Category Archives: Fiction

Review – The Chaperone

chaperoneThe Chaperone

by Laura Moriarty (Riverhead Books 2012)

Fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks, a few years before she becomes famous as a silent screen actress, leaves Wichita for New York City with a chaperone, Cora Carlisle.  Cora is neither family nor friend and has volunteered to chaperone this feisty teenager for propriety’s sake and because she has some reasons of her own to visit New York.

I didn’t know much about Louise Brooks before this book and I think I would like to see some of her pictures and definitely read her biography, Lulu in Hollywood. She is fascinating, precocious, driven and uncontrollable.  She is kind of like the first female rock star with her behavior and how shocking she was for her time.

But this book is really about Cora and her journey.  She follows society’s way of thinking, is upstanding and tries to teach Louise how to act and what to do and say in the few weeks they are together, but ultimately realizes she needs to look internally before she is fit to do any teaching.

“There was something entitled in the girls voice, something proud and unthinking.” (pg 40)

Oh Cora, if only she could see how today’s kids treat most everyone… Louise is a handful and is NOT respectful at all.  She thinks Cora is ridiculous, rolls her eyes, basically hates her and tries to act as shocking as possible.  She does what she wants to get attention and ultimately get what she wants.

Ultimately Cora does realize she herself is being taught by Louise.

“The young can exasperate, of course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up to the window of the future, and even push you through.” (pg 157)

Cora, at 36 years old grows up and into herself.  In a way, it is her coming of age as she begins to understand herself and her desires and realizes that you have to fight for what you want sometimes and not let life and your family, friends, expectations and society’s morays steamroll you into an automaton sleepwalking through a half existence.

She’d always assumed that this first, unremembered loss, even before she was sent out on the train, was the root of her unhappiness. (pg258)  She’d lived too much of her life so stupidly, following nonsensical rules, as if she and he, as if anyone, had all the time in the world. (pg 273)

What this book really did for me, was help me further understand my grandparents from their silent generation, and make me wonder what we don’t know about their lives! We here in the US are encouraged to spill everything we are feeling, thinking and have experienced, but it wasn’t always like that.  This book shows a juxtaposition of the WWI & depression era generation with the flappers and jazz age kids who flaunted and exposed because it was real, not just expected.

On a side note, I personally have never ever felt such loneliness until I moved to New York and didn’t know hardly anyone and really didn’t know the city yet.  It is a great way to find out who you are. Moriarty captures that beautifully.

“But even then, even in her wonder, she couldn’t help but think that from up in the high and quiet, behind the glass of the observation booth, the city finally looked and sounded as apart from her as it felt.” (pg 201)

The book spans Cora’s life, and while it was interesting to see what she does and where everyone ends up at the end, it rambled a little bit for me and lost some steam.  I called it “floppy” at bookclub and everyone agreed.  But other than that, I really enjoyed this book. It illuminated and it didn’t answer every question about Cora’s life to make the reader think and guess and, I assume, to make it closer to real life.  I would recommend it, it was wonderful, has many more themes than I mentioned and really does make you think, 4 black and white stars bouncing around making faces to the happy sounds of the orchestra, enjoy the icy air and listen to the audience laugh.

Review: Gasp! by Z.A Maxfield gets 4.5 stars

Z.A Maxfield’s newest book Gasp! is not to be missed.  The characters are strongly written and will pull you into their story right from the beginning.  Jeff Paxton is former military, and after serving in Afghanistan the young man is suffering from not only PTSD, but survivor’s guilt as well.  Nigel Gasp is a famous/infamous rock star.  Unfortunately, Nigel is not as young as he used to be which is causing more than a few insecurities to pop up.  Jeff never expected the favor he was doing for his sister to turn into anything more, yet the author chooses just that situation to bring together two men in desperate need of love, and ends up giving the reader a story that will hold their attention until the last page.

However, while the author brings these two together, she does not make their journey an easy one.  Between the issues that Jeff carries as a result of his time in the military, and Nigel’s sudden desire to check out, the men have more than a few obstacles to overcome.  The angst in this story is, at times, a little heavy but necessary to the story line.  Readers should know though that there are some light heart moments in Gasp! as well.  Not only does Nigel’s need for cross dressing lead to more than a few laughs, but Jeff’s encounter with a bear had me laughing out loud and I almost felt sorry for the young man, especially when the sheriff showed up .

