Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I'll take my post-apocalyptic zombie fic with a side of Southern Gothic, please!

The Reapers are the Angels

Alden Bell

Holt Paperbacks

Reviewed by: Terry 

3.5 - 4 out of 5 stars


Well, I gotta say I didn't expect that ending.

_The Reapers are the Angels_ is my first foray into the très au courant genre of zombie apocalypse. It was a fortunate choice and I can only hope I enjoy other forays into the genre as much. One thing I can say is that it’s definitely a real page-turner . The story of Temple, the young bad-ass action-grrl born into a world after the rise of the undead, is compelling and engrossing and has definitely got velocity. Temple herself is interesting, a strangely positive girl despite the darkness of her past and the violence of both her world and her deeper character. She's a strange oxymoron, an optimist who seethes under the surface with supressed rage. I suppose she could be seen as yet another product of the Buffy/Katniss/whatever-action-grrl-of-the-moment template, but I thought she generally came across as being much more real than that stereotype would imply. She may be a warrior princess of sorts, but Temple has a certain naïve charm that sets her apart and she rarely goes looking for trouble, though of course it often finds her. Temple is also interesting in that she was born into the world of the apocalypse, so the status quo doesn’t disturb her in the same way as it does the survivors from the old time. She doesn’t see the world as a punishment and a curse, but rather as a gift. She sees the hand of God in everything and even the fact of the shambling dead is a miracle when you look at it from the right angle. It’s an interesting perspective however off-the-wall it might seem.

The other major element of the novel is its prose. The southern twang that nearly drips off the page is a joy to read and makes the novel seem, on the one hand, very literary. Yet there was another element to it that kept breaking through in the back of my mind and which occasionally broke the spell of the prose itself: this is also a novel that very much reads as though it were written with the cinematic version strongly in mind. At times it is almost like a movie treatment for the soon-to-be-produced vehicle starring the next Jennifer Lawrence as Temple (maybe Chloe Moretz? She’s young enough and certainly her stint as Hitgirl in ‘Kickass’ gives her some of the required experience in extreme violence). This isn’t exactly a bad thing, I guess, and the author is welcome to any income he can derive from his work, but it was a little distracting sometimes to think “ah yes, I can just see the dollar signs in the author’s eyes as he wrote this scene just for the big screen.” Unfair of me maybe, I don’t know, but it was a feeling I definitely got from time to time while reading. That said, this is still a great novel to read and it’s simply filled with the poetic palaver of the South so mellifluous to Northern ears.

Aside from being both a quest road-trip and the story of a young girl (who’s really more of an adult in all but the most literal temporal sense) coping with her past as she faces her future it is also, as others have pointed out, definitely a story about the American landscape. It’s a blasted and decayed landscape, but one where the character of its past still shines through in what remains. Ironically it seems to be those who are most willing to let go of this geographical memory that are most likely to succeed in this new world as opposed to the hopeless dreamers trying to claw their way back to the world of civilization and who pretend that their little enclaves of the old world are anything other than a fantasy.

I’ll conclude by saying that Alden Bell also did a great job of building up his characters and even those who had little more than a walk-on were generally interesting and unique. A shout-out has to go to Moses Todd one of the better villains (or perhaps I really ought to call him an antagonist) I’ve come across in awhile. He’s nearly as compelling as Temple and seeing the two of them together was nearly always a treat. I’m surprised to see this listed as book one in a series, but I’m willing to go along with Bell in his further forays across the twisted landscape of undead America.

Also posted at Goodreads

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

More than seven questions with James Moore

Today's guest is James Moore, author of the upcoming Seven Forges.

How long was Seven Forges in your head before you put pen to paper?
I was batting the idea around for a little over six months before I finally broke down and started writing anything. That’s not really unusual for me. If I think of something I usually wait a while to see if the idea sticks. I have ideas all the time. It’s a matter of seeing which ones are worth revisiting.

How did you hook up with Angry Robot?
I had a friend of mine who sometimes works as my first reader suggest them to me as a good fit for SEVEN FORGES. So I picked up a few of their books to see what sort of stuff they were doing and then decided he was right.

What are the big inspirations behind Seven Forges?
Honestly, I just wanted to do something different. Something that was a change of pace for me. And I love the idea of a serious culture clash. I started toying with the differences between a large and complacent world power and a smaller but very, very hungry nation and my mind sort of ran off in its own direction.

How many books in the series do you have planned?
I’m currently contracted for two novels, but honestly I have at least a dozen stories bouncing in the back of my head. I am already in love with Fellein and with the Blasted Lands.

Who would you cast in a Seven Forges movie?
Heh heh heh. Let’s see. Vin Diesel, James Purefoy, Jason Momoa, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansen, Tom Hiddelston, Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Craig, Emma Stone, Emma Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julianne Moore, Andrew Garfield, Hugh Jackman….I can think of any number of possibilities.

What are you reading now? 
Westlake Soul, by Rio Youers. I just finished The Language of the Dying by Sarah Pinborough. Before that it was Joyland by Stephen King. All three are excellent.

What is your favorite book of all time?
One book? GAH! Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury.

