn Run out of first place in my Best of the Year list.
Kelley Armstrong has taken the urban fantasy world by storm; she's a Big Deal in the vampire world. And her non-fantastical Nadia Stafford series about a great hit-woman are well-known to be some of my favorites.
Now Ms. Armstrong is tackling the Young Adult world with this first in a trilogy, Sea of Shadows and it's obvious she's going to have another bestselling series on her hands.
Twin sisters, Moria and Ashyn, have just turned sixteen and are ready to take up their official roles, Moria as Keeper, Ashyn as Seeker, in their village of Edgewood, which guards the Forest of the Dead. They are charged with helping the spirits that surround them, and once a year, the spirits in the Forest must be attended to. Paired with their bond-beasts, they're nervous but ready. After all, they've been trained, and while there's some danger, it should be fine.
Except this year, things go horribly wrong. And the first steps are taken in what may be a catastrophe from which no one may escape, with Moria and Ashyn unwillingly thrown into the forefront.
Kelley Armstrong is second to none in her ability to build tension and throw twists into her stories. She's unafraid of doing the hard thing, and that kept me reading well into the night. Her style is smooth and easy, but her story is complex and her characters are vivid and compelling. I can't wait to see what happens next! This is a series that will appeal to all ages and both genders, since there are some very strong male figures as well as the twin sisters we're following. And I'm really looking forward to seeing just how deep the bonds go between Moria and her wildcat, Daigo, and Ashyn and her giant hound, Tova. I suspect we haven't seen just what these two beasts are capable of yet, and that's going to be exciting!
Urban Waite’s Sometimes The Wolf is the follow-up to Urban’s critically acclaimed debut, The Terror of Living, but you don’t have to have read The Terror of Living first; Sometimes the Wolf stands on its own. Still, reading them in order is what I’d recommend!
Bobby Drake has lived under the shadow of his father, Patrick’s, conviction for smuggling drugs out of Canada. The fact that Bobby’s dad was sheriff, as Bobby himself is now, adds to the sting, and in a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business, so there’s no hiding from his family’s history. Now, after twelve years, Patrick is out on parole, which means that Bobby has to confront his own feelings since his dad is going to stay with them – Bobby and his wife, Sheri – until Patrick can get his feet under him.
But to survive in prison, Patrick had to make some unpleasant alliances, and two of them are coming after him. In addition, FBI Agent Driscoll is certain that Patrick was involved in other crimes besides smuggling drugs, and Driscoll is determined to bust Patrick for those past deeds.
Bobby doesn’t know who to trust, and when his dad runs, everything falls apart, and Bobby has to figure out what is going on, and what he really believes.
I fell for the characters in The Terror of Living, and it’s great to be back with them in Sometimes the Wolf. Getting to know Patrick, to see more of Driscoll and Sheri, to meet the other new characters in this second book, well, it’s coming back to see old friends and meet the new people in their lives. Granted, some of these people are pretty unpleasant, but that’s what makes it interesting.
It’s a tribute to Urban Waite’s talent for storytelling that I can say that his writing style drives the English teacher in me crazy. He uses incomplete sentences with wild abandon, and the staccato style, the short, choppy phrases do, at times, pop me out of the story. But I love the characters he’s created and the events in their lives so much that I can shake it off and dive back in. And I can’t deny that Urban’s style does raise the tension level in the book to incredible heights without sacrificing imagery. If anything, he’s found a way to make the images more vivid.
And one of the reasons I love this taste of Cascade Noir is the fact that everyone, good guys and bad guys alike, are nuanced. Okay, one bad guy is just out-and-out nasty, but everyone else has moments of strength and weaknesses that keep them from being cariactures and land solidly in the realm of real people. It’s one of Urban Waite’s absolute strengths, and why I always look forward to reading his work, choppy sentences and all.
Craig Johnson and Charles Dickens, the perfect combination, if you ask me. Craig's book, Spirit of Steamboat is a Christmas tale, interweaving snippets of A Christmas Carol into a beautiful and poignant tale of long ago and how it spins into now.
Walt's reading the Dickens classic in his office on the Tuesday before Christmas, the snow falling softly and Dog asleep by his side, when Ruby tells him there's a young lady who wants to talk to him.
