Thursday, October 31, 2013

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell
HarperCollins; 10/22/2013
ebook/short story; 50 pages
order of the Sanguines series


From bestsellers Rollins and Cantrell comes a dark story of murder, mystery, and a brotherhood steeped in a bloody past. As a young reporter, Arthur Crane exposed the secrets behind the Orchid Killer, a cult murderer from the late ‘60s whose crimes blackened the end of the Summer of Love. Half a century later, Arthur wakes to find an orchid resting on his pillow, a symbol of death from a killer connected to his estranged younger brother, Christian. To discover the horrifying truth, Arthur will risk all-even his very soul-for Christian may not be the brother that Arthur remembers…

My Thoughts:

In Blood Brothers, a short story exclusive by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, journalist Arthur Crane receives an orchid on what he assumes will be the day of his death. Back in the late 60's he was tracking a killer who left an orchid with the person who would be his next victim. Arthur knows who the killer is, his blood brother Christian, and thinks he knows why the killer is coming for him - again.

This short story is a prequel or back story for the latest release, Innocent Blood
by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell that is due our in December. The previous book was Blood Gospel. This series contains the action/adventure that Rollins is known for combined with a supernatural element. It is well written with excellent characterization and a sharp focus, or in other words, a wonderfully tantalizing glimpse into part of the mythology for the Sanguine series.

very highly recommended

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Clearing

The Clearing by Dan Newman
Angry Robot, 10/29/13
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781909223523


“This childhood nightmare never went away…” In 1971, four boys walked into a jungle. Only three came back alive. They blamed what happened on a mythical monster, but no-one believed them. Forty years later, the truth is finally coming out…Journalist, Nate Mason, is one of the survivors. Haunted by memories he doesn’t fully understand, he returns to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia to unravel the tragic events of his childhood. Back then, as the son of a diplomat, Nate was part of an elite social circle. This included the island’s “royal family”, the De Villiers, who owned a decaying mansion deep in the jungle, staffed by the descendants of slaves. It was here, during a weekend of whispered childhood secrets and dares, that Nate’s innocence was torn apart. But Nate’s not the only one obsessed with the demons in his past. Within hours of arriving back on the island, he becomes convinced he’s being followed. But even though he soon realizes he’s risking his sanity as well as his life, he can’t stop himself from searching for the answers he came here to find. Can childhood nightmares haunt you for the rest of your life?  How much do you need to believe in a monster for it to become real? The Clearing is a dark and atmospheric psychological thriller, full of intrigue, terror and superstition, which examines our deep fear of the unknown.

My Thoughts:

In The Clearing by Dan Newman chapters alternate between three different times in Nate Mason's life, the past, recent past and present day. In the past, 1976, he was a twelve year old boy playing with his friends, Tristan, Pip, and Richard, on the island of St. Lucia. The boys went into the jungle to play but only three of them came out alive. The youngest, 10 year old Richard, was left behind, dead. In the recent past we learn of a more contemporary tragedy in Nate's life. The current chapters deal with Nate going back to St. Lucia, trying to come to terms with what happened in 1976 and in the recent past.

In 1976 it seemed clear that the monster, the bolum, may have been responsible for many of the bad events. Even in the present there is some kind of black magic/voodoo trailing along Nate's path, out to get him. In fact, even other heartbreaking events in Nate's past may be somehow traced back to that tragic day in 1976. Once Nate steps foot on the island it seems something or someone is systematically trying to harm him.

While Newman is certainly a competent writer technically, The Clearing seemed circuitous in the delivery. There seemed to be too much information in the back story that Newman wanted to share which made the delivery of the story a bit ponderous to get through all the meandering at times. It starts out strong and then lags until almost half way at which point it picks up only to slow down again. I think this might have been solved to some degree if more of the back story was told in those chapters and some of the superfluous details were pared out.  In the end the novel felt uneven to me, not really terrifying, and the ending was a bit anticlimactic.

Newman excels at his descriptions of island life and capturing the dialect of the natives in the text. He does manage to set an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue. You will also care about what happens to Nate. Although a comparison to Stand by Me isn't warranted, this is certainly a novel for this time of year.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Angry Robot via Netgalley for review purposes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Death of Santini

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy
Knopf Doubleday/ Nan A. Talese; 10/29/2013
Hardcover, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385530903

In this powerful and intimate memoir, the beloved bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and his father, the inspiration for The Great Santini, find some common ground at long last.

