Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

Review based on ARC.

It really wasn't what I was expecting.  The Amazing Arden is the most famous illusionist... illusionist. Right. I get that. But then that word "magic" kept appearing everywhere (reviews, descriptions). And it's not really that kind of book.  Not that there isn't a magic, per se, but this is no fantasy.

So what is it? It's a murder-mystery, a love story, a story about a woman learning about her strengths, and her weaknesses (and of both, she has many). It's a tale, and you (or, rather, Virgil Holt, small-town officer) must decide where there is truth, and where there is illusion.

It starts with murder. It begins with a spectacular show, where the Amazing Arden uses an Ax to cut a man in half. And then voila! He's whole again. It commences with a couple of police-friends enjoying the Amazing Arden's show and then some drinks afterwards.. something to help ease the pain.

And then, once the show is over, one officer is called to investigate the murder of the Amazing Arden's husband. And the other, tiny-town officer Virgil Hold, heads off toward home.

Stopping for a brief bite, Holt suddenly finds himself with the Amazing Arden in his hands---the prime suspect for the murder his pal was called to investigate. And she appears to be fleeing. So Holt takes her in to his office. It is now up to Holt to decide whether and to what extent Arden is innocent, and so the tale begins.

Arden insists on not skipping to the end. She insists on telling of her origin, her loves, her losses, her lessons. And as her tale unfolds, Holt must decide---is she telling the truth? How far does her illusion extend? What can she do for him? What must he do for her?

To say more is to give away too much. It reads quickly enough--dragging only a little toward the middle. Macallister has created at least one great character (Ray), a couple of pretty darn good characters (Miss Bates and Holt), and several additional characters to fill the pages and move the story along. While I didn't particularly like Clyde (though I imagine some will love him!), and I thought a few of the characters were rather two-dimensional, I don't think I *needed* to like Clyde or those other characters. They simply aren't the point.

And the magic? Well, perhaps there's magic. Or perhaps it's an illusion of magic. Or perhaps we'll never know...

FOUR of five stars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke

Review based on ARC.

I have been meaning to read anything by Brock Clarke for years! I'm so glad I won this ARC and was "forced" to read it now (sooner, rather than later). He IS funny and smart and dry and witty and thoughtful and enjoyable to read!

This book.... how to describe it. Jens is a newspaper-political cartoonist in Denmark. When an assignment goes horribly awry, an assassin tries to kill him, and the CIA must step in. He heads to the American northeast, to a small town in New York and poses as a high school guidance counselor. And.... that tells you kind of nothing about the book, but serves as a skeleton. And it's not worth anything because what is great about this story has nothing to do with its plot. Rather, it's the characterization and descriptions and humor and observations of an outsider looking in... and of insiders looking at an outsider that make this book so wonderful to read.

It's a quick read, it's funny, it's though-provoking... It presents political and social commentary without being preachy, and it's a story about chances and second chances. One of my favorite things about the book.... I couldn't possibly tell you because it's a spoiler.  But I will say (and I really don't think you should read this unless you've already read the book), I finished the book, laid my head down to sleep, then had a Eureka! moment, where I had to re-read the first chapter. Love what he did there. (highlight to see spoiler)

Highly recommend for people who are looking for a funny, dark, thoughtful commentary, or just an amusing tale about a Dane in New York....

FOUR of five stars.

Sanctum (Asylum #2) by Madeleine Roux

Sanctum is a fine sequel to Asylum.  Not amazing. Not terrible.  Like Asylum, Sanctum is a very quick read; like Asylum, Sanctum has many holes. But, if you read it quickly enough, you almost don't notice the holes and you almost don't mind the lack.

So, what's it about: Dan continues to have weird nightmares and day-mares relating back to the history of Brookline and its warden. His contact with Jordan and Abby has started to fade, and Dan is eager to resolve the issues he's having with both his friendships and his obsession with Brookline.  The three decide to return to New Hampshire College, pretending to be prospies, interested in actually going to college there.

So that's weird. Like, return to the place where you almost died? Sure, yeah, believable. And since it's not, the whole premise is weak. BUT, as I say, it's a quick read. We *quickly* run through all kinds of creepy experiences, hallucinations, and dreams. We meet a handful of new, suspicious characters.  We are introduced to a whole new society of people. And although it's all rather surface, it's enjoyable to read.  I read it in just a few hours, and I will definitely pick up the next one (yep, there's a next one).

I enjoy these. They're not amazing, but they're enjoyable quick reads.

Recommended to someone looking for a creepy escape on a dreary day...
THREE of five stars

Monday, November 3, 2014

Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie Meier

Ultimately, it was an OK murder mystery with some OK twists and turns and conclusions...
but there were some MAJOR flaws... and if those flaws had been, er, done away with... well, what I'm really trying to say is that I think the author actually has potential. Though I don't know if she'd ever realize it, since this formula makes her successful enough...

Major Flaw #1: it's a book called Trick or Treat Murder, yet the murder does NOT happen on Halloween or surrounding any Halloween-related activity. in any way. whatsoever. Rather, the murder happens in the days leading up to Halloween, so ya know, it's being investigated around Halloween time. Which I don't think is enough. But maybe even that could have been if there was more Halloween in this Halloween book. Instead, it's like, they're getting ready for this big Halloween party, and that's supposed to be enough? Where're all the descriptions of all the Halloween decorations all over the neighborhood, the candy being purchased, the costume-planning, the Halloween activities, buying pumpkins, carving them, etc. etc. etc. So, I thought that was a MAJOR let down.

Major Flaw #2: This is the first Leslie Meier book I've read, so maybe this is just what these books are about, but it's NOT about a detective lady, even an amateur detective lady, solving mysteries. It's about a housewife with a bunch of kids, too much time on her hands, and a busy-body attitude. She likes to "investigate" things with not only NO authority to do so, but while being told NOT to do so by the authorities AND while receiving threats. While she has kids. I mean, that's incredibly careless, dangerous, and frankly stupid. Plus, she's not terribly bright. She comes to weird sudden conclusions ... surely crafted to lead the reader astray, but they're not even convincing. Oh! He was having an affair? It MUST BE HIM. I mean, with no other evidence, it's such a WEAK conclusion to draw. All of the various theories are so weakly manufactured, that the reader is, instead of trying to solve a mystery, just waiting for the *right* clues to be "conveniently" dropped on her lap. This, while the main character runs around in circles like a chicken with her head cut off, making grand accusations and essentially ignoring death threats to her and her family. AND THEN? Yeah, this book is more about the trials and tribulations of a housewife with 4 kids, one of which is a brand new baby, than it is about solving a mystery. In particular, it's about nursing, working out, and making 12 dozen cupcakes. Which I can assure the author does NOT take an entire week. Not to mention that the cupcakes that were made earlier in the week would be nice and stale by the time they were eaten.

Major Flaw #3: You've GOT to be kidding me on the husband. He's ridiculously 2-dimensional, which would be fine if he wasn't such a major character with such a major role. From where I'm sitting, he seems like a bit of an arrogant, distant a$$, but for some reason, Lucy Stone ("detective") worships him. And there's quite a bit of hero-worship going on here, which was eye-rolling for me, but might be nice for some people who want to fantasize about... this kind of guy? I don't know. I feel like, he must have been written this way because some people find that attractive....

So yeah. Some major problems. BUT it was enjoyable enough and read quickly enough, once you got past page 125 or so...  It was nice to read a "Halloween themed" mystery at Halloween, even if it wasn't Halloween'y enough.  I'd recommend for people who don't mind the off-topic murder mystery and who don't find reading about a new mom's "milk falling" off-putting...

Two and a half stars... but 3 on cites w/o halves.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn in the Abyss by John Claude Smith

Ok, my initial thoughts (from before): this book definitely needs some trigger warnings (rape victims). And it is probably the darkest book I've ever read (and I'm quite glad to have it done). Nevertheless, it is well written.

And my review:
**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review**

It's dark. For the majority of readers out there who don't think it gets *much* darker than Stephen King, I think it's important to stress that. It's darker than Stephen King. I haven't yet put my finger yet on what the difference is... I think it's like.. reading Stephen King is like reading a magazine, it's glossy. And reading this book was like reading a horrendous transcript of real life events, it's gritty.

Terrible people do terrible things to other people. BUT there's a sort-of moral response in each. In each? yes, it's a series (short series) of short stories.

Overall, the writing was really good, some of the ideas were great (the title story) and unique (though you don't know why until it's over), and some of the stories were deeply disturbing. The pacing was ok -- better in some place than in others. A little slow from time-to-time. But the short of it is this: if you are into reading books about the horrible, violent things that some people do to others, regardless of whether there are any repercussions, then this is probably the book for you. It is well done, in that. Conversely, if that doesn't appeal to you? This one won't sit well with you.  Also, as mentioned, TRIGGER WARNINGS should be apparent on this one. If you are triggered by discussions of/scenes of/insinuations of rape, particularly the violent kind, best to stay far away.

I also note that, although many seem to think only the 3 shorter stories are linked... to me, they are all quite linked (though not all feature Mr. Liu). Importantly, there is a common theme that runs through each of the stories, which becomes apparent when you finish and take a step back to consider.

All in all, FOUR of five stars because it is well written and, for those who don't mind the DARK stuff, it is probably quite good. For me, it was hard to read and I was glad to be done, but I can recognize the talent therein.

Autumn in the Abyss is the best of the stories. It also does not have any trigger issues. To describe it, I think would spoil it. Just the most basic, then: The narrator is a several decade shut-in agoraphobe who has spent the past several decades eating, researching the poet Coronado, eating, not cleaning himself often, not cleaning his digs often, and eating. He is obsessed with the poet Coronado and how/why he disappeared, decades ago. Coronado was a poet in the time of the beat poets (Keroac), but with a dark style, completely his own. One day, his car is discovered on the side of the road, the driver's door open, and Coronado is never seen again. As the narrator delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, he starts to receive warnings and hear disturbing "creature" noises from on his roof.  To say more would be to spoil it, but I will say that this was interesting, unique, well done. Definitely the highlight piece.

Broken Teacup, La mia immortalita, and Where the Light Won't Find You are all clearly related, shorter pieces. In each, a Mr. Liu appears, rendering the experiences of the otherwise-protagonist(s) more unique. In Broken Teacup, it is two porn-movie makers who begin to make more and more disturbing and horrific films, when Mr. Liu appears. In La mia immortalita, it is an artist seeking immortality, who is historically cruel and indifferent to his lovers. And in Where the Light Won't Find You, it is your average, everyday Joe, just out for a movie on a free afternoon. Of the 3, I think La mia immortalita might be trigger-free (though I would not guarantee that), and Where the Light Won't Find you is pretty light, relatively speaking. However, Broken Teacup does describe in some detail some of the darker projects, and I would recommend staying away to anyone w/ trigger issues.

Finally, Becoming Human... This one is the most important one to note w/ a TRIGGER warning. It is a dark piece, from the perspective of a detective who has become obsessed in his life with finding and punishing this truly horrific serial murderer/ETC.'er and, as relevant to this story, his copycat. This one takes a very interesting turn and has a satisfying ending, but, again, to say more is to spoil. IF you like the darkest, sickest, most disturbing, this will be fine for you and perhaps even enjoyable -- esp. in consideration of the potential consequences for actions.... Otherwise, despite the good that is in this story, the detail renders is the most problematic, as far as triggers are concerned.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

I'll not say too much about this.. It's epic. It is the perfect book to cozy up with during the cold, snowy winter nights. It's a love story and a story about love. It's a story about potential and about hope. It's a story about faith and perseverance.

The movie makes this into a story just about Peter Lake, and I'll grant that he really is one of the the "main character," insofar as that's relevant. And I can completely understand why the movie needed to limit the scope. Because the book is beyond a simple movie.

It is a story about winter itself. About the magic of winter and the pain of winter. About the cold and the warmth. About families, about couples, about self. It's a large book with a large story to tell.  It is slow reading because there is just so much to take in. The descriptions of winter cover pages, but it's a story of winter, so it is right.

I definitely recommend. But have patience, it is worth the effort.
FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

Review based on ARC.

I've struggled with how to review this book. After finishing the book, I learned that there is one woman and potentially several others who have made accusations against the author for abuse of various kinds. These accusations do not appear to be substantiated--at least, not as of yet.  Do you support an author who engages in abuse? Is it relevant to the review? So, I'll simply say this: I absolutely do not condone abuse of any kind against anyone. I also absolutely do not condone false accusations of assault. Since the truth of the matter is not known to me at this time, I believe it makes the most sense to review the book solely on its merits.

When I finished this book, I was completely satisfied with the story. Although it's not perfect, it is complete.

So, the premise. I LOVE the premise. In this not too distant future, people can look at a moment (several moments) of their relationships to see how they fare in the future. You can look at your current relationship or a hopeful relationship or a past relationship (assuming you get back together) to see how it all works out and if your'e satisfied with where you are at that time.

And so our protagonists do. Evelyn, quirky librarian and volunteer book-reader, looks into her future to see how things work out with her musician boyfriend. And Godfrey, cell-phone recoverer, is bullied into doing the same with his to-be fiancee. And neither is altogether pleased with the peek they see. So they go peeking a little more, hoping they'll stumble onto a future that satisfies them more.

With classic elements of a romantic-comedy, a "what-if" tale about how our desires to know the future to our detriment unfolds. I read it quickly, in a sort of blur of needing to know how it all unfolds! It is funny and at times sad and at times poignant and thoughtful and, best of all, interesting and unique! I love the concept of getting a quick peek into your future -- but only as it pertains to romance. I love the limited quality of this futuristic technology.

And Sherl did a great job with his characters. Of course Evelyn and Godfrey are well developed, but the peripheral characters are all relatively three-dimensional and interesting. I definitely want to know more about Dr. Chin's back story, and I'm curious about the lost significant others along the way...

Overall, a great story, a great read, a great hypothetical exercise. Although it's true the science could have been more fully developed, the characters a little more robust, you hardly notice these things as you speed through Sherl's world and pal up next to his characters.

Definitely recommended!
FOUR of five stars.