Friday, January 31, 2014

Without You

Anthony Rapp
Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Anthony Rapp captures the passion and grit unique to the theatre world as he recounts his life-changing experience in the original cast of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent.

Anthony had a special feeling about Jonathan Larson's rock musical from his first audition, so he was thrilled when he landed a starring role as the filmmaker Mark Cohen. With his mom's cancer in remission and a reason to quit his newly acquired job at Starbucks, his life was looking up.

When Rent opened to thunderous acclaim off Broadway, Rapp and his fellow cast members knew that something truly extraordinary had taken shape. But even as friends and family were celebrating the show's success, they were also mourning Jonathan Larson's sudden death from an aortic aneurysm. By the time Rent made its triumphant jump to Broadway, Larson had posthumously won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. When Anthony's mom began to lose her battle with cancer, he struggled to balance the demands of life in the theatre with his responsibility to his family. Here, Anthony recounts the show's magnificent success and his overwhelming loss. He also shares his first experiences discovering his sexuality, the tension it created with his mother, and his struggle into adulthood to gain her acceptance.

Variously marked by fledgling love and devastating loss, piercing frustration and powerful enlightenment, Without You charts the course of Rapp's exhilarating journey with the cast and crew of Rent as well as the intimacies of his personal life behind the curtain.

My Review

I’ve wanted to read this for a while, but not before seeing at least the movie version of Rent. Off to the library I went and borrowed a copy of both film and book. I’m certain I would have appreciated this story, loosely based on Puccini's La Bohème, a lot more in its original version as a play, and had I been about 30 years younger. Back then I probably would have been able to empathize with a cast of talentless characters who wanted to succeed as artists, but who could barely keep a roof over their heads. Now, I just look at them with disdain and wish they would find a job.

If the characters were likable, I may have been able to forgive their flaws. They were miserable, whiny, self-indulgent, irresponsible and lazy. The story took place in New York, but nothing in the film reminded me of the city. The songs, while sung with passion, were loud and repetitive, and by the film’s conclusion, I could barely remember a single song or any of the lyrics. There are other films that deal with drug addiction, homosexuality, poverty and AIDS much more sensitively. Sadly, this was not one of them.

Even though I didn’t care for Rent, I enjoyed reading of the hard work, love, passion and joy that went into making the play.

“Chills shot up my arms and spine and the back of my head. I had never heard a song like it, especially in a musical; there was a directness and a simplicity and a groove to it that were thrillingly new to my ears. I felt everyone in the room lean forward into the music.”

Anthony Rapp, who played Mark Cohen in the play and film, wrote a very powerful, touching and honest memoir detailing his theater experiences, his relationships with cast members, family and friends, his sexuality, and his mother’s battle with cancer. Even if you haven’t seen, or are not a fan of Rent, this engrossing memoir is well worth reading. Anthony writes so candidly, openly and personally about his life and work, that I often felt I was sitting across a table from him rather than reading his book.

Very well done.

Also posted at Goodreads

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Little Middle Earth History

The Children of Hurin

J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (Editor)

Review by Zorena

Four Stars


Long before the One Ring was forged in the fires of Mount Doom, one man--Hurin--dared to defy Morgoth, the first and greatest of the dark lords to plague Middle-earth. Thus did he and his children, Turin and Nienor, earn the enmity of a merciless foe that would shape the destiny of all the ages to come.

My Review

This a much darker tale than Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit. Curses, deceit and never ending woe seem to make up this tome. This being a reread I found that I was having a much easier time of keeping the characters names straight. His world and history building really helped me understand the two more popular books which I already love. I'm just sorry I didn't reread The Silmarillion  first as it has the history for this book. Call George R.R. Martin a world builder if you like but I'm pretty sure he borrowed a lot of pages from Tolkien.

Not only do I see the influence of Norse Sagas I also feel there are a few influences from Shakespeare and foremost comes to mind Romeo and Juliet. Turin and Nienor may not have been star crossed lovers but they were star crossed none the less. Glarung is far more evil then his Kindred Smaug. To enslave an entire people shows the cunning of this most wicked dragon. The mention of Sauron was a nice foreshadowing. It may be hard to keep some of the names straight but I guarantee it's pleasing when you do recognize one.

I think Christopher did a fine job of putting this together from all his Father's notes and writings. I will say that I don't recommend this for anyone but Tolkien fans.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Surprisingly Dull Shine

The Shining Girls
by Lauren Beukes
Publishied by Mulholland Books

3 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by  Amanda

While fleeing the law in Depression era Chicago, Harper Curtis stumbles upon the key to a derelict house with magical properties. Despite its outward appearance, the inside of the house is one of grandeur (well, except for the dead body in the hallway, but real estate being what it is during the Depression, one can't be too picky). There's a stash of cash and a haphazard collection of kitschy objects from different time periods, but that's not the only secret hidden by this house--it is also a portal to the past and the future. As Harper explores the house, it speaks to him and it becomes clear that he's been drawn here for a purpose. He must seek out "The Shining Girls," women from different times and different walks of life who must die by his knife.

So, serial killer stories aren't normally my thing. I'm not particularly intrigued by how a psychopath's mind works, never really interested in his methods and his madness, and I find the whodunit aspect of most of these novels tiresome. But I found that I couldn't ignore the hype surrounding The Shining Girls. The promise of a serial killer who could travel through time and disappear without a trace? Now that is certainly something that I've never read before and it appealed to the part of me that enjoys science fiction. I thought there might be something new and inventive here--something that might help it rise above others of its ilk. However, it proved to be disappointingly, well, average.

Harper Curtis is a casebook psychopath, complete with a childhood history of torturing animals and an inability to empathize with others. In terms of character, there's very little to distinguish him from other literary serial killers--he's fairly bland in comparison to, say, a Hannibal Lecter. Harper's only distinction is provided by the house itself and, unfortunately, the house only serves as a vehicle for Harper. An inventive premise, to be sure, but it's ultimately as riveting as knowing the make and model of the vehicle a killer might use to get from one place to another. Its origin is never explained and its role in the events that transpire is never really clear.

The hunt for Harper is led by the only woman to have survived his brutal attack, Kirby Mazrachi. Kirby is an appealing and interesting character. She's strong, quirky, and hellbent on finding the man who did this to her. As a means of doing so, she becomes an intern for a former criminal reporter, Dan Velasquez, at the Chicago Sun-Times. While he's now on the sports beat, Kirby hopes that she can convince him to help her gain access to files and reports that might help her track down the man who left her for dead. Kirby's investigations seem a little slapdash, moved along by heaping dollops of happenstance and coincidence that fall too neatly into place. I loved Kirby's headstrong nature, but to all those who compare this novel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I must point out that a few punk rock t-shirts and a nose ring do not a Lisbeth Salander make.