Pat Conroy’s father, Donald Patrick Conroy, was a towering figure in his son’s life. The Marine Corps fighter pilot was often brutal, cruel, and violent; as Pat says, “I hated my father long before I knew there was an English word for ‘hate.’” As the oldest of seven children who were dragged from military base to military base across the South, Pat bore witness to the toll his father’s behavior took on his siblings, and especially on his mother, Peg. She was Pat’s lifeline to a better world—that of books and culture. But eventually, despite repeated confrontations with his father, Pat managed to claw his way toward a life he could have only imagined as a child.
Pat’s great success as a writer has always been intimately linked with the exploration of his family history. While the publication of The Great Santini brought Pat much acclaim, the rift it caused with his father brought even more attention. Their long-simmering conflict burst into the open, fracturing an already battered family. But as Pat tenderly chronicles here, even the oldest of wounds can heal. In the final years of Don Conroy’s life, he and his son reached a rapprochement of sorts. Quite unexpectedly, the Santini who had freely doled out physical abuse to his wife and children refocused his ire on those who had turned on Pat over the years. He defended his son’s honor.
The Death of Santini is at once a heart-wrenching account of personal and family struggle and a poignant lesson in how the ties of blood can both strangle and offer succor. It is an act of reckoning, an exorcism of demons, but one whose ultimate conclusion is that love can soften even the meanest of men, lending significance to one of the most-often quoted lines from Pat’s bestselling novel The Prince of Tides: “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.”

My Thoughts:

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son is a powerful, emotional memoir by Pat Conroy. Most people know that Conroy has found cathartic inspiration for his writing from his childhood. Looming large among those childhood demons was his father,  Colonel Donald Conroy, the inspiration for Bull Meecham in Conroy's The Great Santini. Don Conroy beat his wife and children and seemed incapable of showing affection.  Conroy notes in the opening "I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction.... Only rarely have I drifted far from the bed where I was conceived. It is both the wound and foundation of my work."

Conroy was the oldest of seven children and seemed to have endured the brunt of his father's abuse. Five of the siblings would try to kill themselves before the age of forty; one succeeded. Conroy notes that his father "could have written a manual on the art of waging war against his wife and children. I can’t remember a house I lived in as a child where he did not beat my mother or me or my brothers; nor do I believe that he would’ve noticed if both his daughters had run away from home. As the oldest child, my mother raised me to be the protector of her other kids, to rush them into secret hiding places we had scouted whenever we moved into a new house." 

Conroy writes:

"When I was thirty years old, my novel The Great Santini was published, and there were many things in that book I was afraid to write or feared that no one would believe. But this year I turned sixty-five, the official starting date of old age and the beginning count down to my inevitable death. I've come to realize that I still carry the bruised freight of that childhood every day. I can't run away, hide, or pretend it never happened. I wear it on my back like the carapace of a tortoise, except my shell burdens and does not protect. It weighs me down and fills me with dread.

"The Conroy children were all casualties of war, conscripts in a battle we didn't sign up for on the bloodied envelope of our birth certificates. I grew up to become the family evangelist; Michael, the vessel of anxiety; Kathy, who missed her childhood by going to sleep at six every night; Jim, who is called the dark one; Tim, the sweetest one – and can barely stand to be around any of us; and Tom, our lost and never-to-be found brother. My personal tragedy lies with my sister, Carol Ann, the poet I grew up with and adored...

"I've got to try and make sense of it one last time, a final circling of the block, a reckoning, another dive into the caves of the coral reef where the morays wait in ambush, one more night flight into the immortal darkness to study that house of pain one final time. Then I'll be finished with you, Mom and Dad. I'll leave you in peace and not bother you again. And I'll pray that your stormy spirits find peace in the house of the Lord. But I must examine the wreckage one last time."

And that is what Conroy is attempting to do in The Death of Santini, examine the wreckage of his childhood one last time. He also explores other experiences the also influenced his writing, like his time spent at the Citadel (The Lords of Discipline); teaching on Daufuskie Island, S.C. (The Water is Wide); more on his dysfunctional family and his relationship with his sister (Prince of Tides); leaving Rome to care for his terminally ill mother (Beach Music).

The Death of Santini is a more honest account of his family's dynamics than what is depicted in The Great Santini, and Conroy readily admits this. In real life, his father was actually even more brutal and abusive and his mother was less saintly. Conroy was actually asked to give Bull Meecham some positive emotional scenes for the book which were not true to life. All the brutal scenes, however, were based on real events.

This is a must read for fans of Conroy's work who want to know more about the personal connections between his life and his writing.  The book includes 16 pages of photos.

Highly Recommended

Disclosure: My Kindle advanced reading edition was courtesy of Nan A. Talese via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Death of Bees

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell
HarperCollins; 1/2/2013
Hardcover, 311 pages

ISBN-13: 978-0062209856

"Today I buried my parents in the backyard.
Neither of them were beloved."

Marnie and her little sister, Nelly, are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren't telling. While life in Glasgow's Maryhill housing estate isn't grand, the girls do have each other.

As the New Year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Lennie takes them in—feeds them, clothes them, protects them—and something like a family forms. But soon, the sisters' friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls' family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for one another.

My Thoughts:

Marnie, 15, and Nelly, 12, are sisters who have just buried their parents, Gene and Izzy, in the backyard in The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell. When their father is discovered dead by their mother, who then hangs herself in the shed, the girls decide to bury them both in the backyard so Marnie and Nelly can stay together and won't be sent to foster care. Once Marnie is sixteen she can legally be on her own and take care of Nelly, guaranteeing that they will both be safe.

