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.
The Death of the USS Thresher
The Story Behind History's Deadliest Submarine Disaster
Author Norman Polmar
Narrated by Sean Crisden
Publication date Apr 18, 2017
Running time 5 hrs 7 min
Courtesy Tantor Audio
The loss of the USS Thresher was the worst submarine disaster in US history with 129 souls lost. The Thresher was the first of a new class of bigger, faster nuclear submarines. In the early 1960’s, master of the seas was the growing area of the cold war arms race. Both sides were constructing submarines that could operate longer underwater, penetrate foreign waters undetected and launch nuclear warheads.
The Death of the USS Thresher begins by detailing the history of the boat from it’s days in the shipyard to its trials and return to the shipyard for refits. The Thresher was designed to dive deeper than any submarine ever made. Her classified depth was around 1300 feet. On the run to test it’s deep diving capabilities, something went horribly wrong. The Thresher was crushed by the pressure of the water at about 2400 feet. The catastrophic events that lead to her sinking left her falling into the crush level depths without hope of recovery.
Norman Polmar wrote the book in 1964, about a year after the disaster. The book was reissued in 2001. Polmar does a good job of explaining what happened on the Thresher, how the failure of restart procedures for nuclear plant left her unable to use her propeller and a defect in her emergency blow system which caused moisture in the air to freeze as it was pushed into the ballast tanks blocking the airflow. This prevented the submarine from blowing to reach the surface. There were terrifying minutes as the crew scrambled to save the boat. When it hit the crush depth, it was instantaneous implosion.
Polmar discusses the inquiries into the disaster and the arrival at the cause. He also talks about the development of the SUBSAFE program to prevent similar disasters. The only other US submarine lost, the USS Scorpion in 1968, was not SUBSAFE certified. The changes SUBSAFE made in the building and handling of the boats, especially in crisis situations, much safer. In the years since no boat, other than the Scorpion, has been lost. There have been accidents and loss of life but no total losses such as the Thresher and Scorpion has occurred. “The entire process was rewritten after the loss. All systems on submarines were redesigned after the accident, as with almost all safety rules, they are written in blood.” stated Rick Geddes TMC (SS) USN (RET).
The audiobook continues on to discuss the history of submarine accidents and the various steps taken to develop rescue plans. It really is a fascinating history. Submarines have always held a special place in my varied interests. The extremely cool technology and their capabilities is balanced against the terror I personally would feel being in a small compartment under the crushing pressure of the ocean. I have a special admiration for those who go to sea by going under it, especially my cousin Rick Geddes TMC (SS) USN (RET). Sean Crisden is a very good narrator. He is clear. His voice is even. This is a narration, not a performance, which is perfect for this particular book. The production values and volume remain consistently good.
If you are fascinated by submarines and/or disasters at sea, The Death of the USS Thresher is an educational and enjoyable listen. While you listen, keep in mind those 129 souls whose loss created safer submarine conditions for all who came after.
Written by: Arkady Strugatsky , Boris Strugatsky , Olena Bormashenko (translator)
Narrated by: Robert Forster
Length: 7 hrs and 8 mins
Publisher: Random House Audio
Roadside Picnic is a classic of science fiction. It is also a testimony to perseverance on the part of the authors who wrote under Soviet censorship. The forward by renown science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin is a fantastic explanation of how the book was received when first published in the 1970;s. The afterward by Boris Strugatsky details the fight to get the book published by the Soviet censors.
The premise of Roadside Picnic is that the earth has been visited by aliens. In six areas of the world, they have come and gone, leaving only their debris or garbage behind. Five of these areas are on land. By the end of the day of the visit, the Zones are declared off limits. Eventually world scientific organizations set up on the borders of the Zones and begin to study the visible and invisible. Some of the items in the Zone are powerful energy sources. Some of areas of intense gravity that crush men and vehicles flat. There are also organic life forms that cannot be studied because they kill all who get near them. Thirteen years later they are still being studied.
No one except scientist are allowed into the Zones. The trade in the black market for items smuggled out of the Zone is huge. The money to be made makes it worth the risk for these smugglers or "stalkers" to enter the Zone at night risking their lives. They are also risking more. Stalkers who frequently run the risk of the Zones find they have severe mutations in their children born after they begin venturing into the Zone. The book prefigured many of the issues surrounding the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
It really is an amazing book that really must be read. Or even better, listened to. Robert Forster does a great job narrating the book. Roadside Picnic, although written by two Russian brothers, takes place in Canada. Forster keeps his voice in somewhat of a neutral accent but he conveys the toughness of the main character, Red. Red's frustration with the problems of living with the Zone and the issues it causes comes through very well in the narration.