What writer would you say is your biggest influence?
Over all? Stephen King.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach made me believe I could be a writer. The World According to Garp by John Irving made me fall in love with the written word.

Any non-series books in the works? 
A couple planned. I’m currently working on the sequel to Seven Forges, tentatively called The Chosen. I’m also working on a novel called Boom Town, a novel called Fresh Kill and a collaborative novel tentatively called The Suburbs of Hell. I also plan on working on about three more novels in the immediate future. I like to stay busy.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Read every day. Read different types of books. Expand your horizons. Write for yourself. Always write for yourself. No exceptions. If YOU do not like your book you readers most likely won’t like it either. Write every day. Every day. Finish the book and THEN edit. Do not edit while writing the first draft or you risk never finishing the book.

Automatons and Aerostats - An Interview with David Barnett

Today's guest is David Barnett, author of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl.

How long was Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl in your head before you put pen to paper?
Gideon was one of those weird books that kind of burst forth fully formed; well, not really, obviously, but as soon as I started thinking about what I wanted to do I almost immediately had the bones of the story mapped out. It was only when I started putting flesh on the bones that it emerged I was sort of writing about the nature of heroism and heroes.

How did you hook up with Tor?
When I’d finished the first book, or at least the first full draft of it, I sent it to my amazing agent John Jarrold who started to put it out. Claire Eddy at Tor came back very quickly and expressed interest, and we decided to work with them, which was an excellent decision. Claire is an excellent editor and Tor are right behind the Gideon books.  The book will be published simultaneously in the UK by Snowbooks, and Emma Barnes there has done a great job on a completely different cover design.

What are the big inspirations behind Gideon Smith?
Not so much current steampunk fiction but more Victorian adventure literature in general and specifically the pulps and penny dreadful – Boy’s Own adventure stories, the derring-do of square-jawed, flag-waving defenders of the Empire, which I wanted to get under the skin of.

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl isn't your first trip to the rodeo. What made you want to write a steampunk book?
I never sat down and said, “Right, going to do steampunk next”. I wanted to write a full-blooded, head-down, charging at 100mph adventure story, but with modern literary sensibilities. The Victorian era fit the bill nicely as the world was still a new, exciting and in some cases undiscovered place, but society and people are recognizable to us today. The steampunk gloss came from necessity – I wanted to shift characters across the world pretty quickly, and the old steampunk trope of airships came in handy for that. Then I started messing about with alternate history, and Gideon’s world kind of emerged from that.

How many books in the series do you have planned?
Tor have bought three Gideon novels. The second one is Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, out in June 2014, and the third is as yet untitled but out, I think, in February 2015. They’re all standalone novels but they do form part of a longer story arc. I reckon six books in total should tell the first story arc, but whether that happens largely depends, I suppose, on sales of the first three.

Who would you cast in a Gideon Smith movie?
I answered this question recently on a blog post (with pictures!)

What are you reading now? 
Just been re-reading a load of Kerouac novels for a piece I did for the Guardian newspaper; currently reading Charles Stross’s The Bloodline Feud (first two books of his Family Trade series). Think I’ll be looking at Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes next.

What is your favorite book of all time?
God, impossible to say. Changes on a daily basis. I do always have a soft spot for Kerouac’s On The Road, and I re-read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes every Halloween. I also love RA Lafferty’s Fourth Mansions, which is bonkers.

What writer would you say is your biggest influence?
I don’t think I am inspired by actual books or writing, but very often by writers and what they say, if that makes sense? In other words, I don’t look at other books and think, Hmm, I’d like to write something like that. I recently interviewed Neil Gaiman and found him hugely inspiring – he started off in newspapers and I work as a journalist by day, and pretty much every thing he says about writing and creativity chimes with me.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
Probably John Irving’s The World According To Garp. Beautiful, weird and human.

Any non-series books in the works? 
Yeah, I’ve got a few that I wrote pre-Gideon which weren’t published which I still think are great, though they probably need a fresh look at them. I’ve got stacks of ideas and half-started works, but it kind of depends on how Gideon does, whether Tor want any more books out of me, and what they’d like to see. Everything I write has some kind of fantastical elements, but I can’t see at the moment that I’d write non-Gideon steampunk.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was the seventh book that I submitted to my agent John Jarrold, and the first one to get a major publishing deal. Some writers are overnight successes and earn six-figure sums based on one chapter of a book. I’m not one of those writers, and probably no-one reading this is either. An obvious piece of advice: If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write. A perhaps less-obvious piece of advice: If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to keep writing, even when you’ve papered your spare room with rejection slips and it feels like the whole world is telling you it isn't worth the effort.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Return to Blue Deer, Montana

This is the second of Jamie Harrison's quirky mysteries set in the small fictional town of Blue Deer, which is nestled up against the Crazy Mountains in southwestern Montana. All the principal characters from the first book, The Edge Of The Crazies, appear again, including the county's laid-back sheriff, Jules Clements, who is the main protagonist.

It's now the middle of summer, and Jules and his fellow townspeople are gearing up for the annual Wrangle, a rodeo that draws large numbers of tourist...more

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Reviewed by James This is the second of Jamie Harrison's quirky mysteries set in the small fictional town of Blue Deer, which is nestled up against the Crazy Mountains in southwestern Montana. All the principal characters from the first book, The Edge Of The Crazies, appear again, including the county's laid-back sheriff, Jules Clements, who is the main protagonist.