Even when their  drug addicted, alcoholic, neglectful, and irresponsible parents were alive, the girls were often on their own, fending for themselves. What the girls weren't counting on was Lenny, their elderly gay next-door neighbor in their Glasgow, Scotland, housing estate noticing their parents had, by all appearances, abandoned them. He steps up to offer some measure of stability and support for them. He believes the girls when they tell him that their parents have left the country for an extended trip in Turkey. With Lenny, the trio form an odd family-like relationship - until their grandfather enters the picture.

Although the details of the circumstances that cause the girls to accept Lenny's companionship are gruesome, they make an endearing set of misfits. The chapters are all in Marnie, Nelly, or Lenny's voice. Marnie's chapters are hard. She's drinking, smoking, promiscuous, and seemingly headed down the same destructive path as her parents, even though she is an intelligent teen who could potentially overcome her circumstances. She's a realist, tough talking, and brutally blunt and to the point.  Nelly's chapters are often short. She is a violin prodigy, who is most certainly on the autism spectrum. She often speaks in a stilted old-fashioned manner and is socially awkward. Lenny's chapters are all written as if he is talking to his longtime companion and lover who recently died. He's been labeled the neighborhood pervert, but he is longing for redemption. He wants to care for another person again and he slowly takes the girls under his wing, caring for them as best he can even while he doesn't quite understand the extent of the psychological damage that has already been done to them.

What you might not expect is the humor mixed in with the grim in this coming-of-age story that also deals with normal adolescence pressures. The characters are believable and well developed. To be honest, the beginning chapters, when the girls are burying their parents, are repulsive and gruesome. But as the book continues it is painfully clear that all of these characters are wounded in some way. By the time the girls and Lenny connect, it is slowly becoming more and more apparent just how much they all need each other. Since we get to hear each of their individual voices, I felt a connection to all three of them and wanted desperately for everything to be okay - even though they were all in an impossible situation where a good ending seemed highly unlikely. 
The writing was also incredible. Even when relating the most appalling details, O'Donnell manages to insert bits of humor. The bond between sisters is palatable, even when they are feuding, we know that they will eventually reunite and forgive.  I appreciated the unspoken message that we can decide what will constitute a family; even an unconventional family is still a family and can offer love, support and stability. While O'Donnell is an accomplished screenwriter, this is her debut novel - and what a glorious debut it is. Grim, yes, but also very well crafted. I'll be looking forward to another novel from Lisa O'Donnell.  (The trade paperback of The Death of Bee was just released on October 22, 2013.)

Very Highly Recommended


Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Stranger You Know

The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane
Harlequin; 9/24/2013
Hardcover, 368 pages

ISBN-13: 9780778315018
Forensic Instincts Series book 3



It begins with a chilling phone call to Casey Woods. And ends with another girl dead.
College-age girls with long red hair. Brutally murdered, they’re posed like victims in a film noir. Each crime scene is eerily similar to the twisted fantasy of a serial offender now serving thirty years to life—a criminal brought to justice with the help of Forensic Instincts.
Call. Kill. Repeat. But the similarities are more than one psychopath’s desire to outdo another. As more red-haired victims are added to the body count, it becomes clear that each one has been chosen because of a unique connection to Casey—a connection that grows closer and closer to her.
Now the Forensic Instincts team must race to uncover the identity of a serial killer before his ever-tightening circle of death closes in on Casey as the ultimate target. As the stalker methodically moves in on his prey, his actions make one thing clear: he knows everything about Casey. And Casey realizes that this psychopath won’t stop until he makes sure she’s dead.

My Thoughts:

In The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane the Forensic Instincts team is hired by a dying father to find out what happened to his college aged daughter, Jan Olson, fifteen years ago. It's a police cold case that was never solved. While it appears the team only has a scant police file of information to go on, team leader, Casey, who was in college at the time, had a friend, Holly, who was brutally raped and murdered. It appears that the cases are linked and the team is really looking for a serial killer. While the team starts to investigate Jan's disappearance, it suddenly becomes clear that the killer, or an apprentice, is back and killing young women with red hair - a description that fits Casey. Things become even more stressful when the current serial killer calls Casey after each brutal murder and lets her know that she will be the final victim. And even more chilling is the question how does serial killer Glen Fisher, who the team helped put behind bars, tie into these recent killer's actions?

Each member of the Forensic Instincts team brings a special set of skills and abilities that make them uniquely extraordinary to work together with other team members. Casey is the behaviorist, with a "sharp mind and keen instincts about people, their body language, their responses and reactions." Marc is her right hand who is "brilliant at everything from his mental to his psychological to his physical capabilities." Ryan is "both a strategic and technical genius." Claire is a gifted intuitive, a psychic, who prefers to be called a claircognizant. Patrick is a lifelong trained investigator. Finally Hero is a retired dog from the FBI Canine Unit. Hutch, though not a member of the team, is an FBI profiler who has close ties to Casey.

While the team methodically works the cold case they were hired to solve, the new cases push themselves to the forefront and have the team working with other law enforcement agencies in an effort to unite their strengths to solve the cases. In The Stranger You Know Claire's claircognazant abilities are strongly featured and play a major role. This makes it imperative for you to believe in her abilities in order to appreciate her role in the teams efforts. Some of the plot is predictable, but that is often the case with crime/mystery novels so it was noted but didn't deter my enjoyment. There is a palatable tension as the team tries to solve the murders. The team's actions, running headlong on an impetuous beat-the-clock-or-else rush of adrenaline, kept me reading the book straight through to the end.

