Saturday, December 29, 2012

Zombie Claus is Comin' to Town (so You Really Better Watch Out...)

So, it’s the holidays, and you’ve had your fill of relatives, leftovers, Christmas music, crowds, and Really Bad TV. Suddenly, getting away from everything--just you, a mug of something (hot cocoa, some Earl Grey, the last of the eggnog, a couple fingers of whiskey, whatever), and a good book to curl up with--sounds like the best idea you’ve had all season.

But what to read? Maybe something vaguely... festive. (‘Tis the season, fa-la-la, and all that.) The problem--for me, at least--is that most seasonally-appropriate books run toward the treacly, sugar-coated side... and I, most definitely, do not. 

If that scenario sounds familiar, then no worries; I’ve already done the searching for you, and have a positively-delectable morsel to offer up for your reading pleasure--one which is decidedly more, erm, meaty, rather than sweet (but more about that, later)--the irreverently-titled I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus, courtesy of S. G. Browne.

                                                             ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

The holidays are tough for a lot of people, but I’ll hazard a guess that no one else in the history of ever has had the misfortune to wake up a couple days before Christmas, dressed in a Santa suit, in the middle of a body farm (you know, those places where cadavers are left outside, to see what effects exposure and all sorts of freaky conditions have on bodies doing their decomposition thing? yeah, there...) in Portland, Oregon. This isn’t just any old body farm, either; the one Andy Warner wakes up in is populated entirely by the undead. (No, not the deceased... the previously-dead-but-now-reanimated undead. In other words, zombies.)

It isn’t quite the big freak-out you’re probably envisioning, though... since Andy, himself, has been a member of the walking undead for the past eighteen months. Still, for a not-even-close-to-dead-(again) zombie--and not just one who’s sentient, but who can also talk, walk around (rather than shamble), and, with an adequate diet of... (well, you already know what they eat), even pass for a normal breather--this is not an ideal situation. Not even close. Clearly, Andy needs a plan... but first, he needs to remember how and why he got there.

Gone are the days when there was substantial support for zombie rights, when a lot of people still thought we could all just “get along”. After a few memorable bloodbaths, your average zombie went from being warily-tolerated to “monster non grata”. As such, the fate of a new zombie these days is pretty much holing up somewhere and trying to survive, winding up in a body farm to die (another) horrible death, or getting sent to a research facility. That last is where Andy has been for the past year, being subjected to a lot of ghastly tests, all (purportedly) in the name of science. (Andy’s pretty sure some of the researchers derived a bit too much sadistic pleasure out of torturing him, though, for it to have been as pure as all that.)

So, when he sees his chance, he quite understandably makes a break for it, along with a couple dozen other test subjects. The good news? He makes it out. The bad news? Most of the others are caught and returned to the facility... leaving Andy on his own, on the lam.

When he stumbles (literally) onto an outdoor Christmas tableau, complete with a stuffed Santa in full holiday regalia, he realizes he may have just figured out a way to escape for good. And, when he chances on a small group of zombies-in-hiding--newbies, whom he spends a little quality time with, discussing the ins and outs of zombiedom (and going all Julia Child on them, rhapsodizing eloquently about... erm, cuts of human and how best to prepare and cook it [shudder]) plus a couple of old friends, he thinks he may even have the makings for a crazy plan to bust his recaptured comrades out of the research center, as well.

But, it’s only after encountering a lonely little girl who believe he’s the real Santa Claus--and reconnecting with memories of his former life and the family he used to have--that he starts to ponder Christmas miracles (on whatever street)... and discovers that the magic of Christmas doesn’t only apply to breathers, but that it works for zombies, too.

~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Reading (and chuckling my way through) I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus is some of the most sheer fun I’ve had all year. Seriously, this one has it all: a witty protagonist (granted, he’s decaying from the inside-out and salivates at the thought of fresh breather, but you can’t not like the guy for that); hilarious sidekicks (oh my stars, the elves? the drunken horde of Santas? had me in stitches!); well-done lore, with just-enough backstory to get me up to speed [I discovered only after reading that this is the second story to feature Andy Warner], without going into a lot of medical jargon or scientific hoo-ha (sometimes, you don’t want or need to know that much); and a poignant (but definitely not treacly) side story, with a sweet little girl who has so little in life, and wants nothing but a very small (yet seemingly-unattainable) miracle for Christmas. Pure gold, that is.   

Like waking up to fresh snow on Christmas morning, I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus is the perfect holiday treat (and if you’re just a little warped, like me, then all the better...). 

Happy Holidays! :) 

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 fresh-from-the-Xmas-stocking new mousies!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays to One and All!

What's that, you say? Jonesing for some boycat?

Fret not, dear reader... for if there's one thing there'll never be a shortage of, it's boycat pictures. ;)

Happy Howlidayz!!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Secrets that Kill (or Make You Want to)...

Relationships--much like dairy products and produce--can go bad when you least expect it (and in really unpleasant ways). Unlike the half-empty carton of lumpy milk you lost interest in or the mushy head of lettuce you just plain forgot, though, soured relationships are a whole lot messier to deal with.

There are things almost impossible to forgive, forget, or get past--betrayals, secret lives, abuse, infidelities, criminal acts, major differences about the most fundamental of concepts--any one of which can make the thought of continuing a relationship untenable.

But, when all of those things are present--as they are in Merry Jones’ upcoming thriller, The Trouble with Charlie--well, that’s when things can go from bad to worst in a hurry.

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After some of the stuff he pulled during the ten years they were together, Elle knows she should be glad to be rid of her almost-ex husband, Charlie. There were the lies (so many lies), the infidelities, and the stealing (like when he helped himself to her entire savings to cover a shady investment deal). Sure, in the beginning he’d charmed the pants off her (literally) and made her laugh... but that was just his way, with everyone. Only when the rosy glow had worn off a little did Elle begin to understand that Charming Charlie cared considerably more for himself and his own needs than he ever would for her.

Still, she would never wish him ill... not truly ill.

So, on the first night she’s allowed herself to be persuaded to go out--as a nearly-single woman--by one of her girlfriends, her heart isn’t really in it. The bar scene is too strange and she feels uncomfortable and conspicuous; she decides to go home early. 

Instead of finding peace and quiet, though, she walks in on a nightmare--something too horrible to believe, too shocking to comprehend... Charlie, lying in a pool of his own blood on her sofa, with one of her kitchen knives stuck in his back. Dead, so very, very dead.

And Elle, naturally, is the prime suspect.

She’s fortunate to have three BFFs from childhood to believe in her innocence, bolster her spirits, and, in the case of one of them--a lawyer--to advise and defend her. Unfortunately, however, the police seem to have some reservations... and not even Elle, herself, can be entirely sure she didn’t murder the estranged Charlie.

Elle, you see, has always had a tendency to mentally wander off during conversations, or while doing mundane activities. Her friends affectionately call it “pulling an Elle”, and it’s something which has never been a problem... until now, when she realizes there are blank spots in her memory from the time she got home after work until she returned again from the bar, later that evening, and found Charlie. She doesn’t think she could’ve killed him, in cold blood... but how can she be certain??

Still, the police continue looking into other possibilities in regard to Charlie’s death; affable he may have been, but he and his business partner had played fast and loose with their clients’ money, so there could be motives aplenty out there. Maybe.

It isn’t until a few days later, when Elle drops by Charlie’s apartment with the unhappy task of picking out a burial suit, that things really go bad, though. She surprises an intruder, winds up in a scuffle... and one of them ends up dead. (Here’s a hint: the no-longer-breathing one isn’t Elle.)

Knowing she only has a short time before the police circle, Elle decides to take matters into her own hands and find out, once and for all, who killed Charlie--and why the man whom she definitely killed broke in and was ransacking Charlie’s place.

Her investigation leads her to a plethora of Pandora’s Boxes which she would rather have never found, let alone opened. She’s horrified to learn that among Charlie’s secrets were some very shady deals, truly nasty business associates, and close ties to an international ring of pedophiles.

Those kinds of secrets? They’re the ones other people don’t ever want you to know... the kind that can get you dead.

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I was quite keen on reading The Trouble with Charlie after seeing a synopsis: woman finds her soon-to-be-ex husband dead--but doesn’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’s not the one who killed him? Creepy-good stuff, that... and Jones delivers a suitably-chilling tale.

What I wasn’t expecting--but found utterly fascinating--is the dissociative disorder(s) Elle is diagnosed with, in the course of trying to establish her innocence. I’ve always “zoned out” like she does, too--but never thought it could be a kind of coping mechanism, getting away from something unpleasant or distressing (or uncomfortable or just plain boring).

Another surprising element is the voice from beyond, if you will; Charlie “speaks” to Elle, and we, as the readers, can take that however literally (or not) we choose. (Who is to say whether or not the recently, dearly [or not-so] departed return to have it out with us? Maybe they really do chat with us, tease, or chastise us... or maybe we just imagine it... but either way, I suspect it feels very real, and necessary.)

As for the mystery, well... truthfully, I wasn’t far off in my suspicions, but then something else came zinging out of left field (albeit in a very reasonable way), so The Trouble with Charlie worked for me on that count, too. Score!

The Trouble with Charlie is slated for a February 5, 2013 release. Make a note to check this one out; it’s a terrific read sure to keep you glued to the page. :)

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  Exuberant Mousies

Monday, December 10, 2012

After Jack: Murder & Mayhem at The Met

A year has come and gone since the infamous butcher who terrorized all of London last committed any of his atrocities against the city’s prostitute community--then simply vanished--but the effects of Jack the Ripper’s murderous spree can still be felt. 

Daily life has resumed, with the masses still struggling to eke out their meager existences in the squalid, teeming metropolis, while the more-privileged attempt to shield themselves from such ugliness, but the prevalent attitude among all of London’s residents toward the police force remains, to put it mildly, less than favorable. Five women murdered and horribly mutilated... and the murderer still on the loose? Such gross incompetence!

No one feels that failure more keenly than do the dozen members of the Metropolitan Police’s recently-formed Murder Squad--the undermanned, overworked (and underpaid) group of men tasked with solving not only the Ripper murders but every other murder in and around London, as well. That frustration--combined with the depressing realization that they’ll never be caught up on all the work (not in a city with yearly murders or other suspicious deaths numbering in the tens of thousands)--has left morale at an all-time low around Scotland Yard headquarters.

It is precisely this downbeat atmosphere--one of disdain on the side of the residents and discouragement on the side of the detectives--into which the latest series of murders intrudes... only this time, it isn’t the more-easily-overlooked, poorest class being targeted; the police, themselves, are the victims of this new round of murders-most-foul, in Alex Grecian’s richly-atmospheric tale, The Yard.

~ / ~ / ~ / ~

When Murder Squad-newbie Walter Day arrives at the scene of what promises to be a sensational case--the discovery of a body, chopped into smaller pieces then stuffed into a large steamer trunk and left at the train station--he has no idea how sensational it will prove to be. The unfortunate chap to have met such a gruesome end isn’t just anyone; shockingly, it’s one of their own--a Murder Squad detective, Inspector Little. And, no one is more surprised than Walter, himself, when he’s assigned the lead in the investigation.

The other remaining members of the squad range from mildly-surprised to downright-outraged at this decision; how could the commissioner put this young lad, new to London, who had never even met their deceased co-worker, in charge of something so important?   

Luckily for Walter, there are a few allies to be had. Besides the commissioner, one of the other detectives on the Murder Squad--Inspector Pringle--seems to have faith in him, as does an earnest young constable, Hammersmith. The most invaluable source of aid, however, comes from an unexpected (considering the era) source: the morgue.   

Dr. Bernard Kingsley had thought himself perfectly content with his teaching job at the university... until a chance visit to the deplorable, filthy hovel rather grandly calling itself the “city morgue” opened his eyes to a greater need--and to his true calling: seeing to the questions surrounding London’s dead, as only someone with actual knowledge of the human body could do (instead of the man straight from the workhouse and his mentally-challenged brother, as was the case on Kingsley’s arrival). The doctor immediately petitioned to open his own facility, and thus became the city’s first forensic pathologist.

Although Walter brings an impartial perspective to the case, and young Constable Hammersmith has a keen mind and good instincts--and both men possess the sort of single-minded focus which ensures no stone will go unturned--the problem is there’s not much to go on, leaving the squad stumped. Nor do Dr. Kingsley’s findings lead them to any real answers; it seems that scissors were used to repeatedly stab the victim, and sturdy thread to sew the eyes and mouth shut. Stray hairs found on the clothing suggest the presence of an animal at some point (although such could also have come from the lining of the trunk). Hardly helpful clues, in a city of millions. 

The investigation is basically stalled, with the general consensus that it was a one-off committed by someone harboring a serious grudge against Inspector Little... until, that is, a second body is found, chopped up and stowed in a steamer trunk... and it’s another policeman. 

A compelling--if highly-controversial--bit of evidence comes from Dr. Kingsley, who claims to have found identical markings on objects on or around each body... visible patterns made by the killer’s own fingertips which, according to Kingsley, are unique to that individual. This cutting-edge study--looked upon with varying degrees of interest, curiosity, and derision by the men of The Yard--could never be used in court, of course... but could well lead them to the brutal killer. 

Now, if only they can figure out who he is, and find him before their number has dwindled any further...

~ / ~ / ~ / ~

The Yard, for me, is that rare beast--a perfect book. From the opening scene, which introduces most of the main players and sets a chilling tone, I was seriously hooked. There’s something eerily compelling--even all these years later-- about the mystery surrounding Jack the Ripper, but other books, TV shows, and movies have dealt with that many times over. The Yard offers a different spin; it looks at what (at least, fictionally) happens next

What makes it so compulsively readable, besides the fresh take on an old story? Fabulous attention to period detail (seamlessly mixing historical facts in with the storytelling), with rich descriptions that evoke another time and place (and not a particularly pretty, clean, or romantic one, at that; this is a dirty, smoggy, mean London). Characters that come alive on the page, and feel true to their era (without coming across as either fusty, ridiculous caricatures--although there are some delightfully-eccentric characters here--or as modern-day men and women who just talk a little funny). Some interesting settings--places we don’t often get to visit in period books--that allow for surprisingly-cool action sequences. And, an overriding sense of doom, brought about by the grim realization that Jack wasn’t just a shocking anomaly, a lone perpetrator of unspeakable horrors... but that another madman, targeting a different group of people, is on a rampage... and that still others must surely be out there as well, biding their time.

Alex Grecian hits it out of the ballpark with The Yard, one of the best series’ debuts I’ve come across in ages. Whether you fall more on the murder-mystery side, the historical-fiction side, or the thriller side, this one is, without a doubt, a can’t-miss read.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 Mystery-Loving Mousies