My first visit to Castle Rock was in The Dead Zone, published in 1979. It was one of those towns, like Jerusalem's Lot, that when I made my first trip to Maine in 2006, I made sure were not on the itinerary. Nothing against either town but seriously messed up stuff happened to people there. But Castle Rock has been fairly quiet for a few years. Thanks to Richard Chizmar, Stephen King has woken Castle Rock up.
I was overjoyed when I first read the Mr. King was collaborating with Richard Chizmar from Cemetery Dance Publications to return to Castle Rock.The advance reviews of Gwendy's Button Box were excellent. I just had to patiently wait for my turn in the library queue.
Today was the day. My husband walked in from work, and a side trip to the library, and handed me the book at 5:35pm. I drove right in. (Left overs are in the fridge.) Three hours later I had devoured the Button Box. I could not have put it down if I had wanted to and I very much did not want to.
The box at the heart of this book contains chocolate (yea!), money (useful) and terrible powers. The owner of the box can invoke this powers at a cost to themselves. I cannot really say much more without giving away plot points. I will say had I been given the box I doubt I would have handled it as well as Gwendy. In true Stephen King style, the people are as horrifying as any monsters.
There were so many things I liked about Gwendy's Button Box starting with Gwendy. She is a wonderful character. One who as a teen deals well with the issues of peer pressure and fitting in. She fought her own battles and did not need a male to save her or validate her decisions. I loved the box and I was also terrified of the box. My jury is still out on the giver of the box. I haven't decided if he has cloven hooves or is some type of emissary of the gods.
This is not a totally coherent review because I am very much in the afterglow of a gorgeous sumptuous read. I will be reading Gwendy's Button Box again over the weekend before it goes back to the library. I am seriously considering getting the audiobook. It is a novella, 164 pages, and a quick read but an immensely satisfying one. In my experience a satisfying Stephen King read is one that pulls you, leaves you breathless, and invites to come back and see what you missed in your first intense read.
I was first introduced to Ron (Veronica) and Chris (Christine) Wilson in March of 2015. Ron was a successful author and Chris, well Chris can see dead people. When Chris was asked to check out a house with a nasty reputation, Ron being the overprotective big sister went on her own to make sure it was safe. It wasn’t. Now Ron is one of the dead people Chris sees. Restless Spirits is the story of how Ron dies and how Chris saves her, even though she is dead. Excellent book as is Restless Spirits: Love Letter a novella that continues the story.
Kindred Spirits picks up Ron and Chris’s story after they have settled into their lives as dead and not dead sisters. As with Restless Spirits, there is an excellent mystery at the heart of the book. This mystery takes the talents of both sisters to solve, plus help from new characters. The plot is great. Once I got a chance to really sit down and start reading it, I finished it in two days. Do a thing, pick up Kindred Spirits, put it down to go do a thing and then pick it up as soon as possible again.
Part of what makes the book, and it’s prequels, so good are the characters of Ron and Chris. They are believable. Their conversations seem natural like I would have with my sisters, except not the dead part. They interact with their world, both living and dead, in a realistic manner. That believability is the core of why I love this series. I believe Chris can still see and hear Ron. I believe that they can still share that bond of sisterhood. Jean Marie Bauhaus has written great characters and fun mysteries.
I give Kindred Spirits 5 of 5 stars. I also suggest you check out some of her other books. Dominion of the Damned is one of the most unusual vampire books. She is a very talented author across several genres.
I received an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.
My rating is 10 of 5 stars. Yes, it is that good.
Imagine walking into a museum and seeing a gorgeous medieval tapestry. The overall impact is overwhelming. Then you begin to notice the finer details. Strands of shining gold and silver catch your eye. You notice the less brilliant colors the silver and gold intertwined with. You begin to see patterns. You see how individual colors, whether vivid or muted, work together to create the whole work of art. I have just described The Gilded Cage by Vic James. It is a work of art.
I have read over 100 books this year, 2016, and The Gilded Cage is in the top 3. It is a finely crafted novel. It was released in February 2017 along with an audiobook version. I suggest you get both. I read 99% of books in electronic version due to a movement disorder. Gilded Cage and any sequels will be ordered in hardback. These I plan to give to my future grandchildren when they are old enough.
There are two main families in Gilded Cage. The Jardines , the “haves’, and the Hadleys, the “have nots”. It is what they have or not that makes this novel so unique. The Jardines have “Skill”. The Hadleys do not. Skill is the ability to use magic. This is not the learn the spells and potions of Harry Potter magic. This is the intuitive, instinctual, primal magic that flows from the individual’s soul. Not everyone can do the same things with Skill and not everyone has the same strength of Skill.