However, after accepting and acknowledging the teams qualifications, there were a few moments in the narrative where I felt like saying, "Oh really?" because their established competence and expertise didn't quite line up with their actions. (I'd give examples but I don't want to spoil the plot.) I'm also not completely able to accept Claire's psychic abilities to the extent that they played in the plot. The Stranger You Know is the third book in the Forensic Instincts series and, while it works as a stand-alone novel, it would be nice to have more information on the team members and their previous two cases. (I'm going to have to read the first two books on my wish list.)

Highly Recommended


Andrea Kane’s psychological thriller The Girl Who Disappeared Twice became an instant New York Times bestseller, the latest in a long line of smash hits. With her acclaimed signature style of developing unforgettable characters and weaving them into carefully researched story lines, Kane has created Forensic Instincts, an eclectic team of maverick investigators. Recruited because of their special talents and dynamic personalities, the high-energy members thrive on blatantly disregarding authority. Armed with skills and talents honed by years in the FBI and Special Forces and with training in behavioral and forensic psychology, this unstoppable team solves seemingly impossible cases while walking a fine line between assisting and enraging law enforcement.
With a worldwide following and novels published in more than twenty languages, Kane is also the author of numerous romantic thrillers and historical romances. She lives in New Jersey with her family, where she is busily crafting a new challenge for Forensic Instincts.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Parasite by Mira Grant
Orbit/Hachette Book Group; 10/29/13

Hardcover, 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316218955
Parasitology Series #1 

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.
We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.
But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.
My Thoughts:

In Parasite by Mira Grant people are intentionally allowing parasites to be implanted in order to improve their health. Now that's what I'm talkin' about! 

It is 2027. Sally (Sal) Mitchell survived a car crash six years ago and woke up in the hospital with no memories from her life before. Her miraculous survival and recovery is attributed to her SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard. It's a tapeworm that has been genetically engineered to keep people free of diseases and other harmful medical conditions and parasites. While Sal lives with her parents and her sister, Joyce, she is essentially a totally different person from the Sally they knew before the accident.  Her father, Colonel Alfred Mitchell, United States Army, is currently the director/lab manager of the USAMRIID San Francisco research center. His connections are why she had an early specialized version of the SymboGen implant.

Sal's boyfriend, Nathan Kim, is a parasitologist who refuses to have any Intestinal Bodyguard because he's not completely convinced they are without other side effects. Neither Sal nor Nathan trust SymboGen co-founder Dr. Steven Banks, but Sal is required to meet with him at the SymboGen research building when asked for tests so they can monitor her health and recovery. Everyone's doubts begin to increase ten-fold when weird sleep-walking people suddenly start showing up - and some of them are becoming aggressive.

The chapters open with excerpts of information that was taken from books or autobiographies - mainly from the trio of researchers who started SymboGen and explores their early experiments with tapeworms dating back to 2015. What is written stands out in sharp contrast, some of it cautionary, to the reality in 2027. And the direction the researchers are going all seems plausible today. Yes, of course, why not experiment with parasites and change them genetically so they will help you. What could possibly go wrong?

I really enjoyed this book. While I basically liked the first book in Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, I never went on to read the other books because I didn't really care if the zombies got them or not. This time around I have to hand it to Grant. I want to know what happens. I'm ticked off that after 500+ pages the story is to be continued. I want to know more, darn it, and I want to know what happens next right now. Whew. Rant done.

As she delves into biomedical experimentation in Parasite, I would favorably compare Grant to Crichton in this case - with the exception of the ending. I do wish that the story had more closure and wasn't a too-be-continued. 

The writing and pacing is excellent and the main characters are well developed. Grant does an incredible job playing on our desires for good health with little investment of time or labor to get that good health. Add that to the experimental genetic modifications being made to all sorts of plants and animals today and you could see this future happening.

For a horror novels, the details aren't terrible gruesome, but you have to prepare yourself for thinking about tapeworms and worms inside people, growing and living. That fact alone may be too much for some people.

Go to the website and watch the three SymboGen video. Think about health care for all. Consider: Good Health Starts Within.

This one is Very Highly Recommended.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Hachette Books via Netgalley for review purposes.
Mira Grant lives in California, sleeps with a machete under her bed, and highly suggests you do the same. Mira Grant is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire - winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. Find out more about the author at or follow her on twitter @seananmcguire.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Emotions: Confront the Lies. Conquer with Truth by Charles F. Stanley Howard Books, 10/1/2013
Hardcover, 304 pages

ISBN-13: 9781476752068
In this powerful and inspiring book, New York Times best-selling author and trusted pastor Charles F. Stanley shares practical guidance and encouragement on a topic that touches every person on earth—emotions.  Our emotions are neither good nor bad, but they are powerful. By revealing God’s original purpose for our feelings and exposing the lies we believe, Dr. Stanley teaches readers how to find the joy and fulfillment the Father created us to have.
My Thoughts:

Dr. Charles F. Stanley explains in his latest book, Emotions: Confront the Lies. Conquer with Truth, that: "God created you and me with the capacity to experience the full gamut of emotions so we could enjoy life, share our inner being with others, and reflect His image. They were given to us as a gift so we could interact meaningfully with our heavenly Father and the people we know. However, in this fallen world, our feelings have become a mixed blessing. The same capacity that allows us to experience intense, overflowing joy is also the gateway to sorrow so deep and overwhelming that, like Job, we may wish we had never been born (Job 3:3)."