As it weaves back and forth through time, the novel alternates its chapters between Harper, Kirby, Harper's other victims (whose stories, while poignant, aren't as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be), and a few minor characters. The chapters read quickly, but all of the back and forth through time caused it to lose some momentum and suspense for me. By the time the denouement occurs, it is, despite all the weirdness that leads up to it, fairly average and not much different from the resolution one might expect in a more traditional serial killer narrative.

There's no doubt that Lauren Beukes has an interesting idea behind The Shining Girls, but it never really delivered for me. Her writing is serviceable and occasionally finds moments of beauty, profundity, or wit; I particularly enjoyed the chapters focusing on Dan, a middle-aged man who knows he's falling for the much younger and damaged Kirby. Beukes hit the right note of guilt, longing, and restraint in his internal monologues. Despite its strong female protagonist and its creativity, I can only say that I liked the book but never truly fell in love.
Seven Years in TibetSeven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Now the Living Buddha was approaching. He passed quite close to our window. The women stiffened in a deep obeisance and hardly dared to breathe. The crowd was frozen. Deeply moved we hid ourselves behind the women as if to protect ourselves from being drawn into the magic circle of his power.

We kept saying to ourselves, ‘It is only a child.’ A child, indeed, but the heart of the concentrated faith of thousands, the essence of their prayers, longings, hopes. Whether it is Lhasa or Rome--all are united by one wish: to find God and to serve Him. I closed my eyes and hearkened to the murmured prayers and the solemn music and sweet incense rising to the evening sky.”

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14th Dalai Lama as a child

Heinrich Harrer was part of a four man team who were the first to successfully scale the North face of the Eiger. They reached the summit on July 24th,1938. Harrer had been a member of the Nazi party for just two months. He had also joined the SS with the rank of sergeant. After the ascent he and the rest of the team had a photo op with Adolf Hitler. They were national heroes. His life could have very easily spiraled toward an early death on the battlefield or he could have been compromised in the many atrocities perpetrated by the SS during the war.

As it turned out, the only day he wore his SS uniform was the day he got married.

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The one with the cheesy moustache is Adolph Hitler. Standing on his right is Heinrich Harrer. Harrer renounced any association he had with the SS stated that he was too young to be making those decisions.

Harrer was in India with a four man team scouting the viability of climbing the Diamir Face of the Nanga Parbat when war broke out in 1939. They were picked up by the British and interned in a detention camp. In 1944 after several failed attempts to escape Harrer, Peter Aufschnaiter, and two others are finally successful. They strike out for Tibet. The other two men, after experiencing the hardship of travel with improper clothing, inadequate food supplies, and a nagging doubt about what life will be like once they do reach Tibet, decide to go back. Harrer and Aufschnaiter press on.

They rely on the kindness of strangers. Lucky for them, by nature, Tibetans are kind.

Their ultimate goal is to reach Lhasa, but there are public officials, miles of red tape, and many hazards to be faced before they reach that destination.

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Princess Coocoola, wife of the governor of Tibet is one of the many beautiful Tibetan women.

They meet a young couple on the road. A young woman fleeing her THREE husbands. She dutifully married three brothers and took care of their household until a handsome young stranger appeared. The couple were fleeing her husbands to start a new life. Most cultures still do or once did allow men, usually wealthy men to collect wives, but this is the first time I’ve heard of a culture that allows a wife to collect three husbands. The problem, of course, is always choice, and she wasn’t a willing participant to marry the three brothers.

When the proverbial traveling salesman comes to town she takes the opportunity to escape.

January 15th, 1946 they finally reach their destination.

”We turned a corner and saw, gleaming in the distance, the golden roofs of the Potala, the winter residence of the Dalai Lama and the most famous landmark of Lhasa. This moment compensated us for much. We felt inclined to go down on our knees like the pilgrims and touch the ground with our foreheads.”

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Because of their uncertain status Harrer and Aufschnaiter, despite the pleasant welcome they received, were always worried that they would sent back to India and internment. They receive reassurances followed by neck snapping counter orders to leave. They begin to ingratiate themselves to the government by designing and producing better irrigation for the city. Harrer builds a fountain for the backyard of one of his friends and soon all the nobles want a fountain (seems to be a human tendency regardless of country to compete with the Jones’s). There are various levels of nobles who are very wealthy, happy; and yet, pious people. There was an uprising and several people were arrested, too many for the local jail. The nobles had to each take responsibility for a prisoner.

”As a result one found in almost every house a convict in chains with a wooden ring round his neck.”

Talk about putting a damper on your social situations.

The Tibetans have a rather gruesome, especially to westerners, way in how they dispose of their recently departed.

”The decorated pine tree which stood on the roof was removed and the next day at dawn the body was wrapped in white grave cloths and borne out of the house on the back of a professional corpse carrier. We followed the group of mourners, who consisted of three men only. Near the village on a high place recognizable from afar as a place of ‘burial’ by the multitude of vultures and crows which hovered over it, one of the men hacked the body to pieces with an ax. A second sat nearby, murmuring prayers and beating on a small drum. The third man scared the birds away and at intervals handed the other two men beer or tea to cheer them up. The bones of the dead girl were broken to pieces, so that they too could be consumed by the birds and that no trace of the body should remain.”

To them the body of the deceased is an empty shell. The consciousness has already moved on towards yet another in a series of countless lives. Their belief that the fly that lands on the rim of the rancid butter tea, that they like to drink, could be their grandmother causes Harrer no ends of problems when he is asked to build a movie theater for the Dalai Lama. Every worm that is disturbed by the shovels must be carefully relocated back to a safe spot.

”The more life one can save the happier one is.”

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Henrich Harrer

Harrer becomes a paid government official, a translator and court photographer that along with his side projects gives him a satisfactory income. He becomes close to the Dalai Lama, instructing him in Western culture and the way the world works beyond the Tibetan borders. There is even a scene that had me chuckling with the Dalai Lama wanting to shadow box with Harrer. It was just hard for me to imagine this national treasure with his fists raised dancing around throwing punches.

In October 1950 the army of the People’s Republic of China invade, defeat a Tibetan army, and take over the country. Harrer and his friend Aufschnaiter have to abandon their peaceful lives and return to Europe. As he leaves he waves up at the roof where he knows the Dalai Lama, possibly one of the most lonely people in the world, is watching him depart through the singular eye of his telescope.

