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review 2017-05-26 12:38
A solid thriller, with an intriguing dynamic between the lead investigator and the killer. Beware of evil hiding under the appearance of normality.
The Fourth Monkey - A.J. Barker

Thanks to Net Galley and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel ticks many of the boxes of successful thrillers: interesting and gruesome crimes (and a pretty bizarre serial killer), police procedural elements (and an investigating team easy to connect with and amusing at times), tension ticking (a girl has been taken by the 4MK [Four Monkey Killer] and she must be found before she dies), twists and turns (I suspect most avid readers of thrillers will guess some, at least, of them), red herrings… It is fairly long, although it keeps a good pace. If I missed anything, it was perhaps more psychological insight. And if we stop to think about it, the police force seems pretty ineffective but…

The story is told in chapters written in the third person from different points of view, mostly Porter’s (the lead investigator in the case although not fully back to work after some time off. We learn the reason later in the book) and Emory’s (the young victim), although there is the odd chapter from one of the other detective’s points of view, Clair. Interspersed with this we have fragments of the killer’s diary, which is found in the pocket of a man killed by a bus at the beginning of the book. The diary, that starts out pretty harmless, as the account of what seems to be a pretty normal childhood, gets creepier and creepier as it goes along and it provides an understanding (or justification of sorts) for the killer’s later behaviour (blood is thicker and all that, but there are also lies, secrets and betrayals. That is, if we are to believe the diary).  That and other aspects of the book (and I don’t want to say much to avoid spoilers) including the cat-and-mouse chase, provide us with some interesting insights into the mind of the killer and emphasise the fact that appearances can be very deceptive. A seemingly normal middle-class family can hide all kinds of dirty secrets. And upper-class families can too, as becomes evident through the book. The revenge/avenging aspect of the murders (the sins of the fathers are visited…) is not new, although it makes the murderer more intriguing.

The other parts of the book help move the story forward and the events are set chronologically, from the moment Porter is awakened by a phone call that brings him back to the police, as he’s been chasing the 4MK Killer for over five years. Although Porter’s point of view dominates the novel, I did not feel we got to know him all that well. Yes, something has happened to him (I guessed what it was early on) and he is suffering and unwilling to openly acknowledge that or discuss it; he is not keen on gadgets and seems utterly out of touch with new technologies and social media, and he is determined and driven, putting himself at risk repeatedly for the good of others. But, although I liked the fact that the team of detectives investigating the case were pretty normal individuals (not corrupt, not twisted and bitter, even when it would be more than justified, not morally ambiguous psychopaths), I still missed having more of a sense of who Porter really is. Clair has little page space and I got no sense of her own personality, other than knowing that she cares for Porter and her colleagues and she has an amusing love/dislike relationship with Nash (who is the character that provides the light relief throughout the book). In the case of Emory, who finds herself in a terrifying situation, we get to share her experiences with her, and it is one of the most effective portions of the book, adding to the tension and the need to keep turning the pages.

The style of writing is direct, with only the necessary descriptions to allow us to follow the investigation (including descriptions of clues and places. I particularly enjoyed the idea of the tunnels from bootlegging times that help bring the setting’s history into the novel). The chronological storyline and the signposting of the different points of view, make it a story dynamic and easy to read, and although it is perhaps longer than the norm in the genre it is a fairly quick read.

As I said, there are plenty of twists and turns, enough to keep one’s mind busy, although I suspect avid readers of the genre will guess a few of them, if not all. I have read some of the comments disparaging the fact that the police seem to be pretty ineffective and they only get to rescue the victim thanks to the clues left by the killer. Indeed, that is so (in fairness, Porter, who seems the most clued-on of the team and the expert on this case, is battling personal issues of his own and not at his best) but, if anything, that further emphasises the relationship between Porter and the killer. What attracts the killer to Porter? The ending (oh, yes, very satisfying, although, of course, it creates intrigue for the next book in the series) highlights that issue even more. I get the feeling that this series will improve as it goes along but only time will tell.

In summary, a story of evil hiding in unexpected places, of secrets and lies that are covered by a thin veneer of normality, and a solid police procedural thriller, with a main character and a killer whose relationship holds the key to more mysteries to come.  Ah, a word of warning. If you don’t like graphic violence and torture, you might want to give it a miss.