Certainly if we were all honest most of us would admit that our emotions can get in the way of us experiencing life to the fullest. A healthy relationship with God and our emotions allows us to enjoy life and connect with others, all while reflecting God's image - but for most of us emotions can get in the way.  In this helpful book Dr. Stanley addresses five emotions that can prevent us from living a life filled with joy: fear, rejection, bitterness, guilt, and despair.
1 Choosing to Triumph How God Makes Victory Possible
2 What’s Going On Here? God’s Purpose for Our Emotions
3 The Root of All Painful Emotions Identifying the Original Source of Our Woundedness
4 Reviewing the Evidence Recognizing Ingrained Fear by Examining the Consequences
5 The Courage to Stand Conquering Fear Through a Change of Focus
6 Rejection Overcoming the Most Painful Emotion
7 Bitterness Freedom from Misery
8 Guilt Relief from the Ultimate Weight on Your Soul
9 Despair Finding the Light of Hope in the Darkest Hour
10 All the Way to Victory! Looking Beyond Ourselves

Dr. Stanley does a great job extending compassionate understanding, encouragement, and hope to readers, while sharing Biblical insights and personal experiences. He shares that the basic components to triumphing over your emotions include the following: 1. Experiencing the New Birth (A relationship with Jesus) 2. Examining the Thoughts that Dominate Your Life 3. Exchanging Your Thought Patterns 4. Exercising the Powerful Privilege of Prayer 5. Expecting God’s Healing to Begin Immediately. 
According to Dr. Stanley our emotions are a gift from God given to us so we can enjoy life, meaningfully relate to others, and reflect the image of God. What holds us back and is the basis of negative emotions is fear. Our own anxieties cause many of our problems. We can trust God because “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). Trusting in God will diminish fear.

After each chapter is a series of questions that are helpful for personal reflection or group study. Along with the Biblical principles and passages Dr. Stanley shares, these can help the reader delved deeper into and garner a greater understanding of the material. There was also a list of fifty statements of how God views us that would be very encouraging for anyone who is struggling with self-condemnation. Emotions is a great resource and would be an excellent choice for a small group study.

Very Highly Recommended


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Howard Books via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Heavens Rise

The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice
Gallery Books, 10/15/13 
Hardcover, 336 pages 
ISBN-13: 9781476716084

New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice brilliantly conjures the shadowed terrors of the Louisiana bayou—where three friends confront a deadly, ancient evil rising to the surface—in this intense and atmospheric new supernatural thriller.

It’s been a decade since the Delongpre family vanished near Bayou Rabineaux, and still no one can explain the events of that dark and sweltering night. No one except Niquette Delongpre, the survivor who ran away from the mangled stretch of guardrail on Highway 22 where the impossible occurred…and kept on running. Who left behind her best friends, Ben and Anthem, to save them from her newfound capacity for destruction…and who alone knows the source of her very bizarre—and very deadly—abilities: an isolated strip of swampland called Elysium.

An accomplished surgeon, Niquette’s father dreamed of transforming the dense acreage surrounded by murky waters into a palatial compound befitting the name his beloved wife gave to it, Elysium: “the final resting place for the heroic and virtuous.” Then, ten years ago, construction workers dug into a long-hidden well, one that snaked down into the deep, black waters of the Louisiana swamp and stirred something that had been there for centuries—a microscopic parasite that perverts the mind and corrupts the body.

Niquette is living proof that things done can’t be undone. Nothing will put her family back together again. And nothing can save her. But as Niquette, Ben, and Anthem uncover the truth of a devastating parasite that has the potential to alter the future of humankind, Niquette grasps the most chilling truths of all: someone else has been infected too. And unlike her, this man is not content to live in the shadows. He is intent to use his newfound powers for one reason only: revenge.
My Thoughts:

In The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice three teenagers have their lives completely changed by a violent action involving a fourth which sets into motion a supernatural chain of events. Nikki (Niquette Delongpre), her best friend, Ben Broyard, and her boyfriend, Anthem Landry, were all getting along fine until Nikki and Anthem briefly broke up and the schemer who set that into motion, Marshall Ferriot, stepped in to take Anthem's place in Nikki's life. But Marshall is evil. He was evil even before he and Nikki went swimming in the pool filled with... something that gave them powers beyond belief. Nikki and her family apparently die in a horrible car accident (set into motion by Marshall) but Marshall ends up a vegetable in a long term care facility. The trouble is the nurses there think he is controlling their minds - and they may be right.