In 1959 during a Tibetan uprising the Dalai Lama fearing for his life, fled to India where he established a Tibetan government in exile. Harrer continued to go on mountaineering expeditions around the globe and wrote twenty travel books about his exploits. His photography is considered to be among the best records of Tibetan culture ever obtained. This book was a huge bestseller in America showing the hunger that people felt, and continue to feel to know more about Tibetan culture. It certainly has inspired me to want to know more.

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Friends for life.

A movie was made of Seven Years in Tibet in 1997 starring Brad Pitt. The movie focuses more on Harrer’s abandonment of his wife and child (not a subject he discusses in the book), and also revealed an arrogance and a selfishness that is not in the book either. We see the movie version of Harrer become a better person under the influence of the people he came to know and love in Lhasa. The movie is visually stimulating and was the reason I decided to read the book. I hope that others who see the movie will be encouraged to explore the subject matter further as well.

”Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight. My heartfelt wish is that my story may create some understanding for a people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world.”

View all my reviews

It's a Strange World, and they Plan to Keep it that Way

Planetary, vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories

Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

Wildstorm (DC Comics)

Reviewed by: Terry 

5 out of 5 stars


Warning: there are spoilers for some issues in this review. You have been warned! 

I think the Planetary series by Ellis and Cassaday may be one of the most ambitious, and certainly most enjoyable, comics (excuse me, I mean graphic novels!) that I have ever read. It is yet another post-Watchmen, post-Dark Knight meta-textual exploration of the genre, but manages to be one that doesn’t lose its sense of humour or sense of wonder as it dissects some of the weird, wonderful, and even silly elements of the genre…no small feat! Also, Ellis does not restrict himself solely to an examination of the world of superheroes as it’s been portrayed in the funny books, but also includes a myriad of other pop culture genre tropes in a heady brew that’s chock-full of pulpy goodness! Conspiracy theories meet the world of metahumans, the science of the occult and the magic of super-science rub shoulders with genre standbys, and a world of strangeness and wonder slowly unfolds like a snowflake.

The premise is pretty simple, and kind of ingenious given Ellis’ aims: it’s a strange world, but the powers that be have been covering up every weird, wonderful, strange and scary thing that has reared its head in human history. Enter Planetary, an inter-continental organization of “archaeologists of the impossible” whose avowed goal is to unearth the secrets from which the enlightened ones would shield us and broadcast them in their yearly publication, kind of a Whole Earth Catalog of the weird and strange. The field team for Planetary is composed of three main agents: Elijah Snow is a gruff and taciturn leader who also sports the ability to generate cold on a superhuman level, Jakita Wagner the beautiful and nigh-invulnerable superwoman, and the Drummer, a prototypical slacker-geek whose ability to interface with anything electronic is truly extraordinary.  Oh, and since this is a graphic novel/comic book I should note that the art by John Cassaday is consistently extraordinary, some of the best I’ve ever seen, really! I’ll break down the individual issues below and try to avoid any heinous spoilers.

Issue 0 (Preview) - “Nuclear Spring”: A secret military base; a genius cold war scientist decades ahead of his time; a quantum bomb that is able to rewrite the nature of reality; a friend of the scientist’s caught in the blast zone during the final test. What mysteries will the Planetary team find when they crack open this decades-old secret of tragedy and transformation?

Issue 1 - “All Over the World”: Jakita Wagner recruits the misanthropic loner Elijah Snow to join a mysterious team called Planetary. Details on their operations and make-up are scarce. They have scads of cash, but all the field team seems to know is that they are funded, and ultimately directed, by a shadowy figure known only as “the Fourth Man”. The organization’s aim? To uncover the mysteries that the powers that be want kept secret. Despite his suspicions and doubts Elijah decides to come along for the ride (a paycheck of a million dollars a year doesn’t hurt either) and on his first mission witnesses the uncovering of a decades-old secret base of operations for a team of heroes the world didn’t even know existed. We have a literal round table of pulp hero analogues: newly minted characters who are stand-ins for Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tom Swift, Fu Manchu, Tarzan, Operator 5, and G-8. I love this stuff. Homages to the great icons of pulp and comic book heroes are the kind of thing I eat up with a spoon, primarily, I think, because while the ideas behind these icons are fantastic the execution of their stories often leaves something to be desired (often either because the company that owns the properties doesn’t want anything ‘bad’ (read interesting) done with them, or simply because they were written into formulaic and kind of crappy stories by mediocre writers). Those problems can be remedied in this kind of ‘elseworlds’ context and Ellis proceeds to do so both here and throughout the Planetary series with panache. Love it.

Issue 2 – “Island”: Welcome to Monster Island! (Well, Warren Ellis’ version of it anyway.) What do you get when you combine an isolated and remote island populated by creatures out of a Kaiju film, government cover-ups, and Japanese death cults? You get issue 2 of Planetary. Pretty good stuff that helps widen the lens beyond superheroes and show us just how strange Ellis’ secret history for his world really is.

Issue 3 – “Dead Gunfighters”: We continue our tour of Ellis’ strange world with another one-off tale centring around a ghostly cop in Hong Kong out for revenge and yet further hints about the ‘quantum reality matrix’, the snowflake, that underlies all of the strangeness being catalogued by Planetary. Think John Woo meets the X-Files.

Issue 4 – “Strange Harbours”: This, and issue 5, are where things really started to gel for me with Planetary; things began coming together and the “oh shit, that’s cool” moments were multiplying fast and furious. In this issue the team investigates the hole left after a single office building in the middle of a New York City block is vaporized. It seems as though something was unearthed by mysterious forces under the direction of people unknown and an investigator for the Hark corporation (the name will have meaning once you’ve read this far in the series) will be changed into something wonderful and strange. What does a homesick starship meant to fly between realities do when it’s been trapped under the earth for millennia? Recruit a new crew for starters. Captain Marvel (the Shazam version) meets Flash Gordon with a dash of the many worlds theory thrown in for good measure.

Issue 5 – “The Good Doctor”: Secret societies from the French Revolution with a breeding plan for superhumans, a Man of Brass (or is it bronze?) who devotes his life to saving a world that does not know he exists and collecting together similarly endowed individuals in the hopes that together they can solve the world’s ills, a pulp fiction extravaganza highlighting the glories and the dangers of thinking you can save the world. Elijah Snow’s suspicions have been accumulating since he joined Planetary and now he goes to talk with Doc Brass, saved in issue 1, to help clear his head. Things will start to roll from hereon in.