The universe Gilded Cage is set in has always had Skill as a part of it. The difference in England begins when King Charles the first (and last) is not overthrown by puritans. He is executed by a powerful Skill member of the aristocracy. A new system of government is set up. Parliament with only Skilled members. A few token Unskilled are allowed as observers. Other countries have different systems. In the States United of America, the Civil War was fought. The North has outlawed Skill while the South continues to follow the same system as Britain.
But the worse change is the years of slavery forced on the Unskilled. Each Unskilled man, woman, and child must serve ten consecutive years in slavedays to the Skilled. That slavedays can be in a factory area working six days a week, with barely enough food, and no rights. It can be served on the estate of one of the Skilled. It can be served when one is young or old or anytime in between but it must be served. Whether in slavedays or before or after, the Unskilled have no rights. They can be beaten, raped, killed and all with no consequence to the Skilled who did it or to the Unskilled who did it under the direction of a Skilled. This is the world which the Jardine and Hadleys cross paths.
The characters are very well developed. Abigail Hadley is strong young woman who forgoes medical school to enable her family to serve their slavedays together. She fights for her family. She works the system. She does what she needs to do without relying on anyone, let alone need a man to save her. Luke Hadley, Abigail's brother, is a sixteen year old, who in the way of all teens, somehow never thought his slavedays would really arrive. He must grow up quickly to survive.
The Skilled are not simple characters either. The Jardine family has its heir in Gavar, it’s mystery in youngest son Silyen and it’s total shame in middle son Jenner who is Unskilled. The premier Skilled family contains a son who may be the most powerful Skilled of all time and one of only two Unskilled ever born to Skilled parents. Each Skilled family has the head of the family and it’s heir sitting in Parliament. What each member of each Skill family has is an agenda all their own. One of my favorite parts is when one Skilled character remarks to another, “Your allies aren’t always who you think they are, Miss Matravers. And neither are your enemies.”
Avita Jay does a great job narrating the book. There are male and female voices. Voices from upper, middle and lower class. Voices that hold power and danger and voices that verge on voiceless because of their despair. Ms. Jay conveys all of this so very, very well. I hope she will be narrating the rest of the series because I know hear Abigail with her voice.
The novel has an ironic sense of humor. “Father was planning a debate. Silyen was planning a resurrection. And Gavar was planning a wedding. There was so much wrong with that, Gavar didn’t know where to start.” It is this wonderful combination of characters and themes surrounded by damn good writing that makes The Gilded Cage a must read. It is subtitled Dark Gifts #1 which means there is more to come. I cannot wait for Tarnished City to be released this fall.
Scandinavia: A History
Written by: Ewan Butler
Narrated by: Matthew Lloyd Davies
Length: 6 hrs and 25 mins
Publisher: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books
Courtesy Audiobook Jukebox
Ewan Butler’s Scandinavia: A History has all the drama, treachery, warfare and larger than life characters as The Game of Thrones. The thrones in Scandinavia involve Sweden, Norway and Finland with interference from Denmark on a regular basis. This was a fascinating book covering an area of the world that while not a superpower has none the less had an impact on the world at large.
The book is full of interesting tidbits like the word “Vikings” is derived “from the word “vik” which still means “creek” in all Scandinavian languages.” The Vikings longships that were so feared were engineered to be able to go into very shallow waters. This enable them to hide in creeks and wait for passing prey or to penetrate far inland in search of riches. “Norsemen” was applied to peoples from all three counties. These raiders left their names and genetics in vast territories like Normandy and Russia.
As the Viking age comes to a close, around the end of the first millennium, the Middle Ages of Scandinavia began producing better characters and drama than Shakespeare dreamed of. Denmark did her best to control all the lands within Scandinavia but was never able to hold on to its short term conquests. Sweden had a King with clear lines of succession. Norway had not rules for succession so each King’s death brought about great upheaval. Each nation's trials and coups created a domino effects on its neighbors.
The book continues down through history with story after story involving kings, coups, wars with Russia, France, and each other. Russian controlled Finland for over a hundred years. As the twentieth century arrived, Finland, Norway and Sweden each found their own identity through independence. The Scandinavian nations produced great composers, explorers, and diplomats.
Matthew Lloyd Davies is a very good narrator. He handles the many words in a vast range of languages without any problems. His voice is clear and all words are enunciated including the non-English ones. I found his voice pleasing to listen to.
Butler’s Scandinavia: A History is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to an area of the world whose rich history is only surpassed by its sumptuous landscape.
by Jardine Libaire
White Fur was offered to me by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. It is categorized as General Fiction (Adult) but it really is the story of a romance, the relationship between two people. Elise and Jamey meet in New Haven, CT where Jamey is a student at Yale and Elise is barely surviving. I am not sure I can give this book an adequate review, not because of the writing but because of me. It just really did not connect with me. I am not sure if it is the bleakness of Elise and Jamey’s life due to their struggles or that I have read very few romances I like. So I would suggest you try the book. It is not a bad book and not bad writing. It just did not draw me in.