It's now the middle of summer, and Jules and his fellow townspeople are gearing up for the annual Wrangle, a rodeo that draws large numbers of tourists into the small community for a party that, even under the best of circumstances, can be a headache for the tiny sheriff's department.

Things begin to go downhill in a big way when someone reports a tent floating in a reservoir near Blue Deer. Jules heads out to investigate, anticipating a nice, lazy afternoon away from the office. But when it turns out that there are two bodies floating inside the tent, Jules' lazy afternoon quickly melts away.

The victims are a local environmental attorney, Otto Scobey, and his young girlfriend who had been camping near the reservoir. It quickly becomes apparent that their deaths were no accident; someone in a very large truck ran over the tent and then pushed it and its occupants into the water.

The dead lawyer had been a principal in the development of a major new resort complex. Everyone insists that Otto was well liked, that he had no problems, and that he was totally cool with the fact that his ex-wife, Sylvia, also a partner in the development, was now in a relationship with film director Hugh Lesy, the third major partner.

As Jules investigates, however, he senses problems below the surface of the relationship among the resort's developers. While he attempts to tease out the truth of the relationship and find the killer, he's also forced to deal with a wide variety of other eccentric characters who have made their way to Blue Deer, including a sexy blonde who quickly has Jules in her sights. Jules' problems will only multiply several times over when the Wrangle commences and the fun really begins.

Jamie Harrison has woven here another entertaining story set against the background of the new West where, in places like Blue Deer, Hollywood celebrities and other newcomers are mixing with long-time natives, not always harmoniously. Jules Clement would remind no one of Matt Dillon or of any other Old West lawman and it's great fun to get reacquainted with him and the other characters who populated the first book in this series. Anyone who enjoyed The Edge of the Crazies will certainly want to find Going Local.

Sex & Murder

Small Town
by Lawrence Block

Reviewed by Kemper
3 out of 5 stars.

Apparently one of my favorite mystery writers has a bit of a kinky side.

This one seriously shocked me when I first read it back in 2002.  Part of this was because Lawrence Block represents New York to me in a lot of ways, and it seemed like this book was his response to 9/11.  While the shadow of that day hangs over everything, it was odd to find that a big part of the story also involved nipple rings, bondage and various sex toys.

The story starts several months after the Twin Towers collapsed.  The body of a murdered woman is discovered in her apartment, and a writer named John Blair Creighton is arrested since he admits that he went home with her after they met in a bar.  Art gallery owner Susan Pomerance gets fascinated by the case since the woman had been her realtor, and her morbid curiosity about the murder and Creighton comes as she discovers an increasing desire for new sexual experiences. Former police commissioner Francis Buckram is bored and killing time with public speaking engagements and considering running for mayor in the next election.

A series of shocking murders occur by a man the press dubs The Carpenter because of his use of a hammer as a weapon. Block reveals to the reader that killer was just another retired middle-aged New Yorker who lost his entire family because of 9/11, and now that grief has transformed into an insane belief that the city requires a series of sacrifices to sustain itself.

When a link is made from The Carpenter’s killings to the death of the realtor, Creighton becomes a celebrity and his stalled writing career takes off. Susan meets Buckram and seduces him with a dominatrix routine that shocks and thrills him.  Susan also continues to be obsessed with Creighton while Buckram is fascinated by the manhunt for The Carpenter.  Meanwhile, Creighton begins to enjoy his new found fame while having doubts about if he actually did kill the realtor while in an alcoholic blackout.

Block does a nice job of developing all of these characters and many more supporting players like a gay alcoholic cleaner who discovered the first body and finds himself an unwitting player in The Carpenter’s delusions.  By putting together a series of chance encounters that have profound impacts on those involved, Block really does sell the idea that New York is really a small town when viewed from insides these webs of relationships.   I particularly enjoyed the story of how Creighton’s shame at being accused of murder turns into the best thing for his life and career.

But damn there’s a lot of sex in this…..

Susan’s erotic adventures include a wide variety of encounters and Block spares no detail.  It’s the same type of stuff he’s done in other books like Getting Off, but where he combined sex and murder seamlessly in that one, he never quite gets the same thing going here.  Susan’s story seems removed and distant from what else is going on in the book despite her  being one of the key links between everyone.  Going from a story about a man driven mad by 9/11 and showing how this effects various New Yorkers just doesn’t fit with the sexual encounters of a woman exploring her kinky side.

I think part of my disappointment stems from the notion that this was going to be Block delving into what 9/11 did to New York, but other than The Carpenter, none of the characters make anything other than causal remarks or observations about how the city has changed since.  For me, Block had deeper and more meaningful things to say about the subject when he wrote about how his professional killer character Keller reacted in Hit Parade.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

We Interrupt this Blog to Bring You a Special Announcement

Eric Schlosser


Recommended to Carol by: Nutrition class.
Recommended for: people who eat
Read from June 28 to July 13, 2013 
Four stars


Oh, America. When will you wise up?