I thought the characters were believable. I feared for Ben's life and felt like he was the most believable character. Marshall was totally menacing and dreadful. Anthem and Nikki felt more like symbolic caricatures rather than real flesh and blood people. Rice tells the story through the major characters of Ben, Anthem, Marissa ( a black columnist) and Marshall. Nikki's story is told through her journal entries. In the end the best part of The Heavens Rise is the character of Ben and his perspective of what happened and what is happening, followed closely by Marissa.

This well written atmospheric horror novel combined with a coming-of-age story packs some very creepy vibes throughout most of the narrative. The story had me totally engrossed in it until the final quarter to a third of the novel when it took a turn for the worst.  At that point it became more paranormal and, not wanting to give anything away, I just wish the ending was different and that Rice had chosen to take it a different direction because he had me breathlessly reading right up until the ending. I do think that many readers aren't going to have any problems with the ending because the rest of the novel is that good. -  especially the atmospheric setting.  (I was surprised to read that Christopher Rice is the son of Anne Rice.)

Highly Recommended

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Gallery Books via Netgalley for review purposes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Prodigal

The Prodigal by Michael Hurley
CreateSpace; 5/28/2013
Trade Paperback, 358 pages
ISBN-13: 9781482694277


This sweeping allegorical tale begins with the escape of a Gypsy princess and her young lover from her father's camp in 1851, recalling the flight of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The boy steals Prodigal, a sailing ship blessed with unnatural speed, and the lovers escape to sea, leaving the father to grieve for the loss and pine for the return of his child. More than 150 years later on Ocracoke Island we meet Aidan Sharpe, an aging lawyer, as he rises from the sand of a remote beach after a lost weekend. While struggling to rebuild his life in this lonely outpost of the Outer Banks, Aidan is caught up in a two-thousand-year-old mystery that unfolds with the sudden reappearance of Prodigal off the coast, adrift and unmanned. Its discovery will lead Aidan and those close to him into the deep, in a race between time and eternity.

My Thoughts:

The Prodigal by Michael Hurley opens with a princess and her lover escaping on a boat and then jumps to the present where we meet Aidan Sharpe on Ocracoke Island. Aiden is a talented partner in a prestigious Raleigh law firm whose life is on the cusp of taking a turn in a new direction. While it looks like Aiden's life is headed for a great fall, he actually begins to rebuild his life in an unexpected way back on Ocracoke Island with an unlikely group of cohorts while overcoming an enemy and restoring a boat with a mysterious past.

The Prodigal is an incredibly well written debut novel. This well rounded novel includes a mystery, a legend, a little romance, personal challenges, and pulls in knowledge of the law, Catholicism, and sailing. It is also an allegorical novel. Those with a background of Biblical stories will be able to make comparisons between characters and events in the book and the Bible. But note that the religious underpinnings of this novel are not force fed to anyone and any previous knowledge of them is not necessary because this is also an epic tale of self-discovery. It truly begs comparison to a legendary mythological struggle where the imperfect hero has to overcome great odds - with a hint of magic realism.

Those who enjoy literary fiction are going to love The Prodigal. Themes explored include: human frailty and failings, loss and betrayal, self-awareness and discovery, restoration and redemption, friendship and hope, loyalty, honor, and trust. The characters are all imperfect but many of them are trying to overcome their limitations and do the best they can under their various circumstances. Hurley does a commendable job of not judging his characters, while allowing them their various human frailties and foibles.

I am actually surprised at how much I loved
The Prodigal. Admittedly the first third of The Prodigal was slow to totally capture my attention while the backstory and all the characters were being set into place, but once it hit its stride, I was completely hooked. Hurley manages to weave so many diverse elements into his tale, but, just as in life, a good story has many different parts to it.

Its surprising to note that this is Hurley's debut novel. He's written other things, but for a first novel there is a depth, intelligence, and thoughtfulness present that make you crave more.

Very Highly Recommended

(As of the writing of this review on 10/8 the Kindle edition was .99!)

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and
TLC for review purposes.  


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cities at Sea

Cities at Sea by Martin Simons
Martin Simons; 10/15/2012
ebook, 185 pages
ISBN-13: 9780987414335


A thousand years hence, all the major cities of the world are at sea, floating on huge rafts, using ocean currents to navigate. Sal, a young girl on the Sydney raft, training as a navigator, visits Shanghai which is the largest raft city of all, on holiday. She hopes to find the famous genetic scientist, Jezzy, who will modify her body to give her gills. She wants to be like a mermaid, free to live in the sea with the fish. She does meet the old woman but when she leaves her laboratory is arrested as a deserter and mutineer. She is flown back to her home raft for trial. After a tribunal she is released after all to join Jezzy and like many others, is modifed as she desired. There is a strong public reaction against Jezzy’s operations. In fear of being marooned to die on land, Jezzy and her young changelings break away their section of the Shanghai raft away drift off independently.