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review 2017-04-26 01:27
Fantastic Historical Romance
Dance With Me At Midnight (Regency Fairy... Dance With Me At Midnight (Regency Fairy Twists Book 3) - Samantha Holt

Dance With Me At Midnight by Samantha Holt is a fairly quick read, a great choice for historical romance fans with limited time for reading.  Ms Holt has once again delivered a fine, well-written book.  This is a fun historical romance.  Charles and Eloise's story is loaded with madness and mayhem caused by her collection of unwanted animals and her devious brothers.  There's plenty of drama, humor and just a hint of spice.  Ms Holt hit this one out of the park with the balance of amazing characters and humor in this book.  I loved reading Dance With Me At Midnight and look forward to reading many more books from Samantha Holt in the future.  Dance With Me At Midnight is book 3 in the Regency Fairy Twists Series but can be read as a standalone.  This is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger. 

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review 2016-10-21 19:21
My Review of Twists in Time
Twists In Time - Jon Messenger,Sherry D. Ficklin,Julie Wetzel,Kelly Risser,Kathy-Lynn Cross,Amanda Strong,Sandy Goldsworthy,Holly Kelly,Kasi Blake

Twists in Time is an anthology of time travel stories. I usually don't read anthologies or time travel for that matter, but I found these stories interesting and engaging. These authors are very creative in their story telling. The writing is superb and the stories are powerful. I was pleasantly surprised with this anthology. I won Twists in Time in a blog giveaway, and all opinions are my own.

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review 2016-09-21 01:58
Alive Review
Alive: Book One of the Generations Trilogy by Scott Sigler (2015-07-14) - Scott Sigler;

Well, the author specifically requests, at the end of the book, that when we blog about this, we give no spoilers.  So, lets see how I do…

 

Scott Sigler’s Alive is definitely a departure from the style I remember in Infected. Better? Maybe yes, Maybe no. Worse? Maybe yes, Maybe no. I think its safe to say that there are assholes, idiots, jiggly bits and bacon involved. Monsters, confusion, and gruesome sights abound.

 

Confession: I generally write reviews as I read. It enables me to jot down my thoughts at key moments, and 99 percent of the time, that review does not change at the end. What I’ve written matches up perfectly from beginning to end with what I felt when the book was finished. 99 percent of the time. Occasionally, though, the author will throw a twist in there that means I have to go back and delete a good portion of what I wrote, and re-do my review. Such was the case with this book.

 

Sigler is good. Just when you think you know exactly how everything is planned out, and are disappointed with what is going on, he throws a spanner into the works that has you gaping and… almost insulted that you weren’t expecting it. Oh, you’ll be right on some things, and so full of yourself for guessing them, but on the most important bits? Horribly wrong. At least I was.

I highly recommend it, and hope it gets a lot more attention in the upcoming weeks. In fact, this book made #9 on my Top 10 “Scifi and Scary Reads of 2015”!

Source: www.scifiandscary.com/stocking-stuffer-book-alive-by-scott-sigler
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review 2016-09-11 14:37
Rags & Bones - eds. Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt
Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales - Holly Black,Kelley Armstrong,Rick Yancey,Neil Gaiman,Carrie Ryan,Saladin Ahmed,Melissa Marr,Margaret Stohl,Kami Garcia,Tim Pratt,Gene Wolfe,Garth Nix,Charles Vess

Rags & Bones is billed as a book of "New Twists on Timeless Tales", which, silly me, I thought would mean a book of fairytale retellings. (I love fairytale retellings, especially because I'm on a Once Upon A Time kick at the moment.) Although there are a couple of fairytales covered - "Sleeping Beauty" and "Rumpelstiltskin" - most are riffs on Stories that the Writers Happened to Like, which ends up being a rather broad range of inspiration, from Spenser's Faerie Queene through to Kate Chopin's The Awakening. All the stories, however, are somehow fantastical or science fictional, so it's not entirely random. I guess.

