Saturday, June 8, 2013

Wayward girls way more compelling than girls that shine

The Longings of Wayward Girls
Karen Brown
Washington Square Press
Available July 2, 2013
$15.00 List Price


Rated 4 out of 5 stars
Reviewer: Trudi

There's a buzz book for the summer - you might have heard of it already -- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Featuring a time traveling serial killer, it has huge potential for a beach read thriller, but I don't know. Despite enjoying the main character, I felt it was missing something and my overall reaction after reading it was lukewarm.

This book on the other hand is much more to my liking. Probably closer to three and a half stars, it's an easy four in my books because it features all the elements I adore -- suburban New England setting, family secrets and lies, prepubescent girls doing naughty things with tragic consequence. It's an "all grown up and looking back" story as the adult tries to untangle the mysterious events of a dark childhood summer. It's a dual narrative that flips back and forth in time -- from the summer of 1979 to the summer of 2003. There's mood and atmosphere and dread and intrigue. It's a voyeuristic look into the oft-twisted and inappropriate shenanigans of life in the 'burbs.

Sadie is a pushy, bratty kid, with razor sharp smarts and a vivid imagination that's only going to get her into trouble. Her mother is a domineering, manic depressive drunk who isn't going to be there for Sadie when she needs her the most. Out of boredom and as an act of rebellion, Sadie hatches an elaborate ruse to amuse herself and her best friend. It's the summer of 1979 and her victim is the neighborhood outcast, a young girl with a miserable home life. The consequences of this cruel prank will have a tragic ripple effect.

Sadie grows up. The memory of that time is locked away in a deep, dark corner of her mind. She has a husband and two beautiful children. But sorrow has found Sadie. She is grieving her miscarriage and in this vulnerable state, back walks the boy she crushed on as a young girl. He's all grown up and stirring up more than the overwhelming sexual attraction she feels for him. Sadie begins to think about that summer long ago, seeking truth to all the unanswered questions she's lived with her entire life.

For a debut novel, The Longings of Wayward Girls (great title) shows a lot of promise. In the best ways, I was reminded of Megan Abbott's The End of Everything, and Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects. Author Karen Brown is on my radar and I will definitely be seeking out more of her writing.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Chris F. Holm Is Ready to Collect Your Soul!

Next month, Chris F. Holm is set to supply his third entry in his Collector series with THE BIG REAP. On the heels of that release, I thought I would share some thoughts on the first two installments, Dead Harvest and The Wrong Goodbye!

Dead Harvest
Dead Harvest
Chris F. Holm
Angry Robot Books
Available Now!

Sam is a collector.  A collector of souls!  You see, Sam’s wife had contracted a strain of TB and in a moment of desperation, Sam accepted a sketchy employment opportunity from a gentleman named Dumas.  While Dumas promised a complete recovery on the part of Sam’s wife, he remained closed mouth on the true nature of his employment.  Unfortunately for many, deals of this nature are extremely short sighted and if Sam possessed the foresight to know what his future would entail, he may have taken a little more time to come to his decision.

Dead Harvest is what you get when you fill a casserole dish with equal parts detective noir, supernatural sci-fi, cover it with some snappy dialogue, pop it in the oven and broil the shit out of it. What you get is a recipe that will not only satisfy your palate but leave you hungry for more.

I feel like Chris Holm had some excellent ideas here and you can tell he was influenced by some similar work that came before him (Hellblazer comics, Supernatural TV series, ). While I enjoyed the first installment in what looks to be a lengthy series, I’m more so excited of what’s to potentially come. I’d like to think Holm can take what he’s established here and build upon it, giving us a more complete picture of this world he’s created. It’s not too often that I walk away from a debut novel with such anticipation for future books.

While I more or less enjoyed this, it did occasionally dip into some cliche plot devices that took away a little of what made the tale unique. I didn't much care for the back story in how he was collected, I feel like Holm could have put a much more compelling spin on it. Luckily, the mythos that the author put in place regarding Sam’s job kept things interesting as the story moved forward.