The House Between Tides A Novel
By Sarah Maine
Read by Justine Eyre
Courtesy of Audiobook Jukebox
The House Between Tides is a mystery and a love story. The love story is not just between two people, it is also between the author and Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. The story also straddles two timelines. The one story follows artist Theo Blake who takes his new wife, Beatrice to his family home in Scotland, in the early 1900’s. The second story line follows Hetty Devereaux who inherited the house in 2010.
The author’s love for Scotland’s Outer Hebrides comes through very clearly in every chapter of the book. She describes landscapes, the sea, animals, birds, weather, and the people who make a life in the daunting environment. The descriptions were alluring enough that I did searches on the Outer Hebrides and some of the wildlife that was mentioned. I think it is the mark of a good author who inspires readers to continue to educate themselves about her subject.
Theo is a famous artist who marries Beatrice who is much younger than he is. After six months in Edinburgh, he takes her to his family’s ancestral home on the Outer Hebrides. Theo initially worries that the isolation and rural setting will make Beatrice unhappy. Quite the opposite happens. Beatrice loves the natural setting and the people of the area.
The Theo and Beatrice love story is more of a triangle that involves an employee of the estate, Cameron. Cameron loves Beatrice. Beatrice is married to Theo and was in love with him but fell in love with Cameron. Theo married Beatrice but has a strange intensity in his relationship with Cameron which only Theo knows the reasons why. Hot mess Edwardian style. The two storylines weave around each other as the book progresses. There will be one or two chapters of Beatrice and then switch to Hetty, then back to Beatrice again. It is well done. The plot points happening in Beatrice’s timeline eventually fill in the blanks in Hetty’s plot.
When Hetty inherited the house, her current boyfriend stepped in, decided she would renovate it to a B&B or sell it for a resort and hired property managers for her. Hetty had not even seen the property yet and her boyfriend had already decided its fate. That fact that Hetty just rolled over on this because it was easier did not bode well for our relationship. I am not an admirer of doormats and that is how Hetty comes across to me. The plan falls apart when Hetty visits the property and finds out that human remains have been discovered in the ruin of the house.
Justine Eyre is a fantastic narrator. This is not the first time I have listened to one of her works but it has reinforced how superb she truly is. Her male voices are distinct from her female without sounding odd. The accents of the locals are distinct from Beatrice or Theo’s educated voices. The language of the Edwardian timeline flows just as easily as the modern one. Ms. Eyre’s voice, whether in a character or her own narrating no dialogue parts, is a joy to listen to. She speaks clearly and has a wonderful voice. I would recommend her as a narrator for any work.
All in all The House Between Tides was an enjoyable listen. Easily half the credit goes to Justine Eyre. In the hands of a lesser talent I am not sure I would have stuck with the story. In itself, it was not compelling. Ms. Eyre’s narration is what drove me to keep listening. Authors should never forget the value of a narrator. They make or break your book, even a good book. The talent of a good or great narrator can elevate a book to a new excited level for the listener.
The Dead Zone
Written by: Stephen King
Narrated by: James Franco
Length: 16 hrs and 11 mins
Release Date: 04-25-17
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
I first read The Dead Zone when it was published in 1979. Still living at home at the time, my mother and i struggled over whose turn it was to read. It was, and 38 years later still is, a great book. The premise of a man who foresees the future with a touch was intriguing. It leads back to the the great “What if?”. What if you could travel back in time and kill Hitler before his rise to power? What if you had the knowledge of a future catastrophe and could do something to prevent it? Would you do it? Would you be Cassandra (see Greek myths)?
The Dead Zone starts in 1953 when a young Johnny Smith suffers a head injury while ice skating. After that injury Johnny has one premonition which comes true but he does not remember stating the prediction. The story moves forward to the 70’s, when Johnny is an adult and teaching high school. He is in love with a fellow teacher, Sarah. They go on to a fair where Johnny’s unknown precognition allows him to win several hundred dollars at a game of chance. After taking Sarah home, Johnny is in an accident and ends up in a coma for several years. When he wakes up, the world has moved on. Sarah is married. His parents are gone. And he now sees the future of people who he touches or touching their possessions.
Unfortunately Johnny is not seeing what is in the big wrapped present under Bob’s Christmas tree. Johnny is seeing emotional hot wires. He tries to come to terms with this curse and stay out of the public eye. After helping the police find a child murderer, he becomes controversial; is he real or a fraud? Another story line running parallel to Johnny’s is Greg Stilson. When first introduced, Greg is a bible salesman. Greg is also a deeply disturbed violent person.