Roadside Picnic is a great book. It has all the tension of a thriller, all the science of a science fiction, all the character development of a great literary novel and it is an exciting audiobook. The Forward by Ms. Le Guin is really important to listen to before the book itself. It helps put the importance of the novel in the listeners mind as they hear the incredible story of Stalkers and the risks they take to provide for their families.
Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature
Written by: The Great Courses
Narrated by: Professor Pamela Bedore
Length: 12 hrs and 26 mins
Series: Genre Fiction
Publisher: The Great Courses
I won a free Audible credit from the Audiobook Addicts facebook group. I chose The Great Courses title Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature. I have enjoyed many of the Great Courses before and the topic really appealed to me. Professor Bedore does a fantastic job of presenting the material while keeping it very interesting for the listener. The course has twenty-four lessons totalling over twelve hours.
The course begins with a discussion of what Utopian and Dystopian mean. The next lesson starts the discussion of the first Utopian work by Thomas More. There are several lessons covering the other Utopian writers such as Swift and H. G. Wells. The course then moves on to the Dystopias. It covers much more than Orwell's 1984. The breath of the course is really amazing. It covers The Hunger Games and the Apocalyptic works of this century. The final lesson is on the future of the two genres.
The accompandy course guide, in Adobe pdf format, is amazing. It is over two hundred and forty pages of information. Each lesson has an outline of what is covered and a Suggested Reading section as well as Questions to consider. The Bibliography at the end is incredible. It is going to populate my to read list for years to come.
Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature was a very enjoyable and educational audiobook. I would recommend it for anyone who reads Utopian or Dystopian genres.
Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Dr John Burt, Kathryn Burtinshaw
Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots
A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland
by Dr John Burt, Kathryn Burtinshaw
Pen & Sword
Pub Date 30 Apr 2017
Courtesy of Netgalley
Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Dr John Burt and Kathryn Burtinshaw was a challenging read but a very fascinating one. The authors detail how the mentally ill were cared for before the nineteenth century. They also delve into legislation that was meant to reform their care. Several chapters describe the care of the mentally ill in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
The description of life in an asylum was fascinating. It really was much more humane than it eventually became. There were open spaces. Music, art and gardens were part of the patients’ lives. The patients were kept clean and physically healthy.
An attempted assassination of King George III changed the way the criminally insane were treated. At first they were housed with other mentally ill. Eventually they were housed by themselves. The case studies included in different sections were fascinating. The chapter on treatments was disturbing.
It is interesting to see how these asylums were originally created to be. The way they degenerate into houses of horror by the end of the nineteenth century is extremely sad. The mentally ill are treated more as animals than humans who are in need of medical care. If you are interested in the history of the treatment of the mentally ill, I recommend this book. It can be a slog with some of the dense information but it is worth it.
The Witchfinder's Sister
by Beth Underdown
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Pub Date 25 Apr 2017
The Witchfinder's Sister is the debut novel by Beth Underdown. Her first novel. I need to make sure that is stated up front because it is an absolutely amazing read. I was totally drawn into Alice's story. The book opens with Alice being kept prisoner in a locked room under orders of her brother Matthew Hopkin's, the infamous witchfinder of English history. As the book circles back and tells the story of Alice and her family, I could not help but fear for her safety. Each chapter increased the dread for what would happen to her.
The book takes place during the English Civil War. The story begins in the spring of 1645 and ends in the summer of 1648. Alice is witness to her brother's hunt for witches and his methods for identifying them. This is the mindset, the philosophy, that gave birth to America's own witch hunts. It is truly frightening on several levels. Any woman who was different, perhaps mentally ill or independent or quarrelsome with her neighbors was fair game for being accused. Once accused there was no way to prove one's innocence, only one's guilt. The author does a fantastic job of illustrating these details without losing the reader's interest.
Although this period of English history is not very familiar to me, I am now very interested in learning more of it. Did this witch paranoia come from the chaos of the civil war or from the religious philosophy of those fighting the crown? How could a woman defend herself if accused? Was there any chance for being acquitted at all? Alice is a fantastic guide through this nightmare world. She is a reliable narrator who is horrified by what she witnesses but finds herself powerless to help any of the accused, even to help herself.