In 1998, the seed of Fast Food Nation appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine. Schlosser's expose has since been expanded to a book and then a movie, and still international love affair with fast food continues. The latest edition also contains an afterword addressing 'mad cow disease,' or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. In it, Schlosser accomplishes the almost Herculean task of weaving together the birth of the fast food industry, the growing connection with car and highway culture, the growth of kid-targeted marketing (McDonalds and Disney were early leaders), the developing connection between the industrialization of our food and family farmers (particularly chicken, potato and beef), the anti-union connection and the development of the engineered food product. I liked it more than I thought it would; expecting a didactic cardboard entree, I was provided with a seven-course meal.

He shows true journalistic roots by beginning sections with a human-interest angle, from the beginning with Carl Karcher (Carl's Jr.) and Richard McDonald, to the potato kingpin J.R. Simplot, to a Colorado rancher fighting to protect his ranch against enroaching suburbs, to a union representative fighting for safer conditions in slaughterhouses. If there was any weakness in the book, it would be the challenge in bridging the stories from the individual to the larger philosophical and systemic issue. I understand the human face helps a reader create meaning, but for me it occasionally felt contrived, particularly in the international settings.

For me, there was an especially powerful moment of revelation when Schlosser points out the drawback of dealing with corporations, not local owners:
"The nation's meatpacking firms, on the other hand, have proven themselves to be far less committed to remaining in a particular community. They have successfully pitted one economically depressed region against another, using the threat of plant closures and the promise of future investment to obtain lucrative government subsidies. No longer locally owned, they feel no allegiance to any one place."

Doesn't that just about sums up the state of industry in the U.S.? The only times a corporation can't cut and run is when it depends on a highly skilled workforce. It's one reason the "create jobs" political platforms make me a little crazy.

I found myself wishing this was required reading. It's not that I'm opposed to fast food; I'm opposed to a lack of informed choice. Full disclosure should include understanding some important points from Fast Food Nation:

1) Flavor experts are utilized to create the optimal taste combination that hits our salty-fat-sweet spot. Thus chicken pieces contain an average of 30 different ingredients, of which salt has been added in at least three different steps and an artificial strawberry shake contains over 28 ingredients (
2) the industry has been key in fighting against food regulation and testing, even when known outbreaks of E.coli in school lunches have killed children
3) the burger is sourced from cattle feedlots, where 75% of the pre-cooked meat contained microbes normally found in fecal material
4) companies specifically target children so that they can manipulate their parents into taking them against parents' better judgement
5) potatoes and chicken come from marginalized farmers who are basically one step up from indentured workers, buying raw ingredients from the company and selling the 'grown' product back to them, and insulating the company against risks such as weather, crop failure or disease
6) companies target teens and non-English speakers as workers because they are less liable to demand 'rights' or 'living wages,' and still the company gets a tax break for 'training'
7) absolutely, positively, there is no way to eat healthily at McDonald's with the exception of: a side salad (no dressing), fruit and yogurt parfait (5.2 oz), grilled premium chicken classic sandwich, apple slices and egg whites. (
You may be healthy in spite of the food, but not because of the food.

Again, not saying I condone the choice--I have my once-a-year Shamrock shake, and an intermittent fry craving, proving just how great childhood marketing is and the lure of salty-sweet carb goodness. Less than 5 stars is because for me, the journalistic style over-reached, especially on the section on the German McDonald's, both in Eastern Germany and the one near Dachau as well as Gorbechev speaking at a Las Vegas convention of franchise owners. But overall, it was an excellent book, entertaining and insightful. Reading it gave voice to my intuitive feeling that there is something rotten in the system.

Cross posted at

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bronx Noir

S.J. Rozan, Editor 
Reviewed by: Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Brand-new stories by: Thomas Adcock, Kevin Baker, Thomas Bentil, Lawrence Block, Jerome Charyn, Suzanne Chazin, Terrence Cheng, Ed Dee, Joanne Dobson, Robert Hughes, Marlon James, Sandra Kitt, Rita Laken, Miles Marshall Lewis, Pat Picciarelli, Abraham Rodriguez Jr., S.J. Rozan, Steven Torres, and Joe Wallace.

My Review

After reading Kemper's review of Kansas City Noir, I was intrigued by this series of books featuring stories that take place in different cities in the US. After exploring the Akashic Books site, I learned that there are quite a few interesting international locations too. So I decided to start with the Bronx, since that was where I spent much of my childhood, and I figured this would be a great opportunity to visit the city without actually having to drive there.

When I borrowed the book from the library and scanned the pages, the first thing I did was look at the author photos in the back and read their bios. Some are well-known writers, others not so much. I was thrilled at the diversity of the authors, much like the city I grew up in.  

The Bronx doesn’t disappoint. It is as grimy, unforgiving, noisy and rough as I remember it. The 70’s and 80’s were a particularly bad time to be there, with all the crime, poverty, graffiti, and burnt-out buildings. I’m really hoping the city has changed for the better and will find out this weekend when I visit my uncle in Riverdale. Somehow I can’t imagine that Mott Haven or Hunts Point have become desirable places to live; maybe in another 30 or 40 years. 