Issue 6 – “It’s a Strange World”: Now we get to the meat of it. What if the cold war space race was nothing more than a smoke screen for what was really happening behind the scenes? What if four astronauts (the number is important and the corollaries are very cool) were sent into the void and met up with forces unknown, forces that could transmute mere humanity into something more? What if they were the most evil sons of bitches you’re likely to meet and had both the will and the power to take the reins of the secret organization that had been keeping everything strange and wonderful from surfacing in the daylight world? What if Planetary finally found out about them? This issue single-handedly made the Fantastic Four a cool concept, something they hadn’t been, for me at least, well, um, ever. It also helped to answer the question that might nag any self-respecting comic book nerd who really thought about the whole concept behind the Fantastic Four (or science-based superheroes in general) as superhuman adventurers who discover the secrets of other worlds and realities: why doesn’t any of that gleaming gosh-wow tech ever filter down to the man on the street? Why don’t they have a cure for cancer? Where are the flying cars, dammit?! Well, it’s because the ‘superheroes’ are keeping it all for themselves, dumb-ass!

One thing that really worked well for me in this series overall was the way in which Ellis balanced between the self-contained one-off stories that were compelling in and of themselves with a greater story arc that made the journey all the more satisfying. He didn’t always manage to pull this balance off perfectly (sometimes the one-off tales seemed a little light, or the connections they had to the wider context weren’t sufficiently drawn, and occasionally the bigger story arc seemed a little bit rushed, especially at the very end), but overall he did a pretty exemplary job with this. Kudos! The sense of mysteries to be uncovered and of an answer greater than the sum of its parts (as gosh darn cool as those parts may be) was very well-played and, unlike some genre fiascos that have attempted the same trick (I’m looking at you X-Files and especially you Lost), Planetary mostly lived up to its potential in this regard.  It looks like Ellis had mapped out his ideas and goal from the beginning instead of just engaging in some half-assed attempt to retroactively join together the disparate elements that were all thrown into the soup willy-nilly at the last minute. I love, love, love this series…and there’s more to come! Can I squee? Well, I will anyway. Squeeee! 

Also posted at Goodreads


"But primal dreams have made me wise..."

The Emperor of Dreams

Clark Ashton Smith


Reviewed by: Terry 

4 out of 5 stars

Ah, Clark Ashton Smith. For those of you unfamiliar with this writer imagine someone with the fevered imagination of Lovecraft and the lyrical stylistic chops of Lord Dunsany and you'll get an idea of what you're in for. For my money Smith is perhaps the best of the "Weird Tales Triumvirate" of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Ashton Smith. I would probably place Howard as a close second on that list...heresy I know, but for all of the coolness of Lovecraft's ideas he really was just a god-awful writer.
Take a dip into this tome and visit one of Smith's created worlds: medieval Averoigne, antediluvian Poseidonis, far future Zothique, or ancient Hyperborea, all tinged with the dark fantasy Cthulhoid elements borrowed from his friend Lovecraft and embellished with his delicious prose.
I'd heartily recommend the tales "The Double Shadow", "The Beast of Averoigne", "Mother of Toads", and the 'Malygris tales' "The Last Incantation" & "The Death of Malygris" as good starting points, though there are few places to go wrong here.

Also posted at Goodreads

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Chained Bird

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Never have I been so conflicted about a book. Parts of it I loved. Parts of it I hated. Sometimes I wanted to praise it. Other times I wanted to abandon it. 

I'm relieved I've finally finished this novel (771 pages! JFC!) because I can stop debating whether or not to keep reading it.

It's damn difficult to talk about "The Goldfinch" without being spoiler-y, but I shall try. What I appreciated most was the lovely prose -- some sections are truly beautiful. Donna Tartt can write an arresting paragraph, to be sure. Here is one that gave me pause:

"I don't care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here's the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence -- of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do -- is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous 'Our Town' nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me -- and I'll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool."

Um, yeah, this book is depressing. The story opens with a young boy, Theo, surviving a tragedy, but his mother died and he feels responsible. Meanwhile, Theo steals a famous painting from a museum, one that shows a goldfinch chained to a perch, because his mother had loved the painting and he wanted to keep it safe. For the rest of the novel, the fate of the painting hangs in the balance. Theo agonizes over how and when to return it, and what crime he'll face. Eventually he ends up in the art underworld, caught in a complex scam.

So the plot is rich and detailed, but my complaint was with the characters: I didn't like Theo, or his dad, or his dad's girlfriend, or his friend Boris, or Boris' girlfriend, etc. And Theo makes so many bad choices throughout the novel that it was difficult for me to care about what happened to him. Spending more than 700 pages without caring about the main character was a bit punishing. (And yet I kept reading! It's like I was that poor goldfinch chained to the book.)

There were also too much written about repairing furniture, and WAY too much coverage of Theo's drug and alcohol abuse. I understand that he had post-traumatic stress disorder and that he was anxious and fearful, but I didn't need to read dozens of pages on how drunk and high he was. I don't think this novel had anything new to say about altered realities or making dumb decisions when you're bombed.

While reading, I frequently made comparisons to Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities," a similarly long novel with an unlikable main character who gets caught in a dark web. "Bonfire" was considered the book that defined the '80s decade, and it seems like "The Goldfinch" is poised to be the book that defines the post-9/11 era. I'm glad I've read it, but I'm even more glad I'm done with it.

Journey Into Africa

Looking for Lovedu: A Woman's Journey Through Africa by Ann Jones
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the classic story of woman meets man, woman wants to travel around Africa, man gets a car and takes over driving, man contracts malaria and woman takes care of him, woman suffers in silence while man is stubborn and refuses to compromise, woman gets fed up and ditches man, woman finds female friends and finally travels around Africa the way she wants. The end.

OK, it might not be a classic story, but it should be. American writer Ann Jones was inspired to visit the Lovedu (pronounced low-BAY-doo) tribe in South Africa because they are ruled by a queen who is known for her peacefulness and her reputed power to control the rain. Jones' first traveling companion is a brash, headstrong and obstinate photographer from England named Kevin Muggleton, who is good at fixing their vehicle but is terrible at being kind. Muggleton wants to make a "Cape to Cairo" kind of trip, meaning driving the length and breadth of the continent. Jones wants to see as much of Africa as she can, and is especially interested in the lives of African women. 

"It's the hard-times Africa you read about: one vast undifferentiated lump of dismal news reports dispatched from dreary expat bars by disaffected Western journalists whose secret woe is that the AIDS epidemic makes it too risky to get laid. I wanted to see the rest of Africa, whatever that might be ... I wanted to meet the common people, who, I imagined, must be very different from the governments that sell them out. I wanted to see the bits and pieces of the continent, so many, so varied, and so complex that they might include a rainmaking queen. Ours would be no great expedition of discovery. But it wouldn't be a Hertz rent-a-weekend either."