I highly recommend Beth Underdown's debut novel The Witchfinder's Sister. It is a compelling, tense but ultimately enjoyable read.
Red Spring continues the excellence in storytelling I found in the first two books of the Black Year Series, Black Fall and White Winter. In the Black Fall, we were introduced to Jonas Black, a 16 year old whose life went pear shaped when he discovered the truth about his family and his world. As Black Fall gave way to White Winter, Jonas’s world was in flames. He struggled to try to prevent his vision of causing an apocalypse from coming true.
Red Spring shows Jonas’s stumbling from one decision to the next. He makes decisions from a place of darkness and confusion. He also keeps secrets from those who love him. While he blamed his parents for raising him in a life constructed of lies, he justifies his own lies as trying to protect people and prevent his vision from coming true. New allies and enemies are introduced as well as old friends becoming enemies.
The pacing of the book is terrific. Like the previous books, the tension is balanced by humor. For example one of my favorite lines is, “Jonas, she’s not the most complicated woman in the world. She has the depth of a kiddie pool built for Smurfs.” The battle scenes are great. About three quarters of the way through the book there is an absolute shocker. I was caught completely off guard. What happens next is certainly not anti-climactic.
Red Spring is a story arc complete unto itself but it does need to be read after the first two books to get the full story. It does end in a cliffhanger but has only left me more excited for the final book of the series.
I received a copy of the Red Spring from the author in exchange for an honest review.
This is the third book in The Scattered and the Dead series. I enjoyed this one as much as the last two. It advances the storylines of several characters. It follows Fiona, Lorraine, Ray and Marissa. There are very brief sections with Baghead and Decker. Ray, Lorraine, Baghead and Decker are all characters from previous books. As with previous books, the timeline is fluid. One section may take place before the event while others take place weeks or months after the event. As you come to know the characters, it is not hard to follow.
Book 0.5 and Book 1.5 are much shorter compared to Book 1. They are not bridge books by any means. Each book is a contribution to the series, just as much as the larger Book 1. As I mentioned in earlier reviews, the universe is unique. The Scattered and the Dead universe is more real. Possibly because it is told from many points view, possibly because the characters are from such different backgrounds and personalities.
One thing I really like is how the authors break the sections up. The narrative switches between the characters. It is not one large section narrated by one character followed by the next big section by another character. Instead, it is a series of very well done cliffhangers for each character. For instance, in one of Ray’s sections, the last sentences are “And then the screaming started again. Somewhere ahead of me.” Just as you are dealing with that you are thrown into Fiona’s latest situation. It really is very good writing and excellent pacing.
The Scattered and the Dead, Book 1.5 is narrated by the authors, Tim McBain and L. T. Vargus. All the books in this series so far have had excellent production values. The clear strong voices of the narrators, who happens to be one of the authors, L. T. Vargus and Tim McBain, do a fantastic job narrating the book. They both have pleasant voices to listen to. Perhaps having authored the book helped in their ability to narrate it so well. They did not seem to be reading it as much as telling it, as one survivor after another shared their with the listener. It makes for a very intimate narration.
I highly recommend The Scattered and the Dead series. If you have not started it yet, now is the perfect time.
I received a copy of The Scattered and the Dead Book 1.5 from Audiobook Reviewer in exchange for an honest review.
The Shadow Land A Novel
by Elizabeth Kostova
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Pub Date 11 Apr 2017
Courtesy of Netgalley
The Shadow Land is a mystery, a thriller and a love story but not a traditional love story. It is a love for a land, it’s people and it’s history. Beginning The Shadow Land I knew a little bit about Bulgaria, thanks to Ms. Kostova’s 2005 book The Historian. But I knew nothing about it’s mid twentieth century history. I did not know there was a King who allied his country to Hitler and left them to suffer one brutal dictatorship and ideology after another. Kostova brings this history to life through the people who lived it and the people who struggled to rebuild.
Alexandra is a woman in her mid-twenties who has been marked by tragedy over ten years before. Her brother disappeared the day after his sixteenth birthday on a family hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His body was never found. Alexandra had been close to him until shortly before his disappearance. Looking back she tries to find a reason, was he depressed, was it an accident but all she finds are more reasons to blame herself. She travels to Bulgaria, a country her brother dreamt about seeing, to teach and to try to move on.
