Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"The Girl Before" by JP Delaney

This is one of the most interesting books I have read this year.  I love mysteries and this one is in the psychological thriller subgenre.  It started a little bit slow as I was getting to know Emma and Jane, and kept building straight through the end.

Emma and Jane are alternating first person narrators as "then and now" tenants in an unusual ultra-modern "concept" house that they must apply to rent by taking a personality-type test (questions from the test are spaced throughout the book and an interview with the celebrity architect who designed it.  Once selected, they are able to rent it at a bargain price in exchange for following an exacting set of rules.  The rules are so encompassing that living in the house starts to change who they are and the house almost becomes a character of its own.  At the very least it is an extension of the architect.  Emma moves in with her boyfriend after a break-in at their previous apartment.  Jane moves in some time later after a personal loss.

As the story unfolds through the eyes of these women, it is hard to figure out what happened.  At first you lean one way and then you learn more information and go the other way until the author has you neatly tied up in knots.  Even at the very end, I still think there is room for things to go a couple different ways.  You think the book has most likely ended one way, but I'm just not 100% sure.  That sense of being not quite certain what is going on is one of the reasons this was such a good psychological thriller.

I am going to tell all my reader friends to get this book.

I received a free advanced readers copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Breaking Bad with Powdered Wigs? Mais, oui!

Author: Aprilynne Pike
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 10/25/16

When you first read the description of Glitter, you might think it’s just plain odd.  Breaking Bad meets Marie Antoinette?  A pretty you thing and a powerful drug in lip gloss? 

But what you get is a wonderfully original read that’s edgy, fun, and has just enough history meets sf to keep you reading non-stop until you finish.  Honestly, if I didn’t have to work, I would have binge read this entire thing in one sitting. 

Now, keep in mind, it’s a cliffhanger.  But, oh it’s a good one.  If book two were available now, it would already be on my kindle and I’d be reading it instead of typing this review.  It’s the kind of cliffhanger that makes you scream “NO!”, yet doesn’t anger you.  You just really, really, really want to see what happens next.

The world building was stellar.  As I read, the more logical part of my brain would come up with questions, but the author handled them beautifully, building a complete world that’s utterly different from anything you’ve read before.

And our characters?  Complex.  Danica is very like Marie Antoinette in which she’s well meaning, yet incredibly self-centered all at once.  Yet, she’s still likeable.  But, oh, so many people get hurt in her quest for freedom.

Very simply, I want the next book now!

*ARC Provided by Net Galley

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Bad Seed's Got Nothing on Nora!

Author;  William W. Johnstone
Publisher: Zebra
Publication Date:  9/1/86   Reissue: 9/13/16

A hideous jack-in-the-box.

Murderous Nazis.

And the most evil little girl in print.

William Johnstone brings them all together in a gory, chilling, and very scary roller coaster ride of a book.    The horror starts slowly as you realize that something is terribly wrong with young Nora.  This beautiful young child is warped and wrong – and her family will pay the price.

The book is extremely violent.  I should also warn you that there’s one scene involving Nora that is truly awful – it definitely breaks some taboos.  But this is an excellent piece of horror fiction that will keep you reading breathlessly to the end.  Just don’t expect to get any sleep that night.

I’m extremely happy that the publishers are reissuing these old horror novels.  Old as they may be, they stand up against today’s modern horror wonderfully – in most case surpassing them.

And excellent (and scary) read.

·          ARC Provided by Net Galley

Epic Chilling Horror

Author: William W. Johnstone
Publisher: Zebra Books / Kensington Publishing Corp.
Publication Date:  1986 - Reissue 9/13/16

I am so very pleased that books from horror’s golden age (lol – okay, the 1980’s) are being issued, and Rockinghorse is one of the best!   I read many of these books when I was a kid, but completely missed this one, so I’m even more pleased that I had a chance to read this one.

In pure William W. Johnstone style, the most innocent of items – in this case an adorable rocking horse, becomes a tool of great evil.   The book is fast, violent, and extremely scary.

If you’ve read Johnstone before, you’ll recognize his horror formula.    A community must take sides between good and evil – and it’s not always clear who’s on which side.  Then comes isolation and an epic battle of good vs. evil.

Johnstone puts many of today’s shock horror writers to shame.  He knew how to deliver the perfect combination of shocks and chills and this one is guaranteed to keep you reading.

I hope the publishers continue this trend.  I’ll read all they can throw at me!

·         ARC Provided by Net Galley

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Complex & Meaty

Author: Douglas Perry
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Publication Date:  9/6/16

This is a strangely complex yet compelling novel.  This feels more like a crime novel than a standard mystery.

There’s a huge cast of characters and a series of terrible events, seemingly unconnected, that meld together to form a dark and furiously stark book.  Because of the large cast, it takes the reader a while to really get to know anyone, but when you do, you discover unexpected complexities in each of them.

While there’s some violence in the book, it’s more of an overwhelming sense of menace as you witness a town and its people devolve in the face of an unknown terror.

The author does disclose the truth behind the terror, but it’s almost at the end of the book.  It’s ultimately a satisfying reason, but there was a part of me that wished the truth was vastly different. 

Note that the characters (again that huge cast) also have a lot of backstories – and many of them felt unimportant.  I really didn’t need to know the histories, hopes, dreams, and motivations of every character – but I got to read them!

Four stars.  It’s a weighty book and may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you stick with it, you’ll start to find that the various characters and stories meld into a meaty and satisfying read.

*ARC Provided by Net Galley

Gruesome Goodness!

 On Goodreads

The Jersey Devil
Author: Hunter Shea
Publisher: Pinnacle
Publication Date: 8/30/16

Whether you’re new to Hunter Shea’s horror or a long time reader, you’re in for a terrifying treat with this one.

In The Jersey Devil, Shea brings into the heart of the Pine Barrens to meet New Jersey’s most terrifying resident.   Expect blood and gore from the very first chapter.  It simply doesn’t let up.

However, this isn’t just a gore-fest.  Shea introduces us to a family that has a very special interest in the Jersey Devil – a very dangerous interest.   It’s one of those ‘family that slays together stays together’ things, and you’ll love it. 

Expect characters you’ll love, some you’ll weep for, and relentless terrifying horror.  If you live anywhere near the Barrens, you’ll be looking over your shoulder as you read.

Truly excellent horror!

*ARC Provided by Net Galley

Thursday, August 11, 2016

M.C. Beaton is Back!

Pushing Up Daisies
Author: M.C. Beaton
Publisher: Constable
Publication Date: 9/1/16

M.C. Beaton is one of my favorite authors and Agatha Raisin one of my favorite characters.  However, honestly, the book prior to this one was just okay.  I gave it three stars and found it really messy.  I was a little afraid that this favorite was on a down slope.

I needn’t have worried.

Pushing Up Daisies is an absolute delight.   When a wealthy man is found dead, his son hired Agatha to investigate the murder – and get the attention of the police off of him.  When Agatha takes the case, she’s thrust into a web of murder, gossip, and veggie growing.  Can she discover the identity of the murderer before it’s too late?

You will get some of the usual here.  Agatha still falls for unsuitable men, but she seems to be a bit more self aware in this one.  There’s an underlying sadness to her encounters.  Agatha (finally) may be growing up a little.  In addition, you get that seedy undercurrent to the bucolic village life that Beaton does so well.

This one is a fast, sharp, and smart read.  I’m very glad that Beaton is back!

·         ARC Provided by Net Galley

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Humans Make Good Snacks!

Author: Kurt Anderson
Publisher: Pinnacle
Publication Date: 5/31/16

I just had the fun of reading Devour by Kurt Anderson.

Now, those who know me know that I love books where giant chompy things decide that humans make the best snacks and this is a good one.   I try not to divulge the exact nature of our chompy things in my review.  I’ll just say that this is big.  Very, very big.  And very, very hungry.

Anderson does a bit of a slow build up in this one.  While you get a bit of blood in the beginning of the book, Anderson spends a bit more time developing his characters.  You have to wait for the majority of the action.  But when it comes, it comes in spades.  The body count is high.  Bullets fly.  Teeth gnash.  And you’ll grab your popcorn and race through to the end of the book.

So, kind of a slow start, but once things get going, you’re in for a wild and bloody ride.  I hope the author brings us more chompy things in the future!

·         ARC Provided by Netgalley.

Here There Be Dragons…

Author: Keith Yatsuhashi
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication Date: 8/2/16

And what dragons they are!  (Okay, I should have said ‘be’ here, but my inner grammar nazi is complaining.)

Kojiki, by Keith Yatsuhashi is a wonderfully fantastical tale of dragons, ancient spirts, and the modern day world.  Keiko is a wonderful character.  I enjoyed her struggle to believe what was happening, but enjoyed it even more when she embraced her dangerous adventure.   The book will hit all the right notes for anyone with an interest in Japanese culture and mythology.

But really, I was there for the dragons.  These fierce guardians are awe-inspiring.  Huge, dangerous, and everything dragons should be.   I could practically see them attack as I read!

If I had one nitpick with the book, it was that I didn’t love the things that happened in the US quite as much.  That particular storyline held little interest for me at first.  Other than that, this was a terrific read!

·         ARC Provided by Net Galley

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"The City of Mirrors" by Justin Cronin starts out slow but is an ultimately satisfying finale to The Passage trilogy

Fans of this trilogy have waited a long long time for the ending and it is finally here.  You absolutely should not read this book without having first read "The Passage" and "The Twelve."  If you have time, I strongly recommend re-reading (or listening to the audiobooks) the first two books before starting this book.  I know that is a lot of reading -- these books are big time commitments to read -- but I wish I had made time to re-read (or at least skim through) them again before starting this book.

The reason for revisiting the first two books is because it has been so long since The Twelve came out that I had not only forgotten a lot of the details of what happened in the first two books, but more importantly I had lost my emotional connection to the characters.  This meant it took me a long time to get invested in what was happening.

I have a warning for the fans of this trilogy who love the parts where the characters are fighting the virals/dracs and who didn't really care for the parts of the previous books that were more background or emotional -- you might have a hard time with the first couple hundred pages of this book.  But hang in there -- the payoff is worth it.

The book starts with a prologue that is a summary of what happened in The Twelve in the form of passages from a "historical book" presented at one of the global conferences on the North American Quarantine Period that have been a part of all the books.  This helped a little in reminding me what happened but not nearly as much as if I had re-read the books.  Then the book starts with a section on what Alicia did after the end of The Twelve, jumps three years to Texas, where most of the characters are living in what they believe to be a post-virals world. Then the story jumps back to Alicia where the reader learns the background of Zero/Fanning.  I don't want to go into any details because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone.

Fanning's story is a significant chunk of the first half of the book.  Readers who are anxious for viral-fighting action might be inclined to skip over it, but don't give in to the temptation.  (I am a notorious skipper and in fact succumbed once again, only going back to Fanning's story after I got a preview of what was coming ahead.  Don't be like me or you will spoil the book for yourselves.)  Fanning's story lays out the overall theme of the book and all the rest of the "background" parts of the story further embellish the theme as well as setting up the characters for what is to come.

I have always described these books as epic literary vampire thrillers and the first half of this book definitely puts the capital "L" in literary.  Even when I was impatient at the pace, the lovely quality of the writing captivated me.  It is not for nothing that the author is a literature professor -- he can write!

The author may also be a fan of classic vampire movies.  There are a couple visual references to the classic Dracula and Nosferatu movies that I really enjoyed.

It takes around 250 pages before the action starts heating up, but threads from those first couple hundred pages will wind their way through the rest of the book so don't just blow through them to get to the action!  It took me more than a week to read the first half of the book -- and during that time I was thinking it would be a 3 or 4 star book -- and only two days to finish the last half.  By the end it had reached the 5 star level for me.

By the last major section of the book, I was back completely emotionally invested in these characters and everything they had been living through.  That emotional connection had me tearing up numerous times over the last hundred or so pages -- and flat out bawling my eyes out as many more times.

This book answers a lot of questions that have been lingering over the first two books.  Why were scientists looking for this virus in the first place?  Why experiment on a little girl? Why was Amy different than the others? What is the story with the Global Conference that keeps turning up in the books?  And at the same time it raised more questions -- questions I can't put in this review or it will spoil parts of the book for readers!

The overarching theme of this book is love -- which seems strange for an epic literary vampire thriller.  All different kinds of love (or the lack of love) wind their way through the book.  Romantic love, unrequited love, familial love, and the love of long-time friends.  That depth takes this from being just another thriller to being something truly special.

I recommend reading this whole trilogy.  Read it even if you don't think you like vampire novels because it is just that good.

I received a free Advance Readers Copy of this book free through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Watcher in the Wall" by Owen Laukkanen is a more personal entry in the Stevens & Windermere series

This book -- which comes out in March 2016 -- is the 5th book in the Stevens and Windermere series.  Although the story stands alone with some brief references to the case from the previous book in the series, I wouldn't recommend reading it without reading at least the first book in the series.  And really I think you should read at least the first couple books because you need to get the history of these characters and why they are working together and what the relationships are among the major characters.  You would still have a really interesting book to read but would lose a lot of the background.

"Watcher" starts out on a very different note from the stories earlier books in the series which all begin with a violent crime that has a Minnesota connection and in which the FBI gets involved.  This story starts out more quiet and sad -- with a bullied teen committing suicide.  Stevens gets involved because the teen was his daughter's classmate and Windermere has her own personal connection and it hits her hard.  For the first 100 pages, it looked like this book was going to be a dramatic change from the past books where the duo criss-crosses the United States hunting down the bad guys with some dramatic action scenes.  But never fear --  even though the beginning of the book is heavy on the touchy feely and on computer research, it doesn't stay passive for long.

If you are a fan of the series.for the action, don't be put off by what seems to be a departure from the usual formula.  You will get all the action you expect as the investigation reveals that there is more to this case than depressed and suicidal high school students.  I am not going to give away any spoilers, but will let you know that the action heats up in a big way.

But even when the action heats up, the personal aspect to the book stays with you.  One of the hardest parts of the book, both for one of the characters and also for me as a reader, is the description of how so many students laugh along with the bullies, not because they want to be mean to the target but to fit in themselves or out of a desire to not become a target of the bully themselves.  I have been out of high school for a very long time but one of my classmates recently shared on Facebook how much her bullying in high school negatively affected her life.  And I feel ashamed that I was too wrapped up with my own desire to fit in and be liked to notice what she was going through.

In the acknowledgements at the end, the author talks about his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts and encourages bullied or suicidal teens to talk to someone.  He even offers up himself.  I hope someone who needs it takes him up on the offer.

For the rest of us, enjoy another exciting Stevens & Windermere thriller!