The pair start their journey in Morocco, drive down the western coastline, through the Sahara Desert, across central Africa and finally split up in Kenya. As Muggleton predicted, every day they faced challenges. In addition to dodgy political conditions, they were up against extremes of nature: desert, jungle, river valleys, mountains, rain and scorching heat. During their months-long trip together, Muggleton would drive as fast as he could, racing through villages and countries and ignoring every request from Jones to stop. The only time Muggleton slowed down was when the vehicle needed repairs. 

"It dawned on me as I saw in the rearview mirror yet another beautiful watermelon vendor swallowed in the dust behind us that our expedition was split down the middle as surely as if the Senegal River ran straight through the center of the Land Rover, separating Mugggleton from Jones just as it separated north from south... For me the journey had ceased to be a foolhardy adventure and become a sort of quest — not merely for Loveduland, but for Africa. I yearned for the slow pace of African village life, not the forced march of the European barging through the land with conquest in mind. Of course, I wanted to reach Loveduland and see the Queen. Being an aging female, how could I help but be drawn to a community that values aging females, submits to the power of an aging female ruler, recognizes her experience and wisdom, and choose to be guided by her? What could be more natural? But more than that, I wanted to learn from the Africa we were passing through. Today. Now. That would have meant wandering in the streets, lingering in the markets, falling into conversations, and for that Muggleton had no time. Being a young man, he hoped to find himself in adventures that could not come fast enough. He was always throwing his heart before him, someplace down the road."

In Nairobi, Jones meets two women who agree to go with her to South Africa, and the pace of their travel slows down. They enjoy a holiday at the beach, they camp and cook traditional African dishes, and they finally find their way to meet the Queen, who was even more impressive and serene than Jones imagined.

"As women together we were more or less content to accept the world as we found. To Muggleton Africa was a challenge, an obstacle, a battleground, an arena for the performance of exploits that sprang full-blown from his itchy imagination. To us Africa was the home of people we were pleased to meet. We moved through our days more slowly, though we felt our pace was still too fast."

Aside from the interesting power dynamic between Jones and Muggleton, what I especially liked about this travelogue were the details and history of each country they passed through. The differences between the nations could be striking. For example, the roads in Zaire could barely qualify as roads, they were really just giant mud pools in which vehicles frequently got stuck and had to be dug out. But as soon as they crossed into Uganda, which was more politically stable and had better infrastructure, there were paved highways again. It is easy for Westerners to lump all of the countries of Africa together, but this book is excellent at reminding us that no, you cannot do that. 

"The continent is not all of a piece, one entity with no other history than that imposed by its colonizers. It's a great jumble of individual countries, tiny and immense, poor and rich, agrarian and industrialized, home to countless colors, ethnicities, religions, languages, cultures ... Indeed, one of the great discussions among African intellectuals today concerns what it means to be African ... What makes Africa 'dark' is our own ignorance of the place. We don't know its history or much about its present condition either. We've forgotten that it is the homeland of us all."

As you can imagine, when Jones returned to America, she had trouble adapting to the wealth and excess of goods here, and even resented always being shut up in air conditioning. She sold her New York apartment and most of her possessions and headed west to the desert, where she enjoyed living with windows wide open. I enjoyed Jones' writing so much that I plan to read her other books.

I would recommend "Looking for Lovedu" to anyone who likes travelogues or who wants to read more about Africa.

So Sayeth the Crowman: An Interview with Joseph D'Lacey

Today's guest is Joseph D'Lacey, author of The Black Dawn Duology.

How long was the Black Dawn in your head before you put pen to paper? I understand the road to publication was a long one.

Some of the earliest triggers were from my adolescence; studying crows for an art project, in fact. But many other people and experiences contributed to the germination over the years. I began writing in Oct ’09 and finished a year later – both novels were originally written as a single work, incidentally. It then took me a further two years to sell the project. Compared to some of my novels, though, that’s actually not bad!

How did you hook up with Angry Robot?
The novel had been doing the rounds and had received genuine interest from editors at some big publishing houses. Unfortunately, despite being ‘chosen’ the book didn’t make it through subsequent acquisition meetings – you discover all these things much later, of course. Anyway, one evening, very late, I found myself talking to an Angry Robot editor in a bar at a convention and pitched the idea to him. He said he wanted to see it. The rest is history.

What are the big inspirations behind The Black Dawn?
I wanted to write the story of a messiah from birth to martyrdom and I wanted to do that in a ‘contemporary’ setting. I also wanted this particular apocalypse to be an ultimately positive event. I love the idea of ‘light out of darkness’ and tried hard to bring that theme to the work.

Was it hard to shift gears from the horror of your earlier works like Meat when writing Black Feathers and The Book of the Crowman?
I tend to write the-idea-that-won’t-leave-me-alone before all the others. That sometimes means I end up working in a genre that I’m not ‘associated’ with.

When I wrote MEAT, I was utterly consumed by the horrors of slaughter and was hell bent on exploring that, to the maximum, in a fictional setting. But it wasn’t the genre that drove me, it was the theme. The same was true for The Black Dawn books, which are perceived as Fantasy rather than Horror.

What ties many of my individual works together is not genre so much as ecological and environmental themes. I expect that will continue to be the case for some time.

Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons? The Keepers remind me of D&D Druids.
I’ve never tried any role-playing games, however, the Keepers certainly are druidic by nature. They are the healers and shamans of The Bright Day, communing with spirit and nature with every breath.

That said, if anyone ever used any of my characters in RPGs, I’d be nothing but flattered!

What are you reading now?
‘Path of Needles’ by Alison Littlewood – a murder thriller with an edge of the supernatural…

What is your favorite book of all time?
I must have a dozen or more favourite books of all time!

Among them: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series.

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

I love his work – particularly his early novellas and short fiction – but I think he also helped me to believe that I could write. By the time On Writing came out, I’d been pursuing ‘the craft’ for a few years but it remains the only book about writing that I’ve read three times and would read again.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
Every book I’ve ever read, I think! I loved books and bookshops and libraries from an early age. So when I was reading something – anything – I always aspired to be as good as the great writers and do better than the dreadful ones.

What's next on your plate?
Right now, I’m working on a story for Jurassic London’s A Town Called Pandemonium #2. A bit tricky because it’s set in 1923 and means I’m doing a lot of research.