I’m really digging Angry Robot so far. This is the second book I've devoured that they've published and if this is par for the course for what they’re releasing, I may have stumbled upon a cornucopia of entertainment. They certainly have some smart people over there – stay golden, pony boy.

*Oh, and there’s a nod to Lawrence Block.
A few rooms in, a uniformed cop sat slouched beside an open door, his nose buried in a Scudder novel.

The Wrong Goodbye
The Wrong Goodbye
Chris F. Holm
Angry Robot Books
Available Now!

Following Dead Harvest, what do you give the guy who nearly brought upon the apocalypse?  Why, a second chance of course!

Sam Thornton is tasked with the collection of a soul belonging to a feared drug lord.  Following a meeting with an old friend and fellow collector, the soul Sam had acquired goes missing; replaced with that of another.  The search for his stolen property takes Sam in unexpected directions as well as providing unwanted attention from those he’d like to avoid.  As Sam’s journey continues, the window for retrieving the soul starts to close and his opportunity to stop yet another potential apocalyptic event becomes less and less likely.

If you read my review, you’d already be aware of how much I enjoyed Dead Harvest.  When I was told the sequel – The Wrong Goodbye – was just as good, if not better, you couldn't hold me back from picking it up.

With The Wrong Goodbye, I feel like the series gained a lot of ground in terms of Sam’s development.  Sam laments about being stuck in his role as a collector but doesn't whine and mope about it.  He knows that he’ll always have Lillith down his neck and with the added pressure of those who granted him a reprieve following his actions in book one, he knows he can’t afford to make a mistake.  Despite these factors that he must always be mindful of, you never feel like he loses any of what makes him a great character.  He’s still a smart-ass and he still lets his darker, more comedic side come out to play.  In fact, there’s this:

“He slammed me into the rock wall behind me.  My head hit so hard I thought I’d puke.  Then I did puke, so, you know, yay for being right.”

As a Collector, the path laid out before him is only wide enough for one person.  People may drift in and out of his life but given the nature of his employment, they’re never around for long.  Given his circumstances, you could grab the low hanging fruit and fill Sam’s attitude with gloom and doom but it’s really important to make him an interesting and entertaining character by mixing it up a bit.

There’s a scene where Sam and his sidekick, Gio, are traveling in a stolen vehicle.  Gio brings up the past and asks Sam about his wife.  Sam’s response, tightening his grip around the steering wheel and thinking twice about dragging his history out, reinforces why despite his witty remarks and snappy dialogue, at his core he’ll always be a tragic figure.  Thornton has the rest of eternity to wonder if the choice he made was the right one; something that will most likely never be easier for him to deal with.

Overall, I feel like this series is only getting stronger.  The third book is due out this summer and again, has a fantastic cover.  One thing I believe I didn't speak about in my review for Dead Harvest was it’s excellent cover art.  The designs provided by Amazing 15 continues a trend of vintage-style artwork.

Check out my interview with Chris over @ Every Read Thing.

The Forbes 25 Reviewers - #18 Ceridwen

Today's guest is Ceridwen.  Ceridwen also posts at Readerling.

How did you discover Goodreads?
An irl friend sent me a link in April of 2008, which means I've been active on Goodreads for five years now. I didn't interact much at first – I had no experience with social media; facebook would come later for me – but very slowly accrued friends other than my mother, husband, and a smattering of real life friends. As an introduction to social media, it was a kind experience, as the early-ish days of Goodreads had a sort of backwater enthusiast vibe, and you could be reasonably sure that no one at all was paying attention, which suited me fine.

What have been your most memorable Goodreads experiences?
That's hard to say. There have been some memorable scandals, trollings, call-outs, and cat-fights that have occurred on Goodreads which were fun for me. I can think of a dozen instances where pointless and/or stupid trolling turned into runaway threads full of humor, lolcats, and, you know, profound commentary on books. My personal favorite was the time one of my reviews got trolled by a fine young man from Texas with a penchant for dismissing people as “ugly lesbians”. I still get comments on that clusterfuck of a thread wondering what the hell happened.