Fans of Ms. Maxfield are sure to love her newest story and if you have not yet read one of this author’s books, then Gasp! is a great place to start.

Review – Unwind

Unwind

by Neal Shusterman

After reading this book I am extremely disturbed.   It is a YA dystopia and there was a second civil war and some reason, it doesn’t really matter why, the two sides decided that all people have a right to life until age 13.  Between 13 and 18 a kid can be unwound, sold for parts (a sort of later in life abortion) if they are wards of the state, their parents decide they are too much work, or their guardian signs them away.  There has been a breakthrough in medicine so arms, skin, teeth, muscles everything can be harvested and implanted on people who need new parts.  There are tons of cops making sure these unwind kids don’t run away because it is big business for the government.  But the kicker and rhetoric is the kids are still alive because around 95% of each kid has to be used by law.  They are just disassembled and they live on in the people who need their body parts.  Yay!  I didn’t have my kid killed, he lives on in hundreds of different people.  Isn’t that wonderful?  Shusterman makes sure you know if the kid is still “there” and it is a little bit horrifying.

The adults in this world allow this to happen knowing that it isn’t a wonderful thing, regardless of the rhetoric spouted by the government and they all feel guilty when they send a kid to be unwound.   However, they spout the same marketing BS to try to make the kid and themselves feel better about it, because many parents send their kids for unwinding.  The other issue is that you can stork a baby (leave it on someone’s doorstep and they are required by law to raise the child if they don’t catch you leaving it).  So many families have more kids than they can handle.  YA books usually have adults as clueless or evil or stupid and the kids know better, but wow, these adults can be quite harsh, though not all of them, because some are amazing.  But society has deemed it acceptable, so there you go.

Read this book.  It is horrible, it is tough and it is so well done.  Some terrible decisions are made by all sorts of people young and old.  I liked it from the first few pages.  So, think back on your life, when you were 13 or 15, not the best of years for many of us.  You go through puberty, you fight with your folks, you feel sullen and removed…how many of us would have ticked off our folks and been unwound?   Or had a sibling unwound?  Seriously.  There is this scene, well a couple of them actually that are so intense.  I think some of them will haunt me for some time to come.  Much like an after image of a bright light on my retinas.

This book is well-written, makes you think, has full, well-rounded primary and secondary characters and has a crazy idea but shows you how it could really happen.  It also has dangling storylines that get woven together seemlessly.  I loved that certain things were brought back up and answered or just came full circle.  There will soon be another book and I imagine any open-ended storylines or remaining questions will be answered.  Also, discord has been sown…I am hoping we will eventually see the fall of this unwinding business.  This book scared me, was well written, had characters I cared about and made me think, I give this book 5 stars.

Review – The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain

by Garth Stein

borrowed

If you want a quick read that makes you weep and gives you pointers on life, this is the book for you!  It is narrated by Enzo, a philosophical dog and is about his family and his life.  His owner, Denny, is a race car driver who knows how to drive well on a wet race track.  There is a special art to racing in the rain which can be applied to how you live your life as well.

So, to add rain to this man’s life, a whole sh*t load of problems and horrible things descend upon him.  How he reacts to the rain in his life, his focus to make it through the curves leads to whether he will crash and burn or make it through for the win.  It is allegorical and all that good stuff.  It is told simply and well.

So, I read the first 3/5′s of this book in one sitting, then I threw the book down in an emotional tizzy because I felt so manipulated because so much crap gets piled on this poor guy.  It is a little heavy handed, so I suggest you read this for the interesting POV and the emotional rollercoaster it takes you on.  I picked it up again to finish it and didn’t have another freak out, so that was good.  I enjoyed it.  I think if I read it in smaller chunks I would have had a better time of it.  Since it goes so quickly and the chapters are short and easy I ate too much of the book all at once and got a tummy-ache.  I wept, dang it, I laughed, it was nice and it ultimately makes you feel good.  3 stars.

This sort of summed up the book for me:

“No race has ever been won in the first corner,” he said.  “But plenty of races have been lost there.”  …

“That’s right,” he said to me, “If we’re going to be a cliche, let’s be a positive cliche.”