 

The thing with Rags & Bones is that I'm just not sure what the point of the book is. As is admittedly the case with most anthologies, the quality of the stories ranges from highly mediocre to excellent; and most of them, even the more engaging ones, don't feel like they add anything to the original text. Do we really need a retelling of "The Monkey's Paw" set in a post-zombie-apocalypse America? Why?

 

Without a coherent theme, the book just feels a bit like a vanity project for the editors, with Neil Gaiman's name stuck on the front to help it sell.

 

Reviews for the individual stories:

 

That the Machine May Progress Eternally - Carrie Ryan (after E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops"). I haven't read the original, but this felt like one of the more pointless stories; an addendum to Forster's story rather than a tale in its own right. A boy wanders into a vast underground city and...that's it. It also has a rather unpleasant anti-technology slant to it.

 

Losing Her Divinity - Garth Nix (after Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King"). Again, I haven't read the original. I enjoyed this one, though (in fact, I think it was probably my favourite), mainly because Nix has a real gift for worldbuilding; the story of a man who comes across a goddess on a train, there's a sense of an entire functional world sitting beyond the margins of the pages, waiting to spring into life. The ending is wonderfully creepy, too.

 

The Sleeper and the Spindle - Neil Gaiman (after "Sleeping Beauty"). As far as I can tell, Rags & Bones is where this story first appeared before being published as a book in its own right. A queen goes to investigate a sleeping plague that threatens her land. I was annoyed by it for the same reason I get annoyed with all of Neil Gaiman's writing: it turns female bodies into creepy decoration while doing feminist lip service. Did we really need the detail about the cobwebs between the serving girl's ample breasts? No, we did not.

 

The Cold Corner - Tim Pratt (after Henry James' "The Jolly Corner"). A man returns to his small home town in the American South; weird shit starts happening. I felt like it took a long time to set up its premise, and then ended where it should have begun.

 

Millcara - Holly Black (after J. Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla). That title. Why. It's a retelling of Carmilla from the vampire's point of view, only set in modern-day America. Another one that felt just a bit pointless without its original.

 

When First We Were Gods - Rick Yancey (after Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birth-Mark"). In a future in which the rich can live forever by transferring between bodies, a married man falls in love with his mortal housemaid. I quite enjoyed this - as in, I wanted to keep reading for the love story - but, like "That The Machine May Progress Eternally", it felt like one of those 70s SF short stories which exist solely to point out the evils of technology. Also, "death makes life meaningful" is one of those truisms that hardly ever gets questioned. It may be true, but it's been an SF crutch for time immemorial and it's not enough nowadays to pin a story on.

 

Sirocco - Margaret Stohl (after Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto). On the set of a film adaptation of The Castle of Otranto, one of the star's caravans plunges over a cliff and two teenagers fall in love. Tedious.

 

Awakened - Melissa Marr (after Kate Chopin's The Awakening). A selkie story, and another story which kept me reading even if I didn't love it. I think it's a nicely redemptive take on Chopin's story, even if it's not as powerful; one that offers freedom as an alternative to death.

 

New Chicago - Kelley Armstrong (after W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw"). The aforesaid zombie-apocalypse retelling of the story about a monkey's paw which grants three cursed wishes. There are probably interesting things you could do with this story to subvert it; Armstrong doesn't.

 

The Soul Collector - Kami Garcia (after "Rumpelstiltskin"). A policewoman with a troubled past has to go undercover with the criminal organisation she escaped years previously. A mysterious figure helps her infiltrate the group - for a price, dearie. It doesn't feel like a retelling in the traditional sense, but it is one of the handful of stories here that feels like it's doing something useful with the original.

 

Without Faith, Without Love, Without Joy - Saladin Ahmed (after Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene). One of the best stories in the book, because, again, it does something useful with the original: reimagining Book 1 of The Faerie Queene (mercifully without the rhyme) through the eyes of the Saracen knight Sansfoy, it's a story about the injustice of coopting someone into a narrative that they have no voice in.

 

Uncaged - Gene Wolfe (after William B. Seabrook's "The Caged White Werewolf of the Saraban"). A man rescues the wife of a dead plantation owner somewhere in Africa - but what is her secret? It's very Kipling-ish and slightly colonial and not very interesting.

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