Though I haven't been involved in much of this, except as an observer, I find the various author/reviewer meltdowns that occur pretty fascinating. Goodreads is a focal point for two different trends: self-publishing and citizen reviewing. So you have two different kinds of folk running up against each other – people who don't know shit about marketing running up against sometimes harshly stated opinions – and the result can be explosive. And I really shouldn't be singling out the self-pubs, because a fair number of these explosions have happened between Big Six authors (or their agents or friends) and their readers. As the industry changes from more mediated relationships – authors are largely left to their own devices these days (I am given to understand) – the potential for conflict approaches one.

I don't have any easy answers for this, and I don't think either reviewers or authors have gotten it right 100% of the time. I believe there is a tendency for reviewers to be rewarded for strong reactions – when I sort my reviews by the ones with the most votes, the first ten are either five-starred or one-starred reviews, hatchet jobs or soaring praise. I get it: we respond strongly to strong emotion, and I don't think there is anything wrong or bad about that. I worry sometimes about this feedback loop though, at least as it pertains to the critical process. I mean, no one ever said that a citizen review had to be a measured intellectual endeavor, and god bless all the goofing, irreverent, parodic, cheerfully off-topic reviews out there, but I still worry about the middle-voice, the three-starrer that gets lost in the wash. Heated rhetoric is rewarded – and I'm not saying I'm immune to this, having penned some hatchet jobs and love-fests myself – but sometimes I wonder what reviews would look like if it weren't. I certainly think about this when I reach for the hatchet.

Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.
Just one? This question sucks. How about 25? In no particular order:

Eric from Minneapolis
Matt from Nebraska
Miriam from California
Ben Babcock
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Mike Reynolds
Caris O'Malley
Michael Springer, who has some terrible pseudonym these days
Dead Flamingo Jessica
Joel from Chicago
Jacob Ford
Terence from California 
Moira Russell
Lisa Vegan
Abigail A. 
Kelly from I don't know where
Aerin from Seattle 
Jason Morais
My Flesh Sings Out aka Josh
oriana from Brooklyn
Wealhtheow Wylfing

This might be more than 25, and I could add more. I <3 a lot of reviewers on Goodreads.

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
Zombie apocalypse? No, really, I think it was inevitable that Goodreads was going to sell out or go public, because the problem of monetizing any start-up for the founders. CEO Otis was looking to cash out on a very good idea executed (mostly) well, and I can't say I blame him. Plus, Goodreads just hit some kind of tipping point with user numbers – 10+ million and counting - and I don't think Goodreads has been able to cope in terms of capital or infrastructure. (Witness the complete failure of the notification system on a regular basis, and less important problems like their inability to update top lists for months.) After facebook went public to not disastrous, but not fantastic results, that left selling out. I am hugely disappointed that it turned out to be Amazon, but I'm also not hugely surprised.

Amazon has created a problem for themselves with the discoverability issue – as the bricks and mortar bookstores shutter, there's no place for serendipitous browsing, and their “if you'll like this, then” algorithms are probably the best out there, but that doesn't mean they're good. Plus, Amazon reviews are heavily gamed by all kinds of competing forces – authors and/or fans with grudges, a downvoting system that tends to punish outlying opinions or perspectives, payola scandals, even Michael Jackson fans gone insane. As product reviews not personal responses, the personal gets lost. The social network aspect of Goodreads solves their discoverability issue and the issue of confidence in the review. We goodreaders are now all the person inside the Mechanical Turk. Which sucks. Maybe there's no difference in shaking my ass for CEOtis or Amazon, but it feels different.

How many books do you own?
A quick estimate using my thumb puts the number at about 750, but that's not factoring the stuff in the basement or the kids books. So probably a thousand. I like books, as objects, but I tend to give them away when I love them, and I seldom re-read.