"A dark-haired woman dressed in jeans and a long, elegant black wool coat stood in the doorway -- she was clutching a garment bag and smiling a nervous smile, and was small and delicately boned with pale skin and what looked like a hairline crack in the porcelain of her forehead, almost as if she'd been made of china and at one point dropped."
She refuses to give her name, but is really searching for Lucian Connally; she has something to give him. Walt takes her to see Lucian, and the story that is revealed is filled with typical Johnson heart, compassion and some seriously seat-edge action.
This is a beautiful, little book, and fans of Craig Johnson are going to want a copy of Spirit of Steamboat. It is signed on a tipped-in page, but we're positive Craig will be back in at some point -- probably next year (right, Craig?), and you can get it signed on the title page, if that's your style. But the heart of the book is one that will touch every Scrooge, and is perfect for the upcoming season of kindness and remembrance.
Robots! This book needs more robots!
Amber insisted I read Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, and she was absolutely right. It’s a hugely fun book, and it’s going to be a great hit. I hope we’ll get signed copies, but even if we don’t, this is a book to watch for.
It’s being marketed as “Snow White goes sci-fi”, which is true, but it’s not the traditional story, so you might as well tuck that into the back of your mind and simply enjoy the story as is. Essie is living in a mining colony on the planet Thanda, hiding from her past. She’s a talented computer tech, and she’s updated seven mining drones, each with its own personality and talents.
When an interplanetary shuttle crashes near her shack, Essie and her seven drones save the pilot but his presence becomes a challenge to her. And when she’s kidnapped, Essie has only her wits and her computer knowledge to save her from her past, which includes a truly wicked stepmother.
Stitching Snow is a fairy tale, no doubt about it, and the Snow White references are obvious, but getting caught up in the classic fairy tale could cause you to miss some of the subtleties and much-changed dynamics in this new tale. R. C. Lewis addresses some troubling issues that are no part of the older tale, and she handles them with care and sensitivity while never slowing down an action-packed story.
But I want more robots, darn it, and I sincerely hope she writes a sequel where the seven drones play a much bigger part!
"I wrapped my hand around my arm, squeezed hard. I'd spent almost half my life behind bars for a crime I didn't commit. The anger never really leaves you."
That's how we begin the journey with Toni Murphy, newly released murder convict. Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder of Toni's little sister, Nichole. They both maintained their innocence from the very beginning for the very good reason that they were, in fact, innocent.
Now Toni just wants to get on with her life outside the walls, but Ryan - from whom she is required by her parole to stay away - wants answers. He wants whoever killed Nichole to be brought to justice and for their names to be cleared.
Chevy Stevens' new novel, is her most powerful book yet, and I've read them all. The story bounces between Toni's time in prison, her life outside afterward, and those fateful high school years when everything went horribly wrong, ending with her sister's death. While it should sound confusing and hard to follow, Stevens has written so deftly that each segment flows easily into the next, and we see how Toni changes as events unfold. There are some sections that are troubling to read simply because Chevy Stevens has created real people in real situations, and she pulls no punches. It's wonderful!
If you like the hard-edged writing of Gillian Flynn, you're going to love That Night.
I read Chevy Stevens' new book, Those Girls in one sitting. Granted, I was up until 2:00 in the morning, but that didn't matter.
Three teenage sisters, Danielle (Dani) 17, Courtney 16, and Jessica (Jess) 14, are living a hardscrabble life on a farm in Canada. Their mom was killed in a car wreck and their dad, always unpredictable, has taken jobs that cause him to be gone for weeks at a time, which isn't a bad thing considering how much he drinks and his level of violence when he does and is home. But it also means they have no money, and the only way they can get by is working hard on the farm and lying about how much they're eating.
But one night, their dad's drunken rage goes over the top, and in the aftermath of the violence, the three girls have to run. And they run from bad to worse. Much, much worse.
Now, eighteen years later, all their fears, and everything they've been running from, may have caught up with them, ending the uneasy peace they've created for themselves.
I've loved Chevy Stevens' writing since her first book, that's no secret. But in Those Girls, she's tapped into a brutal, dark place that's sadly easy to imagine, and hard to shake. This is a fast read, a compelling book, but it is not for the faint of heart. The things that happen in these girls' lives are, unfortunately, far too common, I suspect, and Ms. Stevens doesn't shy away from the bad situations that can happen. The violence is never gratuitous but it is undeniably present, and is altogether realistic, which makes it even more compelling. No fantasy, no knights coming in to save the day, just three girls facing the unthinkable with only their drive for survival and their love for each other to keep them going.