The stories were suitably bleak and moody, just as I would expect from a noir collection. There were some really terrific stories here. Others were rather forgettable. One of the standouts in this collection was Terrence Cheng’s Gold Mountain, about a Chinese delivery guy and the professor who gives him a good tip. It’s very dark, full of lonely, sad, desperate people looking for a better life. Having only known a few Chinese people when I was living in the Bronx, I appreciated this story told from a Chinese perspective. Think twice before letting someone deliver your supper. 

Kevin Baker’s Three Cheers Like Waves made me glad I never lived near Yankee Stadium. It was bad enough seeing and hearing the rumbling graffiti-covered trains while I was standing out on the fire escape of the 5-story red brick walk-up on Walton Avenue I called home. This is a story about young love gone wrong and loud baseball games that cover up a multitude of sins.  

S. J. Rozan’s Hothouse takes place at the Botanical Garden during freezing cold and blizzard conditions. The fragile lives of humans and plants are put to the test. This made me sad…and cold…and sympathetic to the bad guy. One of my favorites in this collection.  

R.J. Hughes A Visit to St. Nick’s reminded me of the church I used to go to with my friend and the white-haired Irish priest who’d give us each a little sip of Manischewitz wine after mass. This is about family relationships, friendship, the mysticism of the Catholic Church, boys who find creative places to store their stash, and the girls who know their dirty secrets.  

Patrick W. Picciarelli’s The Prince of Arthur Avenue was a most unusual gangster story.  

All in all, a very worthy collection of stories that brought back a lot of memories of my childhood in the Bronx. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska and wonder if there are any noir stories set in Fairbanks.

 Also posted at Goodreads.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Oh, I Wish I Weren't in the (Make-Believe) Land of Cotton . . .

Salting Roses
by Lorelle Marinello
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks

1 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

Salting Roses purports to be a novel brimming with Southern charm. Oh, it's brimming alright. Ridiculously so. Welcome to the land of Southern stereotypes and Bible Belt cliches. This is right up there in Sweet Home Alabama territory and if Reese Witherspoon is looking for another romantic jaunt in a charming make-believe South, here it is. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm not the target audience for this novel, so maybe it's unfair for me to proceed from here. But like that's ever stopped me before.

As a baby, Gracie Lynne Calloway was left in a bucket on her uncle's doorstep with a note from her mother asking him to watch her for a spell. A spell soon turns into 25 years and Gracie, now an adult and nursing old emotional wounds from being labeled the town bastard of Shady Grove, Alabama, is in for a shock--she's not who she always thought she was. A stranger (who is literally tall, dark, and handsome, just in case we miss that he's our prospective love interest) brings her the news that she's actually the kidnapped daughter of the wealthy financier Conrad Hammond of Connecticut. She has been named the sole heir of $650 million dollars. What's a simple Southern girl with a love of baseball and a cushy job in the backroom of the local grocery store to do? Why, turn it down, of course! Because if she accepted it, there would be no plot complications and we wouldn't have this trite little novel. Gracie has been raised to distrust those born with a silver spoon firmly in mouth and fears the money will bring too many problems to her quiet and unexceptional life. Yeah, I'm not buying what they're selling here. $650 million dollars? Who wouldn't accept that? At least one could accept it and proceed to do a lot of philanthropic good (of course, I would just use it to wallow in pure hedonism, but different strokes for different folks).

There are several things that ruined the book for me:

A) These are all stock Southern characters that are presented as though they are supposed to be quirky. They're not. They don't even dance around the edges of eccentric. We've seen them a thousand times before in literature and in movies. If you're going to play up the quirk factor in Southern literature, go big or go home.

B) I'm not a fan of romance novels and had I known this was a romance in Southern fiction clothing, I would have ran the other way. However, even I know that in a good romance novel there has to be some will-they-won't-they tension. There's none here. We know as soon as Sam Fontana walks in the door and Gracie starts having dirty thoughts that he's the man she's been waiting for. And if you're pissed over a plot spoiler, be upset with the novel--it makes no pretense that it will turn out otherwise. There's not even the introduction of another prospective suitor to throw the seasoned romance reader off track.

C) Serious crimes against vocabulary in the overuse of the following words: sass, sassy, Yankee, princess, and sugah. Apparently,we're all sassy down South and we hates us a Yankee. Foghorn Leghorn has more character complexity.

D) A plot that gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on. If this had been reined in a bit and been a realistic portrayal of realistic people then something could have been salvaged. As it is, when I managed to suspend disbelief long enough to wrap my mind around one nugget of ludicrousness, here came a side order of absurdity.

I like Southern fiction when it's done well. If you're looking for good Southern/regional chick lit, might I suggest The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, or Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. If you're looking for authentic Southern lit, read Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell, True Grit by Charles Portis, Ava's Man or All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg, or anything Larry Brown. They're all preferable to Gracie and her whining about being a $650 million dollar princess. Now, I'm gonna go put me some sugah in a glass of iced tea and sass some poor unsuspecting soul. I hope it's a Yankee.

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon, Review the Fifth

TRIAL OF FLOWERS (The City Imperishable #1)
Night Shade Books
$14.95 trade paper, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: The City Imperishable's secret master and heir to the long-vacant throne has vanished from a locked room, as politics have turned deadly in a bid to revive the city's long-vanished empire.