Who is your favorite author?
Ursula K Le Guin

What is your favorite book of all time?
Fail. Impossible to compute.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I adore paper, and there are things that are impossible to do with a screen that you can do with a physical object, but ebooks have their place. I read a lot of pulp mass market stuff, because I can put down several throw-away fictions while I'm reading something more considered. It's almost required, because I'm a pleasure reader primarily, and while I get pleasure from smart stuff, it requires a level of engagement that I can't give it just before bed or on a Sunday afternoon or whatever. So an ebook that I can half-assedly download from the library and pick at can be really perfect.

I'm not hugely excited about all the proprietary readers out there – Nook, Kindle, Kobo, whatever – which lock readers into a specific distribution channel. I don't think that's good for publishing, but I don't know what the solution is.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Boy, what a thing. Obviously, publishing is in a huge upheaval at the moment, much like music was ten years ago, but I don't think we can necessarily extrapolate what happened to music distribution to book publishing. So many of the arts have fractured into the long tail – a series of sub-sub-sub-genres catering to very, very specific readerships. Which can be great for those specific readerships, but if you're not in them, maybe hard to figure out. I am absolutely game to read self-published works, and I have read and enjoyed a number, but I do admit I worry about the editorial process, and, given some of the meltdowns I've seen, the insulating effect of the publisher when authors and readers interact.

We could all use an editor – as I'm fiercely aware of when I post some damn review riddled with typos and badly connected thoughts. Platforms like Goodreads become all the more important when sorting through self-published works, which are rarely reviewed on traditional platforms – even the mid-list gets lost, and if you're talking about genre fiction, forget it – which is why the Amazon takeover continues to worry me. The difference between product review and criticism is vital.

Any literary aspirations? 

Got to watch an artist with an attitude....

Reviewed by Stephanie
4 out of 5 stars

Victoria McQueen is a badass artist with a badass talent that goes beyond her artistic abilities. She has the ability to cross any distance with her 'shorter way' bridge to locate missing things.  The bridge comes into existence with the combination of her strong, creative mind and transportation, not just any transportation, but a vehicle that chooses her; a Raleigh Tuff Burner in her youth and a Triumph motorcycle in adult years. It's magic, and all magic has it's price. 

Victoria finds she's not the only person in the world with special talents similar to hers, she finds two others, Maggie Leigh who can find answers to questions by the use of scrabble tiles and Charlie Manx who travels in a Rolls Royce Wraith that can transport him to other dimensions in a world of his own creation.....his creation is called Christmas-land, where it's the happiest time of the year all year round (for Manx anyway.)

What good is an amusement park called Christmas Land if there are no children to fill it? None.  So Manx goes about the country in his magic car kidnapping children, for their own good he believes,(what child wouldn't want to live in a place where it's Christmas day everyday?) with his sidekick, Bing.  Bing doesn't have any special abilities other then being uber creepy.....seriously, he's the true stuff of nightmares.

One day Charlie Manx crosses Victoria McQueen and that is where the fun begins.....fasten your seat belts, keep hands inside the ride at all times, and for goodness sake don't get out of the car until the ride has come to a complete stop.

I grew up in the town that has the BEST amusement park in the U.S. and most likely the world.  I got a job there as an artist as a youngster, and then continued to work in many parks all over the country for twenty plus years.  So this book has much that appeals to me.

I always found amusement parks to have an underlying creepy factor, especially after close and all the rides have shut down, the shops have closed and it's quiet.  Being a manager I would have to stay later than most on occasion, and trust me, it was a speedy walk to the car on those nights.  I like that Joe Hill has touched on this, but I feel he's just taped a well that could go much deeper. 

NOS4A2 is filled with memorable characters (my favorite being Lou, Victoria's baby daddy) and I hope to spend some more time with them in the future.

I listened to the audio book and I have to say Kate Mulgrew did a fantastic job!  A book can be ruined by a bad performer and made even better by a really good one. It also made me smile when he gave a shout out to Firefly and threw out a few references to some worlds his dad has created. 