The taxi from the airport deposits her at a main point in the city of Sofia. Alexandra is in the process of getting another taxi to her hostel, a low cost living arrangement until the school year begins and she receives a salary, when a good deed does indeed get punished. Trying to help an elderly couple and their son into another taxi, she accidently ends up with one of their bags mixed with hers. As her taxi begins to drive her away, she realizes the mistakes. The other family is gone and the bag Alexandra has contains someone’s ashes in an elaborately carved urn.
Alexandra’’s taxi driver, who she calls Bobby, offers to help her return the ashes. What follows is an odyssey, that covers the length and breadth of Bulgaria and it’s history. As Kostova did in the Historian, the story is split into different time periods and narrators. The voice of the dead man whose ashes are now in Alexandra’s possession are told in his journal. Other people speak for him, to tell his story and how it is so entwined with the history of Bulgaria.
The books is at it’s best when it takes these magical side trips into the murky past. A blind woman over one hundred years old tells of when the Ottoman’s were finally driven from Bulgaria. The dead man’s sister-in-law tells of a serious suitor who quietly wins the family over with his courtesy and obvious adoration for Vera, his future wife. The survivor of a inhuman prison camp where the inmates do not know their crimes. The author saved a wonderful surprise for the last quarter of the book. It made me love the characters all the more.
I recently reviewed Katherine Anderson’s Prisoner of the Asylum. The next book in the series is Slave. I love Abbey and the series that is created around her. I love the story settings. While the Asylum book was a little bit cooler, just cause you know it was in an asylum, Slave is still a very good book.
In the first chapter of Slave, Abbey and Luke set out to explore a mill, which ultimately does not pan out. She and Luke are great because they are friends, no romantic involvement, just friends. I like their comfort with each other. They a an abandoned cottage after getting tips from their urban exploration community. Once there they literally fall into a surprise in an undocumented tunnel. The tunnel has a few surprises of its own. There is also a paranormal aspect to this book. I cannot really give detail without giving away plot points.
As in the first book, the descriptions are wonderful. They are lush in detail and create an atmosphere that the reader can feel. There is a paragraph is Chapter 13 about a town at the bottom of the quarry which is just wonderful to read: “It was such a beautiful piece of water but it was cloaked in so many dark and disturbing stories.” Abbey’s parents are introduced in this book and help the reader connect with some of her backstory. It helps the character develop in the reader’s mind.
Why is Abbey finding paranormal situations with her urban explorations? She describes it as, “something inside me that called to them, and let them know that I was someone who could understand them.” I am hoping a future book can explore why that is. The ending is very special. One of the best endings I have read in awhile in terms of one or two sentences giving a world of information. I look forward to continuing to read about Abbey’s explorations, both urban and paranormal.
I enjoyed this book. The main character, Abbey, is involved in Urban Exploration as a hobby. More than a hobby actually; it is a passion. Abbey got into Urban Exploration through her grandmother. She is accompanied on her adventures is her friend Luke.
The book spans two different time periods, World War II and the present. Ms. Anderson does a wonderful job of creating a parallel between World War II and the war in the mind of a mentally ill person. The mood setting in both time periods is great. For example, one phrase really illustrates the panic and claustrophobia of the time, “Trapped in a basement with a group of mental patients while bombs rained down aboveground”.
The story that takes place during World War II is about a young woman named Isabella. She is committed by her father when she is twenty-five years old. She suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, possibly inherited from her mother. It ties to the modern story when Abbey finds Isabella’s records during an exploration of Westwood Asylum for the Insane which has been abandoned for decades. What catches Abbey’s attention is that Isabella’s records stop very suddenly. As Abbey and her exploration partner Luke continue their exploration of the Asylum and investigation into Isabella’s history, Isabella emerges, moving through a layer separating this plane from the next.
The book is well researched. In chapter six, there is a discussion of Walter Freeman that is fascinating and one of the most horrifying things I have ever read. That paragraph is equal to anything Stephen King has ever gotten me with. There are no words implying horror, no monsters jumping at you, no specific words that do it but arranging into those sentences in that paragraph is one of the most terrifying and unforgettable images I have ever encountered. And the author just slips it in there. No warning. Genius, just glorious genius. Thinking about it still gives me the creeps months later.
As I states earlier, Ms. Anderson has a wonderful gift in setting the mood. When talking about the morgue in the asylum she describes it as “the morgue, alongside the physically dead, not just the psychologically dead.”, evokes an emotion, a sense of dread, a feeling of those poor souls trapped in their own minds and in the asylum.