After that, the next novel is giving me those come-hither looks – more Fantasy, perhaps…

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
  • Write as much as you can, in every possible way and style.
  • Experiment. All the time.
  • Write 1000 uncensored, free-flow words every day – before writing.
  • Read books, do courses, attend lessons, join writing groups, use editors. Leave no ‘educational’ door untried.
  • Discard what doesn’t feel right and live by your hard-won personal writing truths.
  • Allow yourself to make a tankerload of mistakes – you have to fuck up before you can learn anything.
  • Write what you love in order to find your authentic voice.
  • Enjoy the process – it’s an awful process sometimes – because beating yourself up doesn’t help.
  • Persevere. If you quit, you’ll never find out what happens at the end!


HebrewPunkHebrewPunk by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

HebrewPunk is a collection of tales by Lavie Tidhar, tales steeped in Hebrew mysticism.

I first encountered Lavie Tidhar with The Bookman and was eager to see what else he had going on. When I saw this, I was pretty excited. Then I let it sit unread for over a year. Go figure.

Anyway, HebrewPunk is a collection of four tales from Lavie Tidhar, all involving characters or situations influenced by Hebrew lore. You've got a heist story featuring a Rabbi planner, a vampire burglar named Jimmy the Rat, a golem named Goldie and a Frankie the Tzaddik, a wandering Jew, attempting to rob a blood bank, of all things. The other stories are as compelling, like an expedition for a proposed Jewish city-state in the mountains of west Africa, to Jimmy the Rat fighting Nazi Wolfkommandos in World War II Transylvania.

The stories are fairly pulpy and very entertaining. Throughout, I was reminded of Edward Erdelac and his Merkabah Rider series, another Hebrew-themed pulp series. Fine company for a book this good. It's hard to believe this was Tidhar's debut. It's that polished and that well-written.

If I had to gripe about something, it would be that this book wasn't about ten times as large. Four six-pointed stars! I want more HebrewPunk!

View all my reviews

Monday, January 27, 2014

Another Lyrical and Thought-Provoking Thriller from Boston Teran

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

One of my favorite books of the last few years was The Creed of Violence, by the elusive and mysterious author, Boston Teran. Set mostly in pre-revolutionary Mexico in the early Twentieth Century, it featured two great protagonists and an engrossing, convoluted and thought-provoking story.

Now comes an excellent sequel, The Country I Lived In, set in Texas and in Mexico, and featuring John Rawbone Lourdes, the son and grandson of the two protagonists from the earlier book. It's the dawn of a new age in the United States; prosperity reigns, rock and roll has come crashing into the culture; the early glimmerings of a new civil rights movement can be seen in the South and elsewhere, and the Beats are beginning to pave the way for the Counter Culture revolution that would transform the country only a few years later.

Against that backdrop, though, powerful forces are resistant to change, fearful of a Communist menace from abroad and afraid that those who challenge the status quo here at home are weakening the country from within. Barry Goldwater has not yet suggested that extremism in the face of defense of liberty is no vice, but there are those who clearly believe this to be the case. And they are ready and willing to take whatever steps they feel are necessary to protect what they perceive to be America's best interests, whether it involves overthrowing governments abroad or stamping out internal dissent here at home.

Into this mix steps John Rawbone Lourdes, a young man made old before his time by having fought in both World War II and Korea. Now he just wants the opportunity to finally get to know the country that he has given so much to defend. "Something was missing from his life, something of purpose and destiny, to take away the quiet sadness that kept to itself inside him."

Lourdes has bought a new Packard convertible and wants nothing more than to "hit out on the road...[like] Huck on the river, Parkman on the Oregon Trail, Brando burning up miles of asphalt in The Wild Ones." Fate intervenes, though, when Lourdes gets a desperate call from an old army friend in Laredo who is in trouble and needs his help.

Sadly, Lourdes arrives only a little too late, to find that his friend has been tortured and murdered. Lourdes feels honor-bound to investigate and avenge his friend's death, even though he has no idea what sort of trouble his friend might have been in.

It soon becomes apparent that some very dark and mysterious forces are at work here, including agents of the CIA. They immediately put the squeeze on Lourdes, suggesting that he was in league with his murdered friend in illegal activities and questioning his own patriotism in spite of his long and decorated military service. But in the spirit of his father and grandfather, John Rawbone Lourdes is not a man to be intimidated or to be distracted from his self-appointed mission. He is also not a man who should be underestimated.

What follows is a scary and fascinating tale that races deep into the heart of Mexico and involves a great cast of characters, including two very gutsy and determined women. Like its predecessor, this is a book that will keep most readers up well into the night and that will keep them thinking about these characters and about the issues this book raises for a very long time to come.

Revolution Grrrl Style

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl RevolutionGirls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars







So began the primal scream of a frustrated girl, an angry band, a feminist movement.

Girls to the Front is about the Riot Grrrl movement of the early '90s, and when you speak of Riot Grrrl, you speak of Kathleen Hanna and her band Bikini Kill. Hanna released her rage against the sexism that surrounded her through music, discovering a sort of cadre of like-minded girls in Olympia, WA, some of whom were already entrenched in grassroots feminist punk ideology. Together they formed a united sisterhood that sought an end to sexist behavior and actions - be it catcalls or rape - through violence if necessary. They were sick of boys (and men) keeping them down, holding them back, and they were ready to fight for equality.

At its pinnacle of success, Riot Grrrl was a glorious camaraderie of young women gathering together to express themselves, their fears, their longings, to pour out their darkest nightmares thrust upon them by horrifying encounters. Some had suffered worse than others, but nearly all rejoiced in having a safe place to gather and discuss their stories, whatever backgrounds may have driven them to Riot Grrrl.

At its lowest point, Riot Grrrl was a misunderstood and misguided, amoebic, antagonistic entity flailing against the mass media that infiltrated and eventually corrupted it, just as much as it flailed against itself, with grrrls fighting grrrls over petty squabbles or the very fabric of their own ideology.

While in college, a friend and I attempted to go to a Bikini Kill concert in Boston, but it was cancelled. Rumor had it that a fight had broken out at the previous night's show and, due to some guy getting his ass kicked by a bunch of girls, the tour was on hold. From an outsider/boy's perspective, that was Riot Grrrl. As an outsider on the fringe of this underground movement - going to shows and putting out my own zines - I wanted to know what was going on. But this was a girls' club and I wasn't invited.

Luckily, along came Sara Marcus' book, perhaps 20 years too late for me, but I was glad nonetheless to finally lift the veil and discover what I'd missed, to learn what had really gone on. Marcus wields her words with a deft hand, a mighty stroke and blunt force. Girls to the Front is not perfect (It gets an extra star from me for pure nostalgia's sake), but you are in good hands with this writer on this topic. Most of society won't get this. Those girls that were part of this movement won't need this. But for those of us who collected riot grrrl band 7 inches or caught their record store shows with a couple dozen other folks, but got no closer, this book is for us.

Friday, January 24, 2014

City of Truth

James K. Morrow
Mariner Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars

Nebula Award for Best Novella (1992)


In Veritas, people have been conditioned to always tell the truth, no matter how unnerving the truth may be. Jack Sperry must learn to lie in order to save his son.

My Review

I was feeling a need to revisit old favorites and couldn’t resist picking up this 1992 Nebula Award winner from the library.

It was as enjoyable, humorous, smart and heartbreaking as I remembered it.

38-year-old Jack Sperry lives in Veritas, a modern city where its inhabitants all undergo a painful shock treatment known as “the burn” when they are young in order to render them unable to tell a lie. Without the little deceptions that preserve a person’s feelings, provide comfort, prevent conflicts, or make children happy (yes, there is a Santa Claus!), the world Jack lives in is an indifferent and emotionless place.

Jack gets satisfaction from his work as a “deconstructionist”, evaluating and destroying the art and literature from the “Age of Lies”. Yet, that doesn’t stop Jack from becoming interested in Martina, a “dissembler” who writes verses for greeting cards. His wife, Helen, feels they ought to turn her into the Brutality Squad for her poetic lies, but they have bigger issues to worry about.

Their young son, Toby, has been bitten by a rare rabbit and infected with the deadly Xavier’s Plague. The doctors in Veritas have told the truth, but Jack isn’t ready to give up. He doesn’t want Toby to learn the truth about his diagnosis, so he reads up on the mind-body connection in The Journal of Psychic Healingand learns that there is hope.

Jack wonders how Martina has overcome her conditioning, and wants to do so himself. He journeys underground, to the city of Satirev, where he meets others like Martina, people who engage in those deceptions that give hope, provide comfort, and make others happy. He hopes this will help Toby combat his illness.

Despite the fact there were lots of white lies and hard truths going around, this was a story about love, trust, and the strong bond between parent and child.

“Because, you see, it was like this: on his fifth birthday we’d taken Toby to the Imprisoned Animals Garden in Spinoza Borough. Fawns roamed the petting zoo at will, prancing about on their cloven hoofs, noses thrust forward in search of hand-outs. Preschoolers swarmed everywhere, feeding the creatures peanut brittle, giggling as the eager tongues stroked their palms. Whenever another person’s child laughed upon being so suckled, I was not especially moved. Whenever my own did the same, I felt something else entirely, something difficult to describe. I believe I saw the alleged God.”

Highly recommended!

Also posted at Goodreads

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Love and Obsession


Vladimir Nabokov

Review by Zorena

Five Stars


Nabokov's most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hyper civilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love. Love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

My Review

I have recently been tackling Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time and decided that if I really wanted to read about love's obsession I may as well go to the pinnacle of this type of literature and read Lolita. I started this with a few preconceived notions but tried to keep an open mind.

How can one so loathe a character and a subject matter yet love the book? It's the writing of course. Nabokov takes a sinister and contentious subject and let's you into the mind of a man completely obsessed with what he calls nymphets but never does Nabokov make it a judgement. He let's his main character, Humbert, slowly reveal himself as what civilized people would call a monster. The person that you initially found yourself relating to becomes abhorrent to you instead.

Humbert is rife with self delusion during a good majority of what he does. He sees his love reciprocated and even suggests that she had seduced him. He is relentless with his desires and while it is rape he sees it as love. So it surprised me that he did show remorse for how he had perverted his little Lolita in the end. Still, he is a monster and a murderous one at that.

If you can get past your revulsion for the main topic of this novel you will discover some very powerful and wonderful writing.

A Rough Cut Gem

by Cynthia Bond
Published by Hogarth
Available on April 29, 2014

Reviewed by Amanda
4 Out of 5 Stars

I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The small town of Liberty, Texas, offers its residents anything but liberty. People find themselves bound by secrets, both theirs and those of others. It's a place where God's word is in everyone's mouth, but it's the devil who rules their hearts--and he roams the woods at night. With hypocritical righteousness and dark intentions, the town turns as a whole on Ruby Bell. The beautiful and spirited Ruby is a modern day Eve whose beauty lures in both men and women, while putting her own soul in peril. When Ruby attempts to escape the darkness of Liberty, it's not long before her past draws her back into the town's clutches.

After her return to Liberty from New York City, Ruby's confrontation with the past draws her into madness. She becomes a wild thing, existing on the fringes of society, used by men to satisfy their lust and shunned by the women. Ephram Jennings, a quiet, patient man who still sees Ruby's hidden value, sets about saving her soul with the gift of an Angel Food cake and, in this simple gesture, takes on the prejudices of an entire town. Through Ephram's patient ministrations, we learn of the personal demons that haunt Ruby and of the tangled web of lies and violence that ultimately connect everyone in Liberty. While the narrative can seem somewhat disjointed and sudden revelations about characters can at first seem incongruous with what we already know of them, the reader can be assured that these seemingly disparate threads will ultimately be drawn together into a coherent portrait of a community destroying itself from the inside out.

Using poetic language and brutal, unrelenting scenes of physical and sexual violence, Ruby makes the intra-racial racism within an early 20th century black community tangible and reveals the dangers that come with spiritually cannibalizing one of its own. There are certainly overtones of Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison here, but Cynthia Bond is never guilty of cheap imitation and tells a story that is uniquely her own. Particularly inventive is the use of a supernatural element to explain how the desire for or claiming of "white power" within the black community transfers hate and prejudice to those who were once its targets.

This is not an easy book to read and those with a low tolerance for rape, pedophilia, and graphic sexual scenes need not apply. While I sometimes found the frequency of these scenes a bit over the top ("Please, just give me one, ONE character who had a healthy, wholesome childhood," I mentally begged), it's made bearable as the novel ends with the possibility of hope and redemption.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bird BoxBird Box by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

our minds have ceilings, Malorie...
these things...
they are beyond it…
higher than it…
out of reach…
out of--


 photo closed-eyes_zpsd72b92b6.jpg
Whatever you do DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES!!

Malorie has just confirmed she is pregnant the very day that people begin killing themselves. News travels so fast now. Something can happen in Cairo. Someone can film it, load it to the internet, and within minutes of the event occurring someone in Des Moines is watching what happened. News, mostly tragic news, from around the world now impacts us instantaneously. The world, consequently, feels like a much more dangerous place than it did 50 years ago. So when this new phenomenon starts happening everyone knows about it very quickly. Terror escalates exponentially, and has reached a highly sustained level long before this catastrophe has contaminated the whole world.