The city's dwarfs, stunted from spending their childhoods in confining boxes, are restive. Bijaz the Dwarf, leader of the Sewn faction among the dwarfs, fights their persecution. Jason the Factor, friend and apprentice to the missing master, works to maintain stability in the absence of a guiding hand. Imago of Lockwood struggles to revive the office of Lord Mayor in a bid to turn the City Imperishable away from the path of destruction.

These three must contend with one another as they race to resolve the threats to the city.

My Review: What a trip. The back cover copy calls it an "urban fantasy," which to my mind doesn't conjure images of Perdido Street Station (which this book reminds me of) so much as it does Dead Until Dark et. seq. But the key factor here is to be found in the word "fantasy."

I read a fantasy novel.

There, I said it.

I not only read it, I enjoyed it. BUT DON'T FOR GAWD'S SAKE TELL ANYONE. I will swear an oath that you're lying and that you must be the one who hacked my account and wrote a glowing heap of praise for a book with dwarves, an ancient city declining under an empty throne, a reluctant hero...well, you see my predicament. I can't admit out loud that I liked this kind of guff. "The city is," runs the motto Lake gives the City Imperishable. Yeeesh, really? Portentous much?

But seriously, who wouldn't like a book with this in it:
There was nothing left of himself that he wanted, save the vague glimmer of peace that he found somewhere inside the violet smoke. Finally he understood the place to which his wife had long since retreated.
Sometimes, when the snow was not so deep and he'd managed a little soup or coffee, {he} thought about making his way {home} and apologizing to his wife. He wasn't sure she'd understand him though--the crap dust had begun to rot his teeth, getting in all too quickly through the breaks, and his tongue was always dry as leather and twice too big.
The abjection of a powerful character, the absolute fall, the hitting bottom with a resounding *crunch* is unsettlingly well-limned.

And some regulars among you might recall my utterances on the subject of majgicqk. They have been uniformly derisory and occasionally cachinnatory. But here again Lake subverts and alters my wall of defense against balderdash:
"Everything carries the seeds of its own opposition, in equal measure. Have you ever toppled a wall? ... You must press as much as it takes to move the stones. They react as they are pushed. What people care to call magic works the same way. No one calls lightning from the summer sky without burning a hole in something, somewhere."
When you put it that way....

The City Imperishable is, like all places and cultures, built on a bargain. The bargain has costs and it has benefits. Those who pay the costs aren't always the ones who reap the benefits. Each main character, Bijaz the dwarf, Imago the Lord Mayor, and Jason the fector, pays dearly for the City Imperishable to derive the final benefit: Remaining alive. But each of these men, in their turn, finds a greater benefit in his sacrifice. They become whole in their brokenness, and anneal the metal of their character, and in the testing of their different mettles, bring life raging anew through the City Imperishable.

The city is.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Last Child

The Last ChildThe Last Child by John Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A year after his twin sister disappeared, thirteen year old Johnny Merrimon is still looking for her. His father has ran out on the family out of guilt and his mother is hooked on pills and shacked up with an abusive scumbag. The only other people who seem to care are Johnny's best friend Jack and a burned out cop named Clyde Hunt. Until another girl disappears...

My girlfriend recommended this. She's pretty wise.

The Last Child is a mystery about a missing girl in a small town but it's also a lot more than that. It's the story of what happens to a family who suffers senseless loss with nowhere to turn. It's the story about a cop so obsessed with a case that his life falls apart. And it's the story of what guilt does to a person over the course of a year.

The story starts simply enough. Johnny is out looking for his sister when he witnesses a man run down by a car. The man's dying words are of finding a missing girl. The story zigs and zags all over the place, taking Johnny and Detective Hunt to places most people would be reluctant to go, both physically and emotionally.

I'd never heard of John Hart before this book but I'll be picking up his back catalog after this. The prose was a notch above most detective novels and the characters were very well realized, not a paper character in sight. The relationships between the characters and their families drove the book forward, Johnny and his mother, Hunt and his son, Jack and his family. Levi Freemantle reminded me a lot of John Coffey from The Green Mile.

Hart kept me guessing right up until the end, dragging me from one false lead to the next. I had no idea who the killer was until it was spelled out for me. That's the hallmark of a great mystery. Hell, of a great book period.

Five stars. If I read a better book than this in 2013, I'll be surprised.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 22, 2013

Who's That Girl?

Mystery Girl
by David Gordon
New Havest

4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Kemper

(I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for this review.)

The main character in this story is a writer who spends all his time coming up with the kind of books that no one wants to read.  Fortunately, David Gordon is very different from his creation in that he’s a writer that I very much enjoyed reading.

Sam Korberg has spent his adult life trying to do the kind of important novels that have no plot, and he’s had little success at it.  His wife Lola has had enough and leaves with the ultimatum that unless he gets a real job and shows some more ambition, then they’re finished.  Sam searches frantically for work, but there aren't a lot of opportunities for failed novelists with no other skills until he gets an offer to be an assistant to a private investigator, eccentric Solar Lansky.