Those Girls is powerful. It's daunting in many ways. But it's also infused with love and a hope that drives it forward, and that's why I couldn't stop reading it.
“Maybe everyone lives with terror every minute of every day and buries it, never stopping long enough to look. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m speaking here of your ordinary basic terrors, like the meaning of life or what if there’s no meaning at all, or what if somebody pushes the red-alert button, or the economy collapses and we turn into ravaging beasts fighting over food, not to mention the noises in an old house when boards creak and things go bump in the night. Sometimes I think we’re all tightrope walkers suspended n a wire two thousand feet in the air, and so long as we never look down we’re okay, but some of us lose momentum and look down for a second and are never quite the same again: we know.
“That’s why, when I found the note hidden in the old hurdy-gurdy, I didn’t take it as a joke. I could smell the terror in the words even before I’d finished reading the first sentence: They’re going to kill me soon – in a few hours, I think – and somehow they’ll arrange it so no one will ever guess I was murdered.’”
That’s the beginning of Dorothy Gilman’s The Tightrope Walker. Amelia Jones is a quietly polite, well mannered and somewhat terrified young lady who owns the Ebbtide Shop, Treasures and Junk, in Trafton, PA. When she finds the note in her hurdy-gurdy, Amelia discovers a strange need to know what happened to the writer of the note. She knows that whatever was going to happen has happened, she can’t change that. But still, she needs to know.
Most people are familiar with Dorothy Gilman’s “Mrs. Pollifax” series, and I do quite like it, but The Tightrope Walker is one of my absolute favorites and from time to time, I have to reread it. Amelia’s need to find out about Hannah, the author of the note, and the journey she takes, both physically and internally, have always left me feeling hopeful. It’s one of my go-to books when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by life, and it never disppoints.
People have been telling me to read Lilith Saintcrow for years, and I finally got around to it. I picked up the first in a new - trilogy? series? - and I see what everyone's been talking about.
In Trailer Park Fae, Saintcrow introduces us to Robin Ragged, a part-fae, part-mortal lady with a couple of gifts that make her special. Robin can Realmake objects, enchant them so they last rather than dissolve after a single use. But more importantly, Robin can sing, and when she does, she can kill. It's possible she can even kill immortals, her gift is so strong.
We also meet Jeremiah Gallow, also fae/mortal mix, with a deadly skill that he's been hiding. And his late mortal wife looked amazingly like Robin. But this isn't a love story, not really, although it will undoubtedly head that way. Instead, it's a novel of treachery and betrayal and mischief, with Robin the pawn and Gallow the unexpected player, one who wasn't expected to join the game, but now that he is, has changed everything.
Trailer Park Fae isn't a book for folks who are new to fantasy. Even with a glossary at the back, Lilith Saintcrow assumes her readers are quite familiar with the whole fae world, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, the Queen of Summer and the King of Winter, the various rules of gift and payment that the fae world demands. She's created a world where trust is more fragile than love and where double-crossing is expected and anticipated.
And she's thrown in two people who have good hearts and honest intentions, but who thoroughly know the rules of the game, and who cannot trust whatever attraction they might feel. Trailer Park Fae is dark and complex and beautifully written, and I'm sorry I haven't come to Lilith Saintcrow's writing before now. I also can't wait until January when the second book comes out!
I fell in love with the world Anne Bishop created in Written in Red so when the third in the series, Vision in Silver came out earlier this month, I decided to read them in order (the middle one is Murder of Crows).
Amber warned me that Ms. Bishop tends to work in trilogies, so this might be the end, but I've heard whispers that there's already a sequel and yet another in the works, which is great, because while the series *could* end here, I'm glad it won't. It's just too fabulous a place!
With the cassandra sangue freed, new trouble erupts because the girls really can't manage on their own. The Humans First and Last movement is gaining traction in an unpleasant and almost exponential way, putting the Courtyard at the focal point of all the trouble. Meg is still trying to deal with her addiction, and Simon is trying to cope with Meg, as well as try to get all the Others who deal with humans into a cohesive agreement about how to handle things. And war is brewing on another continent, but that trouble is already affecting everyone here on Thaisia.