My Thoughts:

Cities at Sea by Martin Simons is set in a future where the water levels have risen, one presumes this is due to global warming, and major cities of the world have literally go to sea. Cities are now huge floating self-sustaining concerns where millions of people live. We meet Sal, a seventeen year old middie from the Sidney raft who wants to go to the Shanghai raft to meet with Jezzy, a woman whose experiments in genetics have enabled her to give young people with a suitable background, gills. Sal always dreamed of swimming with the fish as long as she wanted, so after an odd public trial, she gets her wish. The gills are essentially pointless to the story as other things happen.

Cities at Sea is sort of a take-off on the movie Waterworld or Stephen Baxter's novels Flood and Ark. I was interested in reading it because I thought the premise sounded engaging and there certainly could be interesting stories set in a world of water where the city rafts are the advanced culture. Conceivably, someone might think to develop a new race of genetically modified humans with gills that would have an advantage over backward native "Lubbers" populating the few remaining islands.  Alas, this is not the novel I was expecting. While the ideas are intriguing, the execution of those ideas fails time and time again.

The plot is of the laundry-list-of-what-happened ilk:  "She did this. This happened. Then this." But I can overlook writing flaws if the plot is moving along briskly and and characters are well developed. That's not the case here. Yes, the idea is promising and there were a few interesting moments, but the writing got in the way of my enjoyment and the characters fell flat. I really didn't care what happened to them. They were boring. There was little reason for Sal to go through the trial so she could get gills, as it ultimately meant little to the plot.

What we have here, in my opinion, is a great idea for a novel and a simplistic rough sketch of what direction the novel is going to take but absolutely no further development than that, which is a shame. With better writing and some insight into the characters this had the potential to be a fascinating novel. A so-so novel for me.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author via Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Men Who United the States

The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible
by Simon Winchester
HarperCollins; 10/15/2013
496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062079602


For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum—"Out of many, one"—has been featured on America's official government seals and stamped on its currency. But how did America become "one nation, indivisible"? In this monumental history, Simon Winchester addresses these questions, bringing together the breathtaking achievements of those American pioneers who helped to forge and unify the new nation, and who toiled fearlessly to bond the citizens and geography of the United States from its very beginnings. This sweeping narrative details how these daring men, some famous, some forgotten, left their mark on America's natural landscapes, through courage, ingenuity, and hard work.
Winchester follows the footsteps of America's most crucial innovators, thinkers, and explorers, from Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys of the West to the builders of the first transcontinental railroad and the curmudgeonly civil engineer who oversaw the creation of more than three million miles of highway. Winchester travels across vast swaths of the American landscape, from Pittsburgh to Portland, Seattle to Anchorage, Truckee to Laramie, using the five classical elements—Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal—to chart the contributions these adventurous leaders made to connect the diverse communities within the United States and ensure the future of the American project begun in 1776.
The Men Who United the States is an unforgettable journey of unprecedented scope across time and open spaces, providing a new lens through which to view American history, led by one of our most gifted writers.
My Thoughts:

Simon Winchester's latest book, The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible is definitely one of the best  books (and not just nonfiction) I have read this year. 

Think about it. As a country we (or our ancestors) were a hodge-podge of ethnic backgrounds, religions, and languages. America has had to make a union for itself and Winchester details beautifully some of the deliberate acts of Americans that have brought us together as one united country, beyond the national concept of ideals on which our country was founded and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. He explains that this book is what might be called the "physiology and the physics of the country, the strands of connective tissue that have allowed it to achieve all it has, and yet to keep itself together while doing so."

For The Men Who United the States Winchester structured his book around the five so-called classical elements, Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal, rather than following a more traditional organizational format to explain how America became a united country. 

Wood was a dominant feature of every early voyage across our country, so it is a fitting element to represent the first explorers and settlers. This section, naturally, follows the exploration of Lewis and Clark and to a lesser extent the settlers crossing the country.

Earth includes the land itself and all of the undiscovered wealth and awe found in America. I especially loved this chapter because it focuses on America's geology and the exploration of many of our unique national treasures. Winchester includes the ravels and exploration of Robert Owen, William Maclure, John Wesley Powell, Ferdinand Hayden (Yellowstone, including painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson)

Water is, naturally, representative of the first highways for early travelers and later for trade, and to generate power. Our rivers are unique in America and Winchester explains why and how the building of canals helped us for commerce and transportation. Even more uniting was the improvements made to local roads. (Interesting previously unknown facts: John McAdam  created the macadamized road and then Edgar Hooley decided to spray tar on it creating tarmacadam, or tarmac, in America called blacktop )

Fire is indicative of engines and the ability they afforded us to travel across our country. Robert Fulton's steam engine created even swifter travel and people could begin to travel far distances in less time. "By 1870, the railroad industry had become the country’s second biggest employer, after agriculture. Soon the dominant railroad companies became the country’s biggest corporations..." A transcontinental railroad line changed the country and getting through the Sierras was an incredible feat. (After living in Reno, NV, for 5 years at 5500 feet, I loved Winchester's Donner Pass story.) Naturally the interstate highway system and cars made us an even more mobile society, but also helped unite us as a country. 