Lansky is an obese shut-in who lives with his mother, but he’s also a brilliant detective who needs help since he won‘t leave the house.  He wants Kornberg to follow a woman named Mona and report on her activities.  Kornberg bumbles through the assignment which seems unremarkable at first but soon turns into a twisted mess involving the missing films of a dead director with a cult following.

The story is pretty clear about it’s inspirations with a plot obviously based on Nero Wolfe and then taking several Vertigo style twists after the movie is mentioned.  The whole thing is a little hard to pin down, but in a good way. It starts as out seeming as if it will be a comedy with Sam being a foolish twit who has wasted his time and alienated his wife by dedicating his life to writing incomprehensible fiction, but the ground shifts constantly under your feet here. There's a lot of the elements you'd expect from a goofy crime caper with Sam being a sad sack loser who meets a wide variety of odd characters, but eventually the story has Sam expressing genuinely touching  thoughts of fear about his imploding marriage and regret at the way he has let down the woman he loves.

While there’s always a sense of humor, the story becomes darker, and the violence escalates beyond the cartoon level you’d expect after the first few chapters.  What really sets it apart is the theme about creating art, and if it’s even possible today.  Sam explains his love of reading dense books and how it inspired his writing in an especially poignant section, and there’s a theory brought up several times that the real periods of human creativity have passed leaving only commercial hacks to prosper.

This book surprised me in all the right ways and what I thought would just be a mystery story played for laughs actually had a lot to say that any hard core reader will be interested in.

The First Harry Hole Novel Finally Appears in the U.S.

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three out of five stars

This is the book that introduced Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad--or it least it would have been had not several of the later Harry Hole novels reached the U.S. ahead of it. The wait is finally over, though, and The Bat is now at last available in a U.S. edition.

It seems a bit odd that the first book in a series featuring a Norwegian police inspector would be set in Australia. Nonetheless, that's the case. A young Norwegian woman who had been something of a minor television celebrity back home, has been raped and murdered in Sydney. Harry is sent to Australia to act as a liasion with the Sydney police in the investigation. His instructions are clear: he is to be an observer and he is not to actually meddle in the investigation. The Sydney police clearly expect that Harry will spend most of his time seeing the sights and will be content to go home and report after a few days at most.

Even if you've never read another Harry Hole novel, if you've read any crime fiction at all, you know that's never going to happen. From practically the moment he arrives in Australia, Harry develops his own ideas about the case and is anything but shy about pursuing them.

The principal merit of this book is that the reader gets to meet a younger Harry Hole and to learn a bit more about his background. The case itself is intriguing and Harry meets a number of interesting characters along the way. If there is a problem with the book it rests with the fact that Nesbo spends quite a bit of time as a tour guide and cultural anthropologist, exploring the land, its mysteries and its peoples, and sometimes the travelogue gets in the way of the story itself.

Actually, The Bat seems more like one of those books that you would find much later in a series, at a time when the author has begun to run out of ideas and so sends his character off to an exotic land to mix things up a bit--and, not incidentally, to give the author a great vacation that he can deduct as a business expense.

Still, though it's not up to the standards of some of Nesbo's later Harry Hole novels, this is a fun story with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. And for those of us who are compulsive completists when it comes to our crime fiction, it gives us the chance to finally start reading this series in order. The problem remaining is that the second book in the series, The Cockroaches will not be released in the U.S. until December. At that point, all of the Harry Hole novels will finally be available here and all will be right with the world.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs

Reviewed by Sesana
Two out of five stars

Publisher Summary:
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience.

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here - one of whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason.

And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive

My Review:
 This book has gotten a lot of very good press. And I'll give Riggs credit for a very interesting idea: building a story around some very strange vintage photographs. And the first hundred or so pages, when the main character is at least half convinced that his grandfather's stories of monsters were his way of coping with being a Holocaust survivor, are by far the best. That said, the marketing for this book (and much of the grassroots buzz) took the suspense out of his investigations by making some things foregone conclusions. We know before even picking the book up that his grandfather was telling the truth, though the time travel elements (that look like they'll be a big part of the rest of the series) come as a bit of a surprise.

There are things that just don't work, though. The school is set in a stable time loop, one day that repeats endlessly. The children at the school know that time is passing, and remember every repeat of the cycle as a new day. And yet, despite spending decades in this time loop, they are both every bit as mentally stable as they would have been otherwise and psychologically the same age they were when they entered a loop. That simply doesn't make any sense to me. A ten year old who'd lived eighty years would be... off. To say the least. Not to mention the toll that repeating the same day endlessly would take on the mind. The only thing these kids seem to suffer is boredom.

I just couldn't get attached to the main character, either. He felt whiny, over privileged, and a bit dim to me. Once the story became all about him, and not about his grandfather as well, I started to lose interest. The ending, which moved into the tedious, necessary sequel hook, didn't help. And honestly, his narration didn't sound like the age he was meant to be, at least in the first couple of chapters. By the time he said that he was sixteen and still in high school, I was so certain that he was a twentysomething college student that I had to read the sentence a few times over to believe it. That seemed to be more of an issue early in the book (I have such a hard time believing that any father would tell his sixteen year old son that he can handle his grandfather's dementia episode himself), or I just got used to it.

