Monday, December 8, 2014

Mini-Reviews: A Roundup of Recent Reads, Part I

Okay, since this lack of blogging/reviewing stuff on my part has now reached proportions of epic ridiculousness--I mean, seriously... how long has it been?--I've decided to do something never done before (erm, by me), and commit to writing some itty-bitty little reviews of the things I've read since... well, since last I put fingers to keyboard here. Sound good? Righty-o, then... and away we go!


The Gods of Guilt (Michael Connelly)

Connelly's cool legal eagle, Mickey Haller (first seen in The Lincoln Lawyer, as the attorney who conducts a major part of his work from the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Continental), is back for another case, this one involving someone from his past--a former client he'd befriended along the way, who used to be a prostitute, before Mickey helped her find another life path... or so he thought. Turns out, the ex-pro was still active, and something he did may have just gotten her killed. It's when someone else dies--again, because of Mickey (at least, sort of)--that the story really gains its oomph, though, as we watch guilt eating away at a man struggling to cope with all the repercussions of his actions.   

Like previous entries in the series, Connelly excels in making the oh-so-imperfect Mickey a sympathetic and fascinating character, and gives his hero plenty of interesting foils to play off of, as well. Connelly consistently writes really good legal thrillers, and The Gods of Guilt is no exception. 


Carniepunk (multiple authors)  



Sometimes, you just have to read something because it doesn't necessarily interest you... and such was the case with Carniepunk, which I ended up reading solely because of the authors. (I have a deep and abiding dislike of all things "carnie", hence some major psyching up before buying the Kindle version and then, finally delving into it.) 

As is the case with pretty much all anthologies, the short stories therein were a mixed bag; some, I really enjoyed, others I could've taken or left, and a couple just didn't grab me at all. Overall, though, it's a fun mix of horror-with-some-supernatural-elements box of tricks, here, and with each tale being brief (and easy enough to skip entirely, if one really doesn't work for you), Carniepunk is a neat thing to have on hand when your reading time is severely limited, but you want something a little... different.



Rogues (multiple authors) 

Yep, you guessed it--Rogues is another collection of short stories, this time focussing on central characters who may all be considered "roguish" (think likably-naughty, irreverent, and typically irresistible) in behavior. With twenty-one stories to choose from, penned by a bevy of popular, well-regarded authors (many from the world of fantasy, but others, as well), it would be hard to miss with this one, right?

Sort of, yeah. While there were, again, a couple of pieces I just couldn't get into, and some that were basically "meh", enough captured my fancy that I can recommend this compilation. (The foreword by George R.R. Martin, alone, was worth the price of the whole kit-and-caboodle, for me--although surprisingly, I found his entry among the tales to be of the "meh" ilk. Go figure.)


You (Caroline Kepnes) 


One of the most surprising, utterly fascinating, and horrifying books I've read this year, You isn't quite like anything else I’ve ever come across... and to me, that's a very good thing. 

Kepnes' debut novel is a thriller for the modern age, centering on the dangers of what social media allows us to do, to control, and to know. It's also a classic tale of obsession, and the truly dark places a person obsessed can go. You is even--as improbable as it sounds--a love story (of the fractured fairy tales variety, but still)... and I couldn't help but root for Joe, the teller of the tale, in his pursuit of Beck, the woman of his dreams (or at least I rooted for him until it made me feel too squicky to do so... but honestly, you should be the judge of that). 

(As a sidenote, I should mention something really... interesting, about You: Kepnes has Joe relate the whole story as though he's telling it all to Beck--hence, the "you"--from beginning to end, in what is possibly one of the most original-slash-discomfiting choices an author has ever made.)

You gets my highest recommendation... provided you like to take walks on the dark side, because this one goes very, very dark... and I, for one, appreciated every minute of it.



The Martian (Andy Weir)

Wow, did I ever LOVE this book. Seriously.

A sci-fi tale wherein the antagonists are a planet and some really unfortunate circumstances, The Martian isn't about a little green (or any other color) alien, but about a man--a botanist doing a stint on a mission to Mars... who gets left behind, left for dead, even... on Mars. Alone.

You can't help but wonder what that would be like, of course. The stuff of nightmares, for sure. But Mark Watney refuses to give up, or to give in to the panic. Instead, he chooses to learn how to live, and how to make his time alone on the barren planet productive... even as he calculates (and recalculates) how long his food rations will last... and determines how much of a shortfall in that sustenance there will be, before another mission to Mars could possibly occur. 

Rather than populating his tale with monstrous aliens, Weir has fashioned the ultimate survival story with The Martian, pitting one man against seemingly-insurmountable odds in an immensely-compelling way. (The fact that Watney doesn't go stark-raving bonkers within the first week, as the magnitude of the situation he faces sets in, is a miracle, and would be reason enough to want desperately for him to succeed. The fact that he isn't a "real" astronaut--someone with a lifelong love of space, who pursued the stars as his life's passion--but is instead a sorta "regular" guy from a whole other field, just further endears him to me; this is a guy I can root for… and did, from the first to the last page of Weir’s book.)


There is nothing—not one single thing—I didn’t love about The Martian, so my recommendation is simply this: Read it.

So, there you go--a few things you may want to put on your list (because it's always good to have a list, right?). More capsule reviews to come...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Luck be a Lady (or two)... an Interview with author Deborah Coonts

Ahh, Las Vegas... a place unlike any other. The inescapable, mega-watt glitz of colorful lights blinking 24/7,  against a crazy, ever-present backdrop of electronic slot machine "music"... glamour, both ersatz and genuine, in the showy hotel facades with their exotic themes and lavish decor, and the exclusive designