Tag Archives: The Read List

The Read List: City of the Lost, by Kelley Armstrong

city of the lost

Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you’re accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding?in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.

My thoughts on City of the Lost:

I adore Kelley Armstrong’s work. She’s an amazing writer and even more amazing in person. If you’ve been following her writing recently, you’ll have noticed she’s started doing a lot more non-urban fantasy books. The new books are more on the thriller or mystery side, and they are good!

  1. I actually came to Kelley’s works through her Nadia Stafford series, so in a way I got to know her through her non-fantasy works to begin with. (In case you’re not familiar with them, the Nadia Stafford series is about a female assassin–and they are very good reads.) So City of the Lost was right up my alley.
  2. Kelley has such a way with atmosphere, and she’s as brilliant as ever with building atmosphere here. Even though I knew this wasn’t an urban fantasy, I kept thinking something paranormal or supernatural would show up. But I wasn’t disappointed in my anticipation; the things that did happen, while not paranormal, were very creepy and eerie and in total sync with the atmosphere.
  3. Did I say creepy? I need to say it again. Creepy. Eerie. In a good way.
  4. I really liked Casey Duncan. Strong, independent, a self-thinker. Her flaws added strength to the story. Also, she’s half Asian, and it’s so nice to see an Asian protagonist in a book. And perhaps what I like most about her being half-Asian is that Kelley doesn’t make it into some big deal. It’s just who Casey is.
  5. There’s a romance. I’ve never been big on romances in my thrillers (I tend to prefer them in my romances, you know?), but this romance felt so natural and didn’t detract from the story events at all.
  6. Rockton–such an interesting concept for a town!
  7. Dalton, the sheriff, is an interesting character, and the more I read, the more interesting he got. Talk about a backstory!
  8. And as for the ending, I definitely didn’t see it coming.

My verdict: a very good read indeed.

 

The Read List: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, by Paul Tremblay

disappearance at devils rock

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, by Paul Tremblay:

Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her thirteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.

The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend Tommy’s disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration: the local and state police have uncovered no leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were the last to see Tommy before he vanished, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock.

Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connects them.

As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened become more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.

I have a hard time writing about books I really enjoyed, because I usually find myself reduced to wanting to say stuff like, “Read this already, okay?” and “Oh, wow” and “This was good. Really good. I mean it. This was good.”

Which is not particularly helpful. And, since I really enjoyed Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and find myself wanting to say, Just pick this one up and read it! I’ve been trying hard to figure out exactly what I should write (other than “You really should read this”).

So to make it easier on both me and you, I thought I’d do this in a list. That way, I can be incoherent and ramble on a bit, which is probably a lot more helpful than waving the book in the air and saying to everyone and anyone near enough to hear, “You need to read this!” (which is what I actually did say when I finished reading it).

  1. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is billed as a horror, and yes, it is an eerie read, with lots of atmosphere and I think you’ll like it if you like horror … BUT this isn’t really a horror novel. At its heart, it’s about love and it’s about loss.
  2. So if you were thinking, this read isn’t for me, because I don’t like horror novels, I think you should still give this a try.
  3. It made me cry. I read this nearly a month ago, and even now, thinking back to that last scene, I can still remember why it made me cry.
  4. I read this in one long gulp. I literally couldn’t put it down, so it ended up being one of those books where you read the last words with a deep sigh and then realize, oh, crap, it’s 3 in the morning. I’m getting kind of old for this kind of thing, but at the same time, I’m very happy when I stumble across a book that keeps me reading deep into the night.
  5. Even though I couldn’t put the book down, this wasn’t a purely plot-driven novel, the kind that keeps you madly flipping the pages quickly, sort-of-kind-of taking in the words because really, you’re just hell-bent on getting to the end and finding out WHAT HAPPENED. Sure, there was plot, a good one at that, but  for me, it was the characters that really made this book work.
  6. I liked the way the narrative went back and forth between the present and the past. It worked well. And I was never confused about when in time I was. Always a really good thing.
  7. I think it could have used a better title. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock doesn’t really work for me. Actually, it makes me think of the Hardy Boys, so maybe it would work for me if I’m feeling like reading the Hardy Boys. Which I used to do all the time, back when I was 13. But not so much now. (Don’t ask me what would be a good title, though, because I’m not good at stuff like that.)
  8. I really enjoyed this book.

So a huge thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy. And of course a huge thanks to Paul Tremblay for penning this one. And did I mention, you should read this already, okay?

 

The Read List: Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

hex

Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt:

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.

One of the most impressive things about Hex is that the original version was written in Dutch, and for the North American/UK release of the novel, author Thomas Olde Heuvelt decided to revise the novel and Americanize it—and while I haven’t read the Dutch version (I don’t, unfortunately, have any familiarity with the language), I can say that this version of Hex worked for me.

In this interview from Rue Morgue, the author had this to say about both versions of Hex:

The original Dutch edition was set in an existing small town in The Netherlands. It’s the town of Beek, in the east of the country, in the hills near the German border. My grandmother used to live there, and I always thought: if there’s any place in a country so densely populated and neatly cultivated as The Netherlands where something like this could happen, it’s here. Even more so: Beek has a history of witchcraft persecutions and hangings that goes back to the middle ages and is still visible today. The woods around the town are gloomy. There are witch-references in the naming of places and streams. They even have an annual ritual at Carnival, where they hang a big straw witch doll from the town hall, and after the festivities, they burn it. (And believe it or not: I did *not* know that when I wrote the wicker burning scene in HEX, which was a perfect and very creepy coincidence). The English edition, however, is set in Black Spring, New York. You could say it’s a remake from the Dutch original, and Black Spring is based on the town of Beek (the early settlers called it “New Beeck” for obvious reasons). For me as a writer, it was a fantastic challenge to see if I could pull it off to make the book work in a totally new, culturally different environment. Plus, it was an excuse to revisit the town, the characters and the storylines that I loved so much, and spend some more time with them without having to fall in the trap of a sequel. The Dutch ‘soul’ of the book I kept very much alive during the process.

I enjoyed Hex. While this is a horror, there were also several humorous passages that made me laugh, and the horror deepened in intensity in a way that really worked for me. Aside from one scene of extreme violence (which I flipped over, as I don’t like reading stuff like that—lucky for me I wasn’t listening to the audio version—and which was necessary for the narrative rather than gratuitous) the violence was more muted than anything, which is another thing I appreciate in a horror novel. It seems to me it takes far more skill to build that horror feeling in a novel without using a lot of graphic violence, and that’s something the author does well.

The Dutch version has a different ending, and I’m rather curious about the difference, although I did enjoy the ending of the version I read: it was rather bittersweet, which is unexpected in a horror novel.

 

 

The Read List: Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell

Witches of Lychford

What it’s about:

Traveler, Cleric, Witch.

The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.

Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth — that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination.

But if she is to have her voice heard, she’s going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies…

I picked up Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford after I read an excerpt of it on the Tor website (actually, I pre-ordered it right after reading it, as it wasn’t released yet — and I don’t normally place pre-orders, so the excerpt definitely grabbed me). 

Then the ebook was released and sent to my Kindle … and like lots of other ebooks on my Kindle (and my Kobo), it ended up sitting on my Kindle for a while. But then I remembered it, and decided to pick up where I’d left off.

And I’m really glad I did. Even though this is a short book (it’s novella-length), Cornell has no problems building a believable world where magic is worked within the nicks and corners of the normal, magic-less every day.

Set in a small English village, the story pulls in the workings of local politics and is quite epic in scope. The rest of the story turned out to be just as good as the excerpt that had pulled me in, and when I finished, I found myself hoping Cornell would continue to set more stories in this world he’s created.

I had read Cornell’s London Falling a while back and enjoyed it, so reading the Witches of Lychford has reminded me how much I wanted to read his The Severed Streets, too.

 

The Read List: Die Again, by Tess Gerritsen

die again

So … I figured out “whodunnit”. Not until close to the end, but definitely before the big reveal.

Sigh.

It’s never nice when that happens. Still, this was an okay read. I particularly liked the parts of the narrative that took place in Botswana, and I enjoyed the mystery of how those parts fit in with the rest of the story. Unfortunately, once I found out exactly how those bits fit in, the rest of the puzzle pieces slipped into place–just a little bit too early.

Botswana? you say. But I thought Die Again was a Rizzoli and Isles mystery … And so it is. Here’s the synopsis:

When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn’t the killer’s first slaughter, and that it won’t be the last. After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.

Six years earlier, a group of tourists on safari fell prey to a killer in their midst. Marooned deep in the bush of Botswana, with no means of communication and nothing but a rifle-toting guide for protection, the terrified tourists desperately hoped for rescue before their worst instincts—or the wild animals prowling in the shadows—could tear them apart. But the deadliest predator was already among them, and within a week, he walked away with the blood of all but one of them on his hands.

Now this killer has chosen Boston as his new hunting ground, and Rizzoli and Isles must find a way to lure him out of the shadows and into a cage. Even if it means dangling the bait no hunter can resist: the one victim who got away.

So yes, the Botswana parts were good. Figuring it out early? Not so good. Still, it was nice to meet with Rizzoli and Isles again.

But I have to say, I’ve not been all that interested in the story arcs of a number of continuing series characters for a while now, this one included. I don’t mind the conflict going on at Rizzoli’s parents’ house (although someone really really needs to sit Angela down and talk some sense into her) but the whole thing with Isles and her sociopathic mother? It’s like, the priest thing didn’t work out (both literally and also as the continuing story arc) so we have to have something just as dramatic going on. We share DNA so we have a bond … I mean, really. Isles is supposed to be a scientist.

And while I’m not one to rip covers apart, and I love the woman’s eyes in the cover of the hardcover version (which is the version I read), I really don’t get the connection between that cover and the story.  I think the paperback cover provides a much better connection to the story:

die again v2

 

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

If you’re a Rizzoli and Isles fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

 

The Read List: Fiction Unboxed by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

fiction unboxed

Why yes! I am determined to keep my Read List up-to-date (once this post publishes, I’ll be two for two – yay!).

So I just finished Fiction Unboxed by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. I’d missed all the hoopla around the Kickstarter that began this project a couple of years ago, so I’m glad I discovered it the other day when I was bored and clicking around Amazon.

As I always do when I’m deciding whether to buy a book, after reading a handful of the five and four star reviews, I then read all the three, two and one star reviews. I find that these lower-starred reviews often help me to gauge whether a book is a right fit for me. If I don’t agree with what these ” this book was meh” reviewers are saying, or if they point out the reasons why the book isn’t for them and these reasons don’t affect me (or, as is sometimes the case, these reasons actually make me want to read the book), I often will end up getting the book.

(So to all you authors out there despairing about mediocre or downright bad reviews, take heart! There are readers like me who actually find these kinds of reviews helpful in making the “purchase” (rather than the “don’t purchase”) decision.)

After reading the “this didn’t work for me” reviews, I decided to take a shot with this one, because:

In the meh reviews, this sounded like the main problem–that if you’ve done all of these things, there’s nothing fresh in Fiction Unboxed for you (although many of the five star reviewers had done all these things, and still really liked the book).

Luckily, that wasn’t me. So I plunged in. And i’m glad I did.

What I liked about this book is how Truant takes everything that happened during the course of the 30 days it took for them to write, produce and publish The Dream Engineplus all the Kickstarter days preceding it, and puts it into a narrative first-person tale that’s engrossing enough to keep you reading. I mean, seriously, you’re reading about two authors writing a book–that’s something that could get quite boring.

As they indicate at the beginning of the book, Fiction Unboxed is all about their process, and it’s a very intriguing process. They use story beats rather than a set outline, and I was fascinated by how the story beats enabled them to continue to write organically, with all the spontaneous surprises that entails, while at the same time providing them with a series of guideposts so they always knew in what direction they were headed.

My problem with all of my fiction WIPs has always been finishing the projects. I write by the seat of my pants, and often find myself backed into a corner at around 50,000-60,000 words. I’ve tried to outline projects several times before, and it’s never worked for me. There’s something about the word “outline” that makes me feel confined within the plot points I’ve put down, and I find myself just plugging away at my writing, bored stiff–and trust me, this shows in the resulting work.

But I also know that when I sit down to write and I know where my scene needs to end up, the writing is almost always fun and effortless. I just haven’t done this that often, so I can’t say for certain I still get those delightful surprises which, for me, are one of the main reasons I like to write–I want to discover the story as I go.

So I think I’ve discovered a process that I can tweak to my needs. For that alone, Fiction Unboxed was worth the price.

But it’s also a good look behind the scenes at how a couple of full-time fiction writers actually do their stuff. And judging from the excerpts in the finished book, writing at that speed doesn’t affect the quality of their writing – Truant seems to have a real knack for painting a scene and quite a lovely way with words. In fact, their production process seems quite rigorous, and while I haven’t read any of their novels yet, I suspect none of them are rife with the kind of grammatical errors I’ve been seeing in a lot of books lately (both self-published AND traditionally published, sadly).

The Read List: Summer at Castle Stone, by Lynn Marie Hulsman

summer at castle stone

Have you ever had those reading moments when you know you really need something light and funny? That’s how Summer at Castle Stoneby Lynn Marie Hulsman fell into my Read List. Something about the synopsis caught my eye, and next thing you know I had it on my ereader.

This summer, lose your heart in Ireland…

Shayla Sheridan’s a New York native born into big city luxury, but she’s never really fitted in with the “it” crowd. Desperate to make it as a writer and to finally step out from her famous father’s shadow, Shayla decides to take on a tricky assignment across the pond…

Swapping skyscrapers and heels for wellies and the heart of the Irish countryside, Shayla must go about ghost-writing a book of recipes by the notoriously reclusive and attractive head chef of Castle Stone, Tom O’Grady.

The only problem? He has no idea that she’s writing it.

Shayla Sheridan is eking out a living as a ghostwriter. She has her principles, though, and refuses to make use of her father’s literary fame to get her the writing stardom she craves. So she ends up undercover in Ireland, trying to get on the good side of dishy chef Tom O’Grady.

A ghostwriter! And there’s food and cooking! Not to mention the lushness that is Ireland! Some really good combinations here.

This was a fun, entertaining read. And when I got to the last third of the book, I couldn’t put it down—which I found interesting, because I usually associate “can’t put this down”-itis with thrillers and mysteries and such.

Shayla gets into a lot of scrapes, most of them of her own doing, but it didn’t hit the type of silliness that made me want to put the book down. And there was, of course, the classic moment of miscommunication thing (in this case, it was the “I should really tell him, I really should, oh, here’s a good moment to tell him, oh, but I really can’t now … yikes, it’s TOO LATE, the damage is done” thing—I trust this isn’t spoilerish because of course it’s the expected narrative arc in this type of plot, right?). But Lynn Marie Hulsman pulled it all off quite well, I thought.

So, yes, a fun read. One caveat, though: this book could have used a lot more editing than it got. And I mean A LOT more. Which was surprising, considering this one comes from HarperCollins, a major publisher. So if things like that take you majorly out of a book, this might not be a great read for you.