But the idea of building the story around vintage photos was a good one, and the photos themselves were the best and most eerie part of the entire book. But despite a premise that seemed tailor-made for me, this one just couldn't keep my interest, certainly not enough for me to continue the series. Good idea, bad execution.

Also reviewed on Goodreads.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Wanderer in Unknown Realms

The Wanderer in Unknown Realms
The Wanderer in Unknown Realms
John Connolly
Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Available: Now!

Soter, a former British soldier turned private detective, is charged with investigating the sudden disappearance of wealthy recluse and obsessive book collector Lionel Maudling. Soter’s boss, the wealthy bookkeeper of the missing man in question, urges the utmost discretion in the search for Mr. Maudling’s whereabouts. Can Soter find Maudling before the trail runs cold or will an unknown presence jeopardize Soter’s already fragile state of mind?

Connolly does a great job here working within the constraints of a novella. That being said, this could easily be expanded into a fully fleshed out novel. Both the characters and plot are very strong and it’s a shame that we only get to spend such a short amount of time in this world. However, I feel like that’s kind of an unfair criticism and that the book should be judged purely on what it is – a quick read that packs an emotional punch.

Connolly’s protagonist, Soter, is a fascinating character. Shell-shocked from his time spent fighting in the first World War, Soter has little to offer anyone other than his employer, Quayle, who uses Soter from time to time in dealing with clients who find themselves in less than desirable positions. While he’s not outwardly downtrodden, he certainly has strong opinions on those who did not serve alongside him but rather hold judgement against those who had.

The hatred for ex-soldiers on the part of those who had not fought was something I could not understand. They wanted us to disappear. There were no more parades now, no more kisses on the cheek. Soldiers were no more than beggars, and nobody likes a beggar. Perhaps we made them feel guilty by our presence. They might have preferred it had we all died in the mud and been buried far from England in places whose names we had not even learned to pronounce properly before we perished.

Just like in his Samuel Johnson novels, the prose differs from his trademark Charlie Parker series but still retains that trademark wit and supernatural style. While it does come across as something fresh and outside his comfort zone, it still reads like a Connolly novel. There are also a few illustrations injected between select chapters from artist Emily Hall, giving it that extra bit of creepiness.

I can see a lot of people having issues with the ending but I loved it. I’m not going to tread into spoiler territory here but let’s just say that Connolly leaves it very open ended.

Cross Posted @ Every Read Thing

The Other Parker

The man himself.
John Connolly’s Parker series is directly responsible for me becoming a constant reader.

In the fall of 2008, I had been looking for something new to read. I was searching for something outside of my steady diet of pro-wrestling biographies. I posed a question in an online forum and the first thing that came back was John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing. I thought the title sounded cool enough and a mass market paperback was available for under $10. Sold! I didn’t realize at the time that when I cracked the cover to Connolly’s debut novel, that it would lead me to a new passion that would eventually monopolize much of my free time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I Am Not Myself These Days

Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Harper Perennial
Reviewed by: Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


I Am Not Myself These Days follows a glittering journey through Manhattan's dark underbelly -- a shocking and surreal world where alter egos reign and subsist (barely) on dark wit and chemicals...a tragic romantic comedy where one begins by rooting for the survival of the relationship and ends by hoping someone simply survives.

My Review

I’m not much of a TV person and have never seen The Fabulous Beekman Boys or heard of Josh Kilmer-Purcell, retired drag queen. Still, I’m glad I found this little gem about two misfits in love. By day, Josh works for an advertising agency. At night, he lovingly and painstakingly transforms himself into Aqua, a 7-foot blonde beauty who carries goldfish around in her plastic boobs. His boyfriend, Jack, is a very well-paid escort known as “Aidan” to his clients, and lives in a posh apartment building guarded by doormen. The two guys enjoy a routine life of reading the paper together and ordering lunch from the deli, while listening to Jack’s beeper go off and occasionally running into his unusual clients.

“The truth is, there’s no movie of the week about a drunk drag queen and a crackhead hooker in love. There never has been. It’s not the kind of thing people would care about. People would flip right by the channel, either unbelieving or uncaring. Who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy? Aren’t they both bad? If they didn’t get what they deserved by the first commercial, it’d be on to the breast cancer movie.”

You’re so wrong, Josh. Right from the first page, I cared. I loved reading about your transformation to Aqua. You reminded me of my little brother, who got a kick out of trying on my mom’s dresses and heels. Your work hours and lack of sleep exhausted me, reminding me of my own hectic days working full-time, part-time, taking classes, and still finding time to party. You also reminded me of a close friend who appeared to be the happiest person in the world to everyone else, but drowned his pain in vodka. I loved your crazy and dysfunctional relationship with Jack in a city that has no mercy, yet is a haven for those who are different, and I loved your friendship with Laura and your relationship with your supportive mom who didn’t know the difference between transsexuals and drag queens.

“You know that if you want to have an operation that’s something you can talk about with your dad and me.”

Your story was beautiful, honest, and hilarious. If it wasn’t so darn funny, I would have cried.

Also posted at Goodreads.