I previously enjoyed Ms. Anderson’s Hospital Hill. I am looking forward to reviewing more of her work.
White Winter (The Black Year Series Book 2)
by D.J. Bodden
Courtesy of author
In Black Fall, Book 1 of D. J. Bodden’s The Black Year Series, I was introduced to Jonas Black, a 16 year old whose life missed the turn at Albuquerque and ended up in a nameless circle of Hell. Jonas’s life unraveled when his father died and he discovered some very startling truths about the world and his place in it. I was introduced to vampires, werewolves, a zombie (or not) plus Jonas’s freaked out human girlfriend. Some of the individuals, no matter what species, were cool and some were just terrifying on the “I will eat your soul” scale.
When Book 1, Black Fall, ends Jonas is trying to cope with what the last few months of his life have dumped on him. It is a lot, much more than typical teen angst. White Winter, Book 2, picks up shortly after the end of Black Fall. Jonas is trying to settle into his new reality with it’s perks and drawbacks. He has a vision of a world in ashes that seems to point it’s skeletal finger at him as the cause. Who does he tell? Who does he trust enough to tell? As Jonas tries to make this decision, he and Kieran, his best friend, get sent on a road trip for Agency business. Nothing about the trip goes well and proves that their is a conspiracy to destroy Jonas, his mother, his friends and the Agency. Does Jonas try to stop them or will that fulfill the prophecy? If he doesn’t try to stop them, will that fulfill the prophecy? What is a sixteen year old boy supposed to do when he doesn’t know where to step or what to stay to avoid bringing about the events of his vision?
White Winter had as much action as Black Fall. There is great character development in the characters like Jonas, Eve, Alice and Kieran from the first book. There are new characters who range from “can you trust them” to “damn that’s freaky”. The pacing was steady and at times frantic. The battle/fight scenes are well written. They made sense and not, being anything of a military historian myself, the tactics seem realistic.
In my review of Black fall I said I would have no problems recommending it to anyone over eighteen and probably any mature high schoolers. I did read White Winter with my “mother” senses engaged and I feel that it would be fine for a mature teen just due to the violence. Parents should always read books first before they hand them over and know your child’s ability to separate fact from fiction. I would have had no problem handing Black Fall or White Winter to my son when he was eleven (and had already read The Lord of the Rings and everything Brian Jacques had written to that point).
I am eager to start the last book in the trilogy, Red Spring. Black Fall and White Winter do end with cliffhangers but also complete their particular story arc. I really appreciate authors who make sure they do complete the arc within the book. It gives it a satisfying ending but gives you a craving for the next course. I would highly recommend getting your hands on Black Fall and White Winter. I will review Red Spring as soon as I finish it. Not to belabor a point but this series would be fantastic as an audiobook with the right narrator.
Review Audiobook THE SCATTERED AND THE DEAD: A POST-APOCALYPTIC SERIES, BOOK 1 BY TIM MCBAIN AND L.T. VARGUS
When I reviewed the Audible version of The Scattered and the Dead, Book 0.5, I totally got lost in a new universe. The Scattered and the Dead 0.5 follows only one person Decker. The Scattered and the Dead Book 1 is a much larger cast and time period. The easiest way to illustrate this is to list the character’s names and where their stories start in Book 1:
Rex 68 days before
Baghead 9 yrs, 126 days after
Mitch 43 days before
Travis 44 days after
Erin 29 days after
Teddy 69 days after
Ray 3 days before
Lorraine 3 days before
As you can tell by the listing above, the book is not linear. It tells different people’s stories with very different starting points. For example, Baghead’s story begins over 9 years after the event while Mitch’s story begins 43 days before. This was the hardest part of the book for me, the chronology. My inability to keep the chronology straight was a very minor downside for me. The story was wonderful. There were characters like Erin and Mitch that I connected with. And then there were characters like Teddy that made me want to jump into the book and warn the other characters to avoid him at all costs. The ages of the characters vary also from children to middle age.
The situations that characters exist in are not static. Some characters are perpetually moving, either for foraging or for unknown reasons. Some are hunkered down and just trying to survive for as long as they can. The undead are not the worst monsters in this book. I think the authors do a great job of painting the human monsters in vivid colors. In fact, I can readily visualize some of those human monsters living here in the United States, now, without the apocalypse to create them.