As seen on Goodreads

Some cold reality

Reviewed by Stephanie
4 out of 5 stars

Turns out everyone thinks they are somehow smarter than the people around them, everyone.  We all are guilty of it.  We walk into a Wal-mart, take a look around us and think “what a bunch of freaks, and always in Wal-mart” …..But we are also in Wal-mart as we make this judgment.  I don’t go into that store unless they are the only option, but every time I look around and I think to myself “do I also look like a freak by just entering this store, then magically go back to normal when I leave?”
I once thought that I had free will and nothing that Sam Harris wrote proved otherwise, but David McRaney may have done just that.  Nothing we do as humans have anything to do with individual choice.  We are all manipulated by the media and a bunch of biases and fallacies.

Here are a couple of examples of this…….

Confirmation Bias

The Misconception: Your opinions are the result of years of rational, objective analysis.

The Truth: Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.

So, this wasn’t news to me.  I am not ever going to watch Faux News for any reason, unless I had a job that forced me to do it.  Skeeter, down the street would rather eat an arugula salad before watching Rachel Maddow for ten seconds.   We are only going to pay attention to the things that confirm our beliefs……this explains the existents of Rush Limbaugh.  That being said, I’m right and Skeeter is not.

Extinction Burst

The Misconception: If you stop engaging in a bad habit, the habit will gradually diminish until it disappears from your life.

The Truth: Any time you quit something cold turkey, your brain will make a last-ditch effort to return you to your habit.”

Yeah, anyone who has dieted (most probably everyone, unless you are one of those skinny people who “just can’t seem to gain weight”…..everyone hates you) has experienced this.  You are going along well, you are hitting your goals….you hit a plateau or life gets in the way and you break from the diet a little.  Before you know it you are back to eating the stuff you really shouldn’t.  This is due to the ‘extinction burst’.  Food tastes good, some food tastes better than others and since we evolved to survive we are hard wired to crave high calorie food because that is what determined life or death.  Ironically, that’s what’s killing us today.   When a reward is taken away from us, we throw a fit…….but if we still don’t get the reward we give up.  That’s why you never give in to a two year old during an extinction burst.

The Just-World Fallacy

The Misconception: People who are losing at the game of life must have done something to deserve it.

The Truth: The beneficiaries of good fortune often do nothing to earn it, and bad people often get away with their actions without consequences”

This is a big one.  All those people who believe that poor people are poor because they want to be and/or are not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps because they just want to live easy off the system and have no idea how to work hard, these people are fooled by this fallacy.  Never, do they take into account their own fortunate beginnings as the reason they themselves are not amongst the poor.  The reason they are not poor is not only because they worked really hard (I’m not saying they didn’t work hard, and that is a big part of sucess), but they are not poor because they didn’t come from poor most likely.  Many people have risen above their poor beginnings (Ben Franklin) but it’s a very hard cycle to overcome.

Those who have a hard time overcoming this may have this fallacy to blame……

Learned Helplessness

The Misconception: If you are in a bad situation, you will do whatever you can do to escape it.

The Truth: If you feel like you aren’t in control of your destiny, you will give up and accept whatever situation you are in.”

This is all about having some control in your life.  If all choice is taken away from a person they tend to give up.  Residents in nursing homes do better if they get to choose how to arrange their furniture than those who have everything done for them.  If you are living in a bad situation and you don’t have any control over what happens to you, you don’t have access to higher education because it is financially out of reach.  No one will give you a job no matter how hard you try because you aren’t dressed nice enough, and you don’t have enough education…….these people will accept their situation most likely than not.

This book was very interesting.  But I’m feeling a little down because I learned that I am not so smart and I am not that special.

Thanks David for the depression…..*sigh*

All kidding aside, I really enjoyed this book.  Here’s a website if you would like to read more.

You are not so smart

As seen on goodreads