When he and Johnny finally meet, Greg is campaigning for President of the United States. When Johnny shakes Greg’s hand he sees Greg initiating a nuclear war. Remember this was written when the Cold War was a daily concept in our lives. Mutual Assured Destruction was the doctrine that ruled the super powers, specifically the United States and the Soviet Union. What Johnny sees is no less than the destruction of the world and the onset of nuclear winter. Enter the “What if”?
Reading The Dead Zone when it was first published was different than now. Although the Cold War was still raging, the current President, Carter, and incoming President, Reagan, were professional, tested politicians. Listening to The Dead Zone now was terrifying in a very different way. “It can’t happen here” mentality no longer works in our present world. It is very easy to draw a comparison between the unstable Greg Stilson and the tantrum throwing 2017 version. If you have not read/listen to The Dead Zone or read it years ago, now is the time. There is a new layer of horror awaiting you.
James Franco narrates this new release of The Dead Zone. He recently received acclaim in the production of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which I have not seen yet. As a narrator he is adequate. I cannot say I would seek out an audiobook based on it having him as narrator. He seemed to switch between performing and reading. For example, Part 1 Chapter 4 has Franco’s narrating included Sarah and Johnny’s parents. There is no change in the tone, pitch or accent in his voice. He basically just reads the words from the book. In Part 2 Chapter 2, Franco changes his accent for the neurologist. Other than that, I did not detect any differences in the characters speaking. As narrators go, I prefer the narrator either read the book or perform it, not switch back and forth between the two.
The Dead Zone is a fantastic book. It is more terrifying today than when Stephen King first conceived and created it so long ago. It is well worth listening to. While Franco’s narration does not elevate the experience, it does not hurt it. I recommend The Dead Zone as an audiobook just because it is so relevant in a totally terrifying way.
Note: I received a review copy from SimonandSchuster.com in exchange for an honest review.
by Victor LaValle
Random House Publishing Group - Random House
The Changeling is a novel about a man, Apollo Kagwa, who is raised by single very hard working mother. His father, Brian, disappeared when Apollo was 4 years old. Apollo grows up to be a book dealer. He attends yard, estate and library sales looking for that one rare book that will make him a fortune. Apollo meets Emma and it is first comes love, then comes marriage, than the baby carriage. The baby carriage is where the story takes a sharp turn towards the strange land of fairy tales.
I struggled with The Changeling. It was not a book that I read straight through. I had to read a chapter at a time because I could not stay focused on it. The plot is interesting but I never really got drawn in by the characters. Had I connected with Apollo or Emma I might have done better with it. This is by no means a dismissal of the book. I think it will probably work for many readers. It just did not for me.
Appetizers of the Gods is a delight. It is appetizer sized at just over two and one half hours. And like an appetizer, it whets your appetite for more.
Colin is a divorced science fiction writer who lives in Alaska with his Yorkshire Terrier, Heimdall (yes, a Yorkie named after a Norse god). He is an avid player of a card game that sounds (at least to the uninitiated like me) like Magic: The Gathering. Colin bids for an extremely rare set of cards online. In the final seconds of the bidding, he faces competition from his arch rival. But something goes horribly wrong:
“And clicked the mouse button but only felt a dull thpuhg from the plastic rodent. The clicker did not click. His mouse had run out of cheese. He raised the mouse off the desk and slammed it back down to the surface. ‘Noooo.’ He slammed and slammed the mouse down with such rapidity that even Dr. Seuss could not have created a rhyme to describe it.”
The broken mouse is not the problem. The problem is Colin did not bid on cards. He bid on hosting four Irish brothers, who happen to Leprechauns. Hosting the brothers turns out to be a blessing in disguise. They do home repairs, cook extremely well and make their own ale. Before Colin knows it, he is thrust into the mythological world of trolls, leprechauns and giant dog-snatching birds.
The story is a lot of fun. It did remind of of the late Terry Pratchett in terms of a sense of insanity lurking behind normal everyday things. Basil Sands, the author, is also the narrator. He does a great job with the varied accents. There are Welsh, English, Irish, Alaskan and Troll. All of the characters, except the brothers, are easily discernible. The male, female and non human characters are all very nicely done.
Appetizer of the Gods is definitely the start of a series. I will be looking forward to the next audiobook. As the author says at the end of the audiobook:
“The end. Well, kind of the end. There’ ll be more. But not right now. The sort of end, that’s what we’ll call it.”
The review was first posted at Audiobook Reviewer who provided a copy of the audiobook in exchange for an honest review.