Metal encompasses the wire cable used for the telegraph, telephone, electricity, but also includes radio, television and the internet. Once we started spreading phone lines and electric lines across the country, it totally changed the way we live. “Making a Neighborhood of a Nation,” said Southwestern Bell’s advertisements. Radio and TV became our entertainment - and also a huge money-making opportunity for businesses. Add to that the internet, which was conceived in America. (Joseph Licklider, Vint Cerf, and Robert Kahn, can fairly be said to have conceived and invented the basic structure of the modern Internet.)

Contents include
A View across the Ridge; Drawing a Line in the Sand; Peering through the Trees; The Frontier and the Thesis; The Wood Was Become Grass; Encounters with the Sioux; First Lady of the Plains; High Plains Rafters; Passing the Gateway; Shoreline Passage

The Lasting Benefit of Harmony; The Science That Changed America; Drawing the Colors of Rocks; The Wellspring of Knowledge; The Tapestry of Underneath; Setting the Lures; Off to See the Elephant; The West, Revealed; The Singular First Adventure of Kapurats; The Men Who Gave Us Yellowstone; Diamonds, Sex, and Race

Journeys to the Fall Line; The Streams beyond the Hills; The Pivot and the Feather; The First Big Dig; The Wedded Waters of New York; The Linkmen Cometh; That Ol’ Man River

May the Roads Rise Up; Rain, Steam, and Speed; The Annihilation of the In-Between; The Immortal Legacy of Crazy Judah; Colonel Eisenhower’s Epiphanic Expedition; The Colossus of Roads; And Then We Looked Up; The Twelve-Week Crossing

To Go, but Not to Move; The Man Who Tamed the Lightning; The Signal Power of Human Speech; With Power for One and All; Lighting the Corn, Powering the Prairie; The Talk of the Nation; Making Money from Air; Television: The Irresistible Force; The All of Some 

Knowledge EPILOGUE

What makes this history of the making of America special is that Winchester also traveled to many of the historical sites he mentions and includes anecdotes about his experiences. And I get it. I understand what Winchester, a new American citizen, is saying. I have lived many different places in this country and, while there are regional quirks, we really are one people thanks to many of the reason's Winchester highlights in his book. 

The Men Who United the States includes many photographs, maps, illustrations, footnotes, a bibliography, and index - all things that please me greatly. I have greatly enjoyed every book I have read by Simon Winchester and The Men Who United the States is no exception. While is is not an exhaustive history textbook of every invention, item, or person that has contributed to making us a united people, it is an exceptionally well written account that points to some of the people, inventions, and actions that helped make us one country.

Very Highly Recommended - I will be getting a hardcover copy of this book, especially since I had an uncorrected advanced reading copy. 

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Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Friday, October 11, 2013

How To Be a Good Wife

How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
St. Martin's Press; 10/15/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250018199

How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman is a haunting literary debut about a woman who begins having visions that make her question everything she knows
Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after university. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.
But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.

My Thoughts:

How To Be a Good Wife is a debut novel by Emma Chapman. Marta Bjornstad is suffering from empty nest syndrome - and maybe depression and/or some other unmentioned mental health  aliment. We know at the beginning that she desperately misses her son, Kylan. We know that she was only 21 when she married Hector, who is over 20 years her senior, 25 years ago. They tell people he saved her from drowning after her parents died, a loss from which she was not recovering. We know that her overbearing mother-in-law, Matilda, gave Marta a book entitled How To Be a Good Wife for a wedding gift. Marta learned every lesson and quotes from the book are interspersed throughout the novel, tips like: Your husband belongs in the outside world. The house is your domain, and your responsibility.

We also know that her husband, Hector, checks on Marta and makes sure she is taking her pills like a good girl because she should know how she gets when she doesn't take her pills.

Unknown to Hector, Marta hasn't been a good girl. In fact, Marta hasn't been swallowing her pills, even if she dutifully opens her mouth for him to give the pill to her. She's been spitting them out later. And now she is seeing what might be visions or hallucinations of a younger blond girl. She is also smoking, something she has never done, but suddenly feels like it was something that she enjoyed. She is also scared to travel out of the valley in the unnamed Scandinavian village where she lives - or she has been told she scared to travel outside the valley.

This short psychological thriller starts slow, so you have to give it time and allow the tension to gradually keep building. At first I thought Marta was simply a woman suffering from depression, but them doubts began to enter and questions began to assert themselves, chiefly that perhaps everything isn't as it seems. The tone began to become more ominous and creepy. Is Marta suffering from a mental illness or is there some other reason she is being kept medicated?

How to be a Good Wife is extremely well written, especially for a debut novel, and Chapman manages to keep the same tone throughout the book. I won't give away anything but I was left wondering what was the truth right up to the end (in a good way because Marta's voice was consistent throughout the narrative.) Marta is an unreliable narrator, but her voice is all we have to go on while trying to discern the truth. It was also maddening at times. I'm just giving you a warning: know that you will very likely get angry.

So, if there is a flaw in How to be a Good Wife, it is, obviously, that Marta is an unreliable narrator so you don't know who to trust or what is true, which will leave you feeling frustrated - and angry. 

I very highly recommend How to be a Good Wife.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of St. Martin's Press via Netgalley for review purposes.