Review – Black Wings

Black Wings (Black Wings #1)

by Christina Henry

Purchased

Madeline Black is an Angel of Death.  She has a gargoyle friend who protects her house, her mother died when she was 13 and she never knew her father.  Her mother’s job was passed to her when she died, so Maddy is part of the bureaucracy that helps ferry souls to the ever after.  And a bureaucracy it is.  There is paperwork, supervisors and she doesn’t get paid.  Luckily she can rent out the bottom floor of her house.  She rents it to a gorgeous guy, Gabriel Angeloscuro (nice last name, hint hint).  But right after she rents it to him demons begin showing up trying to kill her.

This was an enjoyable book, I read it quickly and with zeal.  It is jam-packed full of action, world building, demons, souls, blood and mayhem.  Her lineage is revealed to her, and it is colorful and an important part of the story.  There was a little romantic tension, but she is a virgin, so don’t expect much there.  It makes me wonder what Henry has in store for Maddy.  It also ends looking like there will be a love triangle in the next book.  Hmmmm.

There is a lot of action and a lot of names to remember.  In fact a couple of times I got a little lost but just kept reading.  When the bad guy puppeteer is revealed, I wasn’t really sure if I should have known more about them already, but I soldiered on and the story made perfect sense.  I found I did that a lot with the Cassie Palmer stories too, I would get lost but keep going and things tended to straighten themselves out.  It was a good start for a new paranormal urban fantasy and I will be looking for the next book in the series, Black Night.  I liked it, 3 stars.

Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Source: Purchased (reading for bookclub)

I really enjoyed this book.  It was simply lovely.  It is a historical fiction but books and discussing books bring the characters together.  Because it is told through a series of letters between the characters it reminds me a lot of 84 Charing Cross Road, which I also loved, but there is more history and meat to this story.  WWII recently ended, Guernsey (part of the Channel Islands across from London) had been occupied during the war, and the people on the island created a literary society to have a reason to assemble and avoid trouble from the Germans.  Juliet, the main character and an author, receives a letter from one of the islanders asking for a bookshop recommendation, her name and address was in one of the books he now owns.  This opens up a friendship between the society members and Juliet, who asks they write to her to tell her their experiences during the war.  You really get to know the characters, and they are strong, determined, amazing and funny and feel very real.  There is not a huge amount of action but instead is a quiet, reflective type of book.

Besides being interesting history and character driven, they share a love of books that I can so understand!

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit will lead you onto a third book.  It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” (pg 11)

Ultimately, Juliet decides to write a book about Guernsey and the Society and goes there to interview everyone properly.  It is so interesting to see how much you can learn about people from their correspondence.  It is happy, sad, romantic, funny and heart-warming.  It had me laughing and crying, for both happy and sad and horrifying reasons.  It discusses WWII and the atrocities the people faced and lived to tell about or not.  It does take a little work to get to know all of the characters because there are a lot of them.  I spoke to one of my friends who compiled a list of characters and who they are to keep her straight as she reads.  I just plowed on through and figured out who characters were as I went.  I was a little confused a time or two, but it didn’t really matter.  Things are revealed as you dig through the letters, so you have to have patience and an open mind going in.  But it really is worth it if you like historical fiction, ever read and enjoyed Griffin and Sabine (though this is without magic) or 84 Charing Cross Road.  Read it!!  For me, it is a 5 star book and a keeper.

Review – Immortal in Death (In Death #3)

I have been on a mystery kick lately.  These are always good and I think I have 30 or so to swim through…

Immortal in Death (In Death #3)

By JD Robb

Borrowed from a friend

These are mystery/police procedurals set around 40 years the future.  The police detective lead, Eve Dallas is about to marry her intense romantic interest Roarke.  They are really hitting their relationship stride in this book.  Eve fights his love less and since she is of course too busy to pick out dresses, flowers and the like, her best friend Mavis is helping.  Mavis brings Eve to Leonardo, a talented designer who will create her dress and who also happens to be Mavis’ new boyfriend.  I love Mavis, she is a free spirit, outrageous and has a heart of gold.  Unfortunately, Leonardo’s previous girlfriend Pandora wanted to end the relationship, (no one ever leaves her!), so she is going to start trouble for him.  Since she is a high powered model with tons of connections, she can ruin Leonardo before his career truly takes off.  Before you know it, Pandora is murdered and Mavis is in the wrong place at the wrong time and all the evidence points to her.  Eve is the lead investigator for the case, even though she is emotionally involved.  She has to use all of her skill to figure this one out.