”What kind of a man cowers when the end of the world comes? When his brothers are killing themselves, when the streets of suburban America are infested with murder...what kind of man hides behind blankets and blindfolds? The answer is MOST men. They were told they would go mad. So they go mad.”

It turns out everyone was right to be afraid.

There is something out there. If you see it... you go insane.

It goes through the world population like a pestilent storm. We have windows in our dwellings, in our work buildings,and in our schools because we WATCH the world. It only takes a moment, a need that can’t be ignored, one parting of a curtain, for us to see one of these creatures, and become deranged.

We do violent things to ourselves.The lizard inside us meant to fight when flight is not an option turns inward.

To live, we must reside in darkness, shrouded by blindfolds, tucked in dwellings behind blanketed windows. It is maddening to have our world reduced to so little.

 photo blindfolded_zpsac751bde.jpg

So what are these creatures and do they know what they do to us?

After Malorie’s sister Shannon kills herself with a pair of scissors, Malorie is all alone. Some kook has been offering sanctuary at his house in newspaper ads when this manifestation first started to appear. Suddenly, with her changed circumstances, the kook becomes her best option.

The kook is dead, but the people he sheltered are still alive.

Tom and Jules are the alpha males who take chances, range the farthest away, blindfolded and with sticks to guide them, to find necessary supplies. Don is the weakest, the one that has found it hardest to adjust. He is also the most cynical.

”They’ll eventually get us, Don said. There’s no reason to think otherwise. It’s end times, people. And if it’s a matter of a creature our brains are incapable of comprehending, then we deserve it. I always assumed the end would come because of our own stupidity.”

For a few blissful months Malorie can feel reasonably safe nestled in the routine of this small group of survivors. Meanwhile her tummy is getting rounder.

Then Gary arrives. He whispers things to Don. Like any good charlatan he can pick the most vulnerable out of a crowd. He can sense their doubts before he ever hears them express them..

Gary thinks he is immune.

Which begs the question, if the bindings that keep our minds anchored in sanity have long been shorn away can the creatures do anymore damage?

There are two time lines at play in this book. One is during the few months when Malorie is with the sanctuary group. The other is four years later when she is raising two children that have never seen...well...anything beyond the cramped world of one house.

”The same colors. The same colors. The same colors for years. YEARS. Are you prepared? And what scares you more? The creatures or yourself, as the memories of a million sights and colors come flooding toward you? What scares you more?

Josh Malerman does a fantastic job building the suspense, allowing the tension to stretch nerves to the breaking point. Information is opaque. He doesn’t cheat and give the reader information before the characters figure something out. I kept thinking of the movie Monsters from 2010. There are monsters; and yet, we are not allowed to see them. We hear them. We see the reactions of the characters, and somehow the terror is more acute when our brain does not have a shape, an entity to project our fear onto. Our mounting terror is allowed to gallop unrestrained, and each of us conjures our own version of a terrifying specter.

”You add the details, she thinks. It’s your idea of what they look like, and details are added to a body and a shape that you have no concept of. To a face that might have no face at all.”

Malerman has created a dystopia that will play on all your fears and will stir up all your insecurities. You will question whether you can live in a world where one glimpse of a sun dappled street might cost you your life. Highly recommended for those that like books that will cost them some sleep.

As a companion volume read Blindness by Jose Saramago

View all my reviews

The Way of the Assassin, the Way of the Warrior

Lone Wolf & Cub, vol. 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger

Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by: Terry 

4 out of 5 stars

Volume three of “Lone Wolf and Cub” expands on Ogami Itto’s backstory quite a bit and finally shows us what led an upstanding samurai to abandon the world and embark on the path of the assassin. It also shows us that those who fear Lone Wolf and Cub do so not only because of the skill with which he wields his sword, but due to the knowledge of the ways and secrets of the Shogunate that he possesses. Criticism of the hypocritical nature of the way of the samurai continues to be voiced and it seems at times as though Ogami Itto is a corrective to the offenses of those that abuse their powers grown from their very ranks and using their own methods against them.

“The Flute of the Fallen Tiger”: Ogami must face three deadly fighters whose job it is to safely transport key witnesses in disputes between Hans to the court of the Shogun. Interestingly we start to see the mysterious assassin Lone Wolf and Cub starting to be identified as one and the same as Ogami Itto, one time executioner for the Shogun. Agents of the powers-that-be know that this deadly assassin is more than just a warrior to be reckoned with, he is one of their own whose inside knowledge might shake the place of the Shogunate itself.

“Half Mat, One Mat, A Fistful of Rice”: Merely stopping to watch an itinerant street performer leads Lone Wolf and Cub into a battle of life and death. This is another case where Ogami is recognized and must fight against a warrior of exceptional talent in order to continue on his quest. This time, though, his enemy takes up the sword not out of a wish to safeguard the powers-that-be from an enemy who knows their secrets, but rather through the fear of a compassionate man that the unchecked violence of Lone Wolf and Cub will lead to far too much suffering and death. So far in the series this tale is probably the most explicit in its criticisms of the bushido way and the imbalance and violence that it spawns in society.

“The White Path Between the Rivers”: At last we get to witness all of the events that led Ogami Itto, the Kogi Kaishakunin (the Shogun’s own executioner), to adopt the way of the assassin and take to the road of meifumado with his baby son. A tale of murder, political intrigue, and vengeance that doesn’t leave one too surprised at the ruthless determination that Ogami adopts, and we get our first glance at his true enemy, the wily and resourceful  Yagyu Retsudo, secret leader of the powerful Yagyu clan.

“The Virgin and the Whore”: A young woman sold into prostitution kills her procurer after he attempts to rape her and ends up running for protection to Lone Wolf and Cub. Uncharacteristically, Ogami decides to intervene in the affairs of the ‘real world’ and protects her in the face of the threat of death and torture at the hands of her Yakuza masters. What could possibly cause Ogami to abandon the heartless path of meifumado merely to protect a young girl in trouble? Does his compassion perhaps have some other motive more true to the ruthless assassin we have come to know?

“Close Quarters”: Once again we see that Ogami has to beware of not only his targets, but also his employers. Yet again putting his son in danger’s path and using him as a tool to fool his victims, Ogami infiltrates the hideout of a group of rebellious samurai in a bid to halt their attempt at coercing their Han Governor into giving up on a newly instituted lumber scheme. As is often the case Ogami’s clients aren’t always happy to let the assassin leave once he fulfills his contract.

Also posted at Goodreads