As I said in my review of Book 0.5, the authors have created a post-apocalyptic universe that feels different than many of the other I have read (and I have read many). If you like the post-apocalyptic genre, this is a great series. Even if you are not a zombie fan, you will still like this series. The zombies are only one part of what drives this book.
The Audible version of Book 0.5 was fabulous and so is Book 1 also with excellent production values. The clear strong voice of the narrator of Book 0.5, who happens to be one of the authors, also narrated Book 1 with the other author, L. T. Vargus. Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus did a fantastic job narrating the book. They both have pleasant voices to listen to. Perhaps having authored the book helped in their ability to narrate it so well. They did not seem to be reading it as much as telling it, as one survivor after another shared their story with the listener. It makes for a very intimate narration.
Audiobook was provided for review by the author.
Please find this complete review and many others at Audiobook Reviewer
Calling All Angels ((The Shadow Council Case Files #1)
by John G. Hartness (Goodreads Author), Melissa Gilbert (Editor)
Courtesy of John G. Hartness
Calling All Angels takes place in the same universe as the Quincy Harker Demon Hunter Novellas. The main character is Joanna (Jo) Harrison descends from an American Legend, a man of mythical strength, John Henry. Not only has Jo inherited John’s strength, she also has his hammer. Jo has returned from helping Quincy stop Hell on Earth from happening in Atlanta. But home holds it’s own battles and challenges.
Jo lives with her elderly mother, Cassandra, and her young daughter, Ginny. Jo is a single mom, working by day as a freelance editor to support her family. She is working as a cage fighter at night. The money is great. She always wins due to her great strength. But her main reason for putting herself through the brutality of the fighting is to complete the task Quincy had given her. She is to return an item to a man. The item is a sword. The man is an archangel. Easy peasy. Or not. As usual in the Harker universe, nothing is easy. The man does not know he is an archangel, he wants nothing to do with the sword and there is a really nasty demon that wants the angel and the sword.
Calling All Angels is a fun read. As with the Harker series, the story has intriguing characters. The backstory on Jo adds more facets to a character I already liked. This is the first in a new series. I am hoping that each novella will feature a different member of the Shadow Council as I am very interested in learning the backstory on each of them. If you have enjoyed the Quincy Harker novellas or any of Mr. Hartness’s other series, I highly recommend Calling All Angels. It has the makings of another great series to get hooked on.
I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
by D.J. Bodden
Pub Date 10 Apr 2015
When is a vampire not a vampire? When is a werewolf not a werewolf? Or a zombie not a zombie? D. J. Bodden’s Black Fall is a fast paced read where nothing is what it seems and sometimes that is really bad. Jonas Black is a 16 yr old whose life begins to unravel when his father dies. The funeral is at night. His mother breaks open the urn and claims it is not her husband because she can tell “human” ashes. Poor Jonas is about to spend the next few months constantly thinking, “Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.”
Black Fall is a supernatural mystery built around a teenager, who used to have normal teenage problems until he found out the truth about his parents, himself and the world. The beings that populate the book were fascinating. Different than the normal run of the mill supernaturals. I did have some confusion about the power structures in the different species as well as Jonas’s existence. I am not sure if more of this will be dealt with in the next three books (Black Fall is the first of a projected four book series). It was an enjoyable read that I obtained from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review. I would love to hear it as an audiobook read by someone like James Foster (hint, hint author). I would have no problems recommending it to anyone over eighteen and probably any mature high schoolers. I would have to reread it again with my “mother” senses engaged before I would go any younger. I will be looking forward to picking up the sequel when my library gets it. And seriously Mr. Bodden - Audiobook - James Foster.
The Mammoth Book of the Mummy
by Paula Guran
Diamond Book Distributors
The Mummy. What does that noun, “Mummy”, conjure in your mind? In my very strange mind, I get side by side pictures. One is the mummy I saw in the Smithsonian when I was in 7th grade (many, many years ago). The other is of the fantastic, wonderful Boris Karloff so very expressive while wrapped in linen. The new mummy movies have not changed that second image for me.
When the reader thinks about mummies in literature, the reader has to put effort into it. There just are not a plethora of mummy stories, not like vampires, werewolves or zombies. That may be because not many writers tried to work with them. Thank goodness Paula Guran collected nineteen short stories that expand and twist the typical mummy in such a way that while preserving the time honored concept allows a creative spin that leaves the reader hanging on for dear life.