“Eve’s life had never been easy.  In her career as a cop she had seen and done too many nightmarish things to count them all.  But nothing had ever been more difficult for her than taking Mavis into Interview.” (pg. 47)

I really enjoy these books.  I get a great mystery with police procedural with some steamy romance and it takes place in 2058, so things are just different enough from my world that it satisfies my love of fantasy/UF.  They are my new go-to for when I don’t know what else to pick up.

So this mystery was great.  There are only a few players and still figuring out who did what is difficult.  Helping Mavis, coupled with Eve’s remembering of the abuse she suffered as a child, this is the most emotion we get from her in the series so far.  She isn’t pushing people away as much and has almost come to terms with loving and being loved.  (So sweet and I think at one point I had tears in my eyes.)

There is a new drug on the street, this one with regenerative effects, but two big drawbacks.  It will kill you with repeated use for 4-5 years and it is highly addictive.  Models, street folks and designers all are interested in this drug.  Someone, with ties to the new drug, is killing people, Pandora included and Eve, with her team and Roarke’s occasional help, figures out the link and search for the supplier and ultimately the killer.

When the bad guy reveals him/herself I thought “Yes!  I knew there was something weird about that character”…they never sat easily with me, but I didn’t KNOW.  But the reveal doesn’t come easily and the last few hours before the wedding are touch and go.

These books keep me riveted.  What is the genre, Mystery/romance?  I like the combo, whatever it is.  Eve is growing on me, and Roarke is the ultimate fantasy man, gorgeous, loving, self-made super rich, brilliant and a bad boy.  Sigh.  I will be picking up the other books eventually, 4 stars.

Review – The Iron Duke

The Iron Duke

by MelJean Brook

I really enjoyed this book.  I absolutely loved the world-building.  Sure, there are a few things about the world I could pick apart that don’t stand up to close scrutiny, but they ultimately didn’t matter too much to me.  I am so impressed, especially if you like Steampunk and Paranormal Romance.  This is my third Steampunk book and I enjoy the clockwork, steam and victorian sensibilities.  It mixes the PR/UF up a bit for some fun settings and inventions.

It starts in England, just after the Horde invasion.  The Iron Duke had destroyed the Horde’s control tower (they injected the English citizen’s with nanoagents called bugs to control them).  So the duke has gone from a pirate to a Duke for saving everyone from Horde control.  Enter Mina, she is a police inspector and genetically half Horde.  It doesn’t make her popular.  When a body is dumped on the Iron Duke’s front steps, she is called in to figure out 1) who the man is and then 2) why.  It becomes an adventure story as she and the duke travel via dirigible, ship and steam powered coach all over the world.  They also fall for each other, fighting it the whole time.

So, there really are a lot of romance elements, lots of smexing and stuff but Brook really creates a wild world to work from. There are zombies (injected bugs gone bad), kraken, huge sharks, fire bombs and people who were never injected with bugs hating on the ones that were.  It really is freaking awesome.

Mina and the duke (Rhys) have issues.  There is almost a rape type event (does that seem standard in some of the UF/PR lately?!), lots of clockwork mechanisms, a missing brother and swashbuckling.  I really, really enjoyed the whole thing.  I even enjoyed the back and forth between our main characters fighting each other before they settle into love.

I will say that I think I need to mix up what I am reading lately.  I am starting to see way too many trends and getting a little jaded about it…so while yes, this is PR, and it contains those types of trends, the rape thing, the fight each other, the “I’m not good enough” and “I will bring him and my own family down if we stay together” and the kick-ass heroine used to taking care of herself and having a hard time letting someone else help…lol – it is still amazing. I loved this world and thought the mains and side characters were fantastic and I will be reading the next book!  I give it 4 stars.

Review – Dead Man’s Hand

Dead Man’s Hand

By Lee Jay Stura

ebook provided by the publisher for review

I just want to say really quickly, since they published this book and all, that I don’t work for Three Crow Press.  This review is going up on their website, but it is independent and written by me.  Cheers!

This book takes place in 1906 up in San Francisco.  Our hero Denver Sinclair, tells this story from his POV (which is refreshing since most of the paranormal heroes these days are women!) and is a bit of an anti-hero who you root for anyway.  He is a relatively new vampire, serving an evil mistress who has bonded him to her with a blood debt.  He owes her a lot and like an indentured servant, sees no freedom in sight.  Denver likes to gamble and he is not an obedient man, so he cheats in every way possible, either by skimming off the top of his boss’ deals to playing cards and winning every time.  Denver is in love with Lily, a Chinese human woman and is trying to figure out how the two of them can have a future together and away from  his evil mistress, when mother nature throws a huge monkey wrench in everyone’s lives.  The earthquake of 1906 hits in the early morning and afterwards fires raged out of control throughout the city due to broken gas lines.