I don't want to give too much away if you haven't read the first two, but I will say that not only do you learn more about the Blood Prophets, the cassandra sangue, but you learn a lot about the true power of the Earth Natives. You also get to learn more about the various capabilities of the Others, and - more importantly to me, being the one who falls for the characters - you'll get to learn more about the people. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that getting to meet Monty's daughter, Lizzie, is quite a treat, even if the circumstances are pretty awful.
With Vision in Silver, there's a subtle shift in focus for the next books, I think, more away from the Courtyard and into both the wider continent of Thaisia, along with what's going on globally. I hope she doesn't abandon our Courtyard family, but I wouldn't at all be surprised to see a much larger story arc begin with whatever happens next, and I can't wait!
Generally, I enjoy novels over short stories. I like being lost in someone's world for long stretches.
But sometimes short stories hit the spot, especially when they're set in a favorite world, so I really enjoyed Craig Johnson's Wait For Signs (no idea if we'll have signed copies, but fingers crossed). For years, Craig has gifted his friends with stories at Christmas, and this anthology has brought them together for the first time as a book, along with one entirely new story - you'll love Petunia! - and it's a nice dip into Walt Longmire's world.
I think they'll be a great sampler for folks who want to get to know what Craig Johnson's writing is like, but as someone who's familiar with Absaroka County, I found these little snippets of time spent with favorite characters was like a little vacation, a series of short visits with old friends.
Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and always entertaining, Wait for Signs is a complete delight. With an introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Henry Standing Bear in the television series, this is a short story collection you're not going to want to miss!
[JB concurs and says that the story “Messenger” is one of the funniest things he’s read in ages!]
I was looking for something fun, fast-paced, a little light-hearted, and entertaining.
The White Magic Five and Dime by Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco was just the thing!
Alanis McLachlan gets a serious surprise. Her mother, from whom she has been estranged for over 20 years, left her an inheritance - a tiny, New Agey shop in Berdache, Arizona. Alanis doesn't trust this gift from her mother with good reason - Athena was a master con artist. There's always a catch, there's always a mark, and Alanis is pretty sure her mother is setting her up as payback for her desertion, but Alanis is baffled as to how this last con is going to play out.
Further complications arise when Athena's death is called into question by the local sheriff, who has a disturbingly distracting effect on Alanis, and then there's the small matter of the teenager living in Athena's apartment. Alanis has to figure out who might want Athena (if that's her real name anyway) dead, and unsurprisingly, there are lots of suspects. After all, using tarot decks is a con, isn't it?
The White Magic Five and Dime is completely delightful, and I do hope Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco come back to this place and these people. Alanis is smart and funny and wistfully hopeful for one as cynical as she was raised to be. I like her a lot. And the other characters that populate Berdache are wonderfully diverse and quirky in the way you only get from small towns. For those of you who don't like "woo-woo" aspects to stories, there's really very little of the metaphysical going on here, although the possibility is certainly out there. But this tale is all about the people and how they do or don't play nicely with each other. And I have to say, there are some brilliant and glorious twists that I absolutely did not see coming, which made The White Magic Five and Dime even more wonderful!
In Windigo Thrall Cate Culpepper brings Grady and Elena, whom we met in River Walker (backordered, so reserve a copy for later!) from their home in New Mexico up to the Pacific Northwest to meet with one of Grady's professers and her girlfriend to study a Chippewa family that has moved from Minnesota to the base of Mount Rainier in an attempt to outrun a family curse. What should be a scholarly exercise -- with plenty of relaxation time in Jo's luxurious mountain retreat -- turns into something quite different. The curse of the Windigo that came with the Abequa family has turned its terrible hunger on the four women and their park ranger caretaker, Pat. But if you don't believe in a curse, can it hurt you anyway?
"They want us so badly." Elena rested her shoulder against the mantel. "Our ghosts are lonely for us. They are bonded so strongly to the people they left behind, they cannot bear the silence."
Full disclosure: I've known Cate since college, so my opinions are suspect. However, I'm not alone in knowing Cate can spin a tale. She's won three Golden Crown Literary Society Awards, a Lambda Literary award, a Lesbian Fiction Reader's Choice award and an Alice B. Medal for her writing, so I feel confident when I say that Windigo Thrall is a compelling read. I suspect it won't appeal to folks who aren't at least accepting of a lesbian-only cast, or to anyone who isn't interested in supernatural suspense, but if you're open to both, Windigo Thrall is great fun and perfect for this windy, cold time of year. And one of Cate's strengths is her abiltiy to craft characters with depth, strength, and flaws who can resonate, even when they're not immediately appealing.