The authors and stories in the book are:
* That I May Speak (Introduction to collection), Paula Guran - Guran does an excellent job of navigating the world of mummies both in film and literature.
* “Private Grave 9”, Karen Joy Fowler
* “The Good Shabti”, Robert Sharp - This story cuts between Ancient Egypt and the not too distant future. The sense of dread builds in both ages until there is a clash that I did not see coming. Great story.
* “Egyptian Revival”, Angela Slatter - This was one of my favorites. Imagine a strong, feminine Private Investigator in the Ancient Egyptian religion is proven to be real. Antiquities are now not just collectibles, they are possible gateways to immortality. A fun story. I will be adding the author to my list of new authors to check out.
* “The Queen in Yellow”, Kage Baker - Mummies and time travel. Oh and cyborgs.
* “On Skua Island”, John Langan - This one was creepy in a “they need to make this into a movie” creepy. Very good non-Egyptian mummy.
* “Ramesses on the Frontier”, Paul Cornell - I have read several books by Paul Cornell and he never disappoints. His Ramesses trip through the underworld is funny and unique and an excellent story.
* “The Shaddowes Box”, Terry Dowling
* “Egyptian Avenue”, Kim Newman - This one was really cool. I have read several of Kim Newman’s books involving his Diogenes Club. This story has that wonderful blend of supernatural and Scotland Yard. A very enjoyable story.
* “The Curious Case of the Werewolf That Wasn’t, the Mummy That Was, and the Cat in the Jar”, Gail Carriger - My favorite of the collection. It does have a werewolf who isn’t, a mummy and a cat in the jar. It also has a character that I haven’t decided what he is and an author who I already put one of her books on hold at my local library.
* “The Night Comes On”, Steve Duffy - I enjoyed this one also. I will check out the author’s other work.
* “American Mummy”, Stephen Graham Jones - This was a good story set in the modern day southwestern USA.
* “Bubba-Ho-Tep”, Joe R. Lansdale - I did not see the movie that was based on this story. It did not really do anything for me but then again I am not an Elvis fan.
* “Fruit of the Tomb”, Carole Nelson Douglas - I loved this story. Having become a first time cat owner seven months ago, I can truly appreciate the worship of cats. Heart of Night is worthy of that worship.
* “The Chapter of Coming Forth by Night”, Lois Tilton & Noreen Doyle
* “The Mummy’s Heart”, Norman Partridge
* “The Emerald Scarab”, Keith Taylor
* “The Embalmer”, Helen Marshall - Not your typical mummy and two children I never want to cross paths with.
* “Tollund”, Adam Roberts
* “Three Memories of Death”, Will Hill - Another one of my favorites. A beautiful, touching story.
The Mammoth Book of the Mummy, which I received from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review, blew up the all my previous conceptions of what a mummy is. I discovered several new authors and broaden my imagination. I highly recommend The Mammoth Book of the Mummy. I hope to see other authors try their hand at this neglected beautiful genre.
I am addicted to Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter novellas. I am addicted to the books and audiobooks. I look forward to the latest release with as much anticipation as I previously looked forward to the Cadbury Easter chocolates. Each book continues to build on the previous in a way that very, very few series are ever able to do. The fact that this is Book 8 in the series and I am still deeply invested in the characters speaks volumes about the author's talent.
Quincy has meet up with his group in Atlanta where they believe the next Demonic Super Event will occur. It is up to Quincy and his groups to stop them. If you are not familiar with the Quincy Harker series, get yourself started as quickly as possible. They are well worth it. Quincy's fiancee Rebecca is joined by Gabby Van Helsing, Dr. Watson, Jo Henry and Adam. Adam does not care to use his father's last name. It has the potential to cause villages to form mobs armed with pitchforks and flaming torches. Quincy's Uncle Luke is also helping. If you are not familiar with Quincy's Uncle Luke, you should know that his name at birth was Vlad Tepes. Imagine the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Falcon's NFL team in a playoff game and Uncle Luke walking around in a Matty Ice jersey and Falcon's baseball cap. Not your parent's Dracula? No, Uncle Luke is even better.
As with the previous books, the humor is delightful. The humor never overshadows the mystery or terror that comes from Hell. It is an incredible balancing act to find the right combination and timing for the humor, mystery and terror. From Book 1 to Book 8 the quality of writing has remained very, very high. My interest has not flagged at all. In fact I am eagerly awaiting the next book.