Denver and Lily survive, though Denver has to go to ground right after the quake to survive the dawning day.  Once they escape the building rubble they race for their lives across the burning city with run-ins from the army, refugees and his master’s minions.  Denver is hoping against hope that his master died in the quake and he will finally be free.

So, Denver is an interesting character.  I really wasn’t sure I was rooting for him for a while, because he isn’t a good guy by any means.  But by his actions, you find he is practical, and human in his thinking, but not evil.  It is the wild west after all, and when he was human he didn’t have the best judgment and it hasn’t really changed now that he is a vampire!  The story is quite fun, escape and survival being the issues to deal with.  These two are thwarted at every turn.  The race against the fire and the army are interesting.  Not quite as breath-taking as they could have been.  It almost seemed like Denver and Lily had a lot of time to do things…yet the fire was right behind them so it felt a little incongruous at times.  But the action is high, the characters grow on you and you root for Denver.  Lily is a spitfire and she complements Denver.  The storyline did not go where I expected it to, which was enjoyable and Stura had better be writing a sequel because there is definitely more story to be told with that ending!  I loved the setting, the Barbary Coast was fairly lawless in a lot of ways and these vampires are carving out a niche for themselves.  The other interesting thing is that Stura’s vampires, while strong and magical in many ways are not perfect and flawless.  They can’t get away with everything they want and actually have to be careful of discovery.  It made them much more interesting as characters to have a few weaknesses.

This is a historical urban fantasy with a male lead first person POV with action, adventure, a little smexiness and paranormal craziness.  It is a strong first novel and I am looking forward to seeing more from Lee Jay Stura, 4 stars.

Review – Shades of Grey by Michael Cargill

Shades of Grey

By Michael Cargill

This novel is actually a collection of three short stories about three very different people and settings.  Each main character, in their own way istrying to survive in messed up situations where they have very little control.  There are tons of books out there right now with the same or similar titles, this isn’t the other one currently making the rounds everywhere!  I won this ebook from one of the blogs I read.

Story 1 – Shades of Grey; this is largely a stream of consciousness of the wandering mind of a captured operative, John, who is being tortured for information.  He has been worked on for a while and he keeps flashing between past and present.  It does go through some flashback to other people in John’s life so the reader can understand the ending.  You don’t read too much about any gross torture stuff, but you know he is hurting.  And, while it is a heavy subject matter, there are actually funny bits.  Cargill seamlessly blends humor with horror and made me surprised that I found levity and laughed at times while reading about this situation.

Story 2 – There and Back Again – Set during WWII right before the Germans occupied France, we follow a British soldier, James who is one of the troops trying to stop the invasion.  Also filled with a few humorous bits, this snapshot of war and the men who fight them shows what we are capable of committing and surviving during wartime, and a bit of the ridiculousness that accompanies it all.  I don’t normally read war stories, but I found it interesting.

Story 3 – Down the Rabbit Hole – this third story is the longest of the bunch and the most disturbing to me.  Hard to believe since the others about the atrocities of war and torture!  But this one follows a young boy named Tom who has an abusive father and loving but ineffectual mother, though relatively strong willed, even though she has stuck it out with such an ass of a man for so long.  His best friend, a stuffed rabbit named Borger, comes alive, or at least begins talking, and makes suggestions to Tom, both in what to say and what to do when faced with adversity or even boredom.  Borger’s suggestions begin helpful and smart and take a turn to menacing and even deadly.  But Borger has Tom’s best interests at heart, or does he?

This collection was great.  I really enjoyed each of the characters and even after having finished this book a week ago I am still picturing some of the scenes.  That can be both good and bad since some of the scenes were intense, but it made me think and stuck with me so I find that impressive.  I also really enjoy the seamlessly blended humor.  It felt natural and normal, maybe I am messed up in the head, but I resort to humor during trying times, and I really felt that it works in these stories.  After having read Cargill’s blog, I was expecting much more ridiculous and wacky stuff, but he keeps it limited and it almost sneaks up on you in Shades of Grey.  I am looking forward to reading more from Cargill and give this book a 3.5/4 stars.

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