I also enjoy her research into myths and legends. From La Llorona to the wendigo, her sympathy and understanding of the history of these stories shines through. I can't wait to see where she goes next with these great ladies!
On August 16th, 2007, I reviewed the first of Kelley Armstrong’s “Nadia Stafford” series, Exit Strategy. I fell for Nadia’s attitude, feistiness, and her whole story. With Wild Justice she concludes the series, and it is well worth your time!
For those who are unfamiliar with Nadia, she’s an ex-cop who got kicked off the force for a wrongful shooting. Now she runs a hunting lodge in Canada that’s not quite making ends meet, so she hires out to the Tomassini family as a sometime hit-woman. They respect that there are some jobs she won’t take for moral reasons, and they pay her enough to keep the lodge going.
Mentored by Jack, who is taciturn and who actually will take the dicier jobs, and watched over by Evelyn, the grandmotherly matriarch of the loose confederation of hit persons in the US, Wild Justice gives us a lot of Nadia’s backstory, and a solid look into Jack’s as well. Nadia’s ending a relationship with Quinn, the US Marshall who’s also a hitman known as the “Boy Scout” because of his refusal to take any job that is in any way questionable (he’s all about justice for those who have slipped through the system) when a hit Nadia takes goes badly, making her question herself.
In Wild Justice, when someone from her past, the man who killed her cousin, comes to light, Nadia has to examine just what she’s willing to do in her life as a hit woman.
Wild Justice examines some dark and brutal things, but it’s done so skilfully that the darkness never bogs down the narrative and the story simply flows along. This was one of the fastest, best reads I’ve had in quite some time. Kelley Armstrong has a true flair for sly humor and approaching bad situations uncompromisingly but with finesse. It’s hard to explain; you’ll just have to trust me.
Start with Exit Strategy, continue on with Made To Be Broken and finish up with Wild Justice. I suspect you’ll join me in hoping that somewhere down the line, Ms. Armstrong decides to come back to these great characters!
“My beloved aunt, Sara Harrison Shea, was brutally murdered in the winter of 1908. She was thirty-one years old.”
That’s the beginning of The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, a story told in two timelines, both in 1908 and present time.
“I believe that, as fantastical as the story my aunt tells may be, it is indeed fact, not fiction. My aunt, contrary to popular belief, was of sound mind.”
The story follows the days leading up to Sara’s death in 1908, skilfully interwoven with modern day Ruthie’s story. Ruthie and her family live in Sara’s Vermont farmhouse, and both stories revolve around losing someone. Sara’s daughter, Gertie, vanishes in the snow, and Ruthie’s mother is missing. How the two disappearances connect, and the resulting impacts on both families, is at the heart of the book.
I began reading The Winter People believing it to be a psychological suspense/ghost story, much in the style of John Connolly, but Jennifer McMahon takes her story in an unexpected and completely excellent direction. It doesn’t fall under the heading of horror, although the things that happen are quietly horrible, and the suspence builds beautifully. It is a decidedly creepy book.
What resonated for me in The Winter People is how beautifully Jennifer McMahon addresses the question of just what you would do for love, how far you would go, what lies would you tell, what secrets would you keep?
If you like Connolly’s “Charlie Parker” series, this is a book that will capture your interest. And you’ll want to know the answer to the question, “Ask him what he buried in the field…”. I promise!
In some ways, I think the new "Charlie Parker" book by John Connolly, The Wolf in Winter is a transition book. And that's not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination!
The small Maine town of Prosperous has lived up to its name. For the most part, financial hard times have passed it by and its people are thriving, almost as if the town itself is guarding them. So a missing girl and the death of a homeless man in Portland shouldn't have an impact on Prosperous, and neither event should attract the attention of Charlie Parker, and yet they do. The secret that Prosperous is hiding is one that they'll do anything to keep. What's one lone detective against that?
The events that unfold in The Wolf in Winter tell us a lot about Charlie, make for some interesting and unexpected bedfellows, and are keep-you-up-at-night intense. There are some things I saw coming, some I didn't see at all (which is always great!), and by the end, I was left wanting the next book because I can't wait to see what happens next.
And it's all about the people. Not just Charlie, who is the bedrock of the series, but all those around him, from the folks at the Bear - and I'm thinking specifically of the Fulcis, who both reassure and terrify me - Ronald Straydeer, and Angel and Louis, but others as well, including The Collector. Even the baddest of the bad guys are three dimensional and complex, and I'm always interested to see who the new players will be. The folks of Prosperous, including the board of selectmen, are all fascinating, and while some may not be the kinds of folks you'd want to hang out with, their sense of duty and dedication is inspiring, if creepy.
That's what keeps me coming back to John Connolly's books, the people. And his ability to tell a first-class story!
If you've been following Henry "Hank" Palace's journey through pre-asteroid life, the third, and last, in the "Last Policeman" trilogy is not to be missed. Ben H. Winters has created a wonderful series and the resolution given to us in World of Trouble is exactly right.
Hank and his faithful dog, Houdini, have gone on one last search, for Hank's sister, Nico. Hank has always felt obligated to look after Nico, and as Maia approaches on her deadly path, Hank has to find out where Nico is and whether or not her passionate assertions about whether or not the asteroid can be stopped have any truth.
"It was not the impending end of the world that drove a wedge between my sister and myself, it was our diverging responses to the end of the world, a bedrock disagreement respecting the basic reality of what is happening - i.e., whether it is happening or isn't."
You might be tempted to cheat on this one, just to see how things end up. Don't. Really. The story unfolds just perfectly and the way Ben Winters has created a truly satisfying story arc. There are surprises and some truly wonderful and memorable characters in the entire series, and some of them are introduced in World of Trouble. There are surprises -- both good and bad -- and of course there's danger around every corner at this stage of events. But Winters takes us through this last book with deft and perfect timing. It's a headlong ride that doesn't rush. Most importantly, World of Trouble avoids being maudlin nor does it jump the shark.
The whole "Last Policeman" trilogy is one of the best series I've read in a long time, one that will stand re-reading (if you're that sort of person, which I am). Ben H. Winters has created something wonderful and special, and I highly recommend it!
It takes me a while sometimes, but I do learn. When Amber strongly recommends I read something, she knows I'm going to like it. Ernest Cline's Ready Player One? Favorite for that year. Jasper Fforde's The Last Dragonslayer? Read it in one sitting. Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown? Absolutely brilliant.
So when she started vibrating about Anne Bishop's Written in Red, I didn't even fight it. I waited until I had a plane trip ahead of me and snagged it. And again, she was absolutely right.
The land is nominally the United States, an alternate universe perhaps. And in this land, humans are simply clever meat to the were-creatures, vampires and Others that control the land. But it's by being clever that humans have survived and have established cities, trading goods and innovative creations for a chance to live. But make no mistake, humans are still food, and in the Courtyard, where the Others and humans interact, if a rule is broken by a human, the penalty is swift, permanent and without recourse. In the cities, human law prevails (mostly, and at the whim of the Others), but in the Courtyard and away from human cities? Humans are prey.
Meg Corbyn stumbles into the Lakeside Courtyard one winter evening, fighting her way through a blizzard looking for shelter. Werewolf and leader of the Courtyard, Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to take her in, but he's intrigued. She doesn't smell like prey; in fact, she seems to decidedly be "not-prey" even though she’s human, and he's puzzled. Besides, the Courtyard needs a human liaison, so he hires her, figuring to sniff out her secrets in time.
But Meg's no ordinary human, and the people she's running from are powerful. You see, Meg's a "cassandra sangue", a blood prophet. When her skin is cut, she can prophesy the future, and Meg's one of the best. She's managed to escape from her Controller and the compound where the blood prophets are kept "for their own good", and they want her back. And they're willing to challenge the Others for her, no matter what the cost.
This is the first in a series, and it's fantastic. Anne Bishop manages to capture how truly different the Others are, how completely alien their thought processes can be while still making them sympathetic and relatable, which is no small feat. The vampires, the shapeshifters (not just wolves but all kinds of creatures), the Elementals, all the other types of Creatures - and I suspect there are many yet to meet - are fascinating in their own rights. The relationships Bishop has created between the Others and humans is intricate, a political dance on a knife's edge, and is complex and fascinating.
I can't wait to read more in this series, and once again, Amber has suckered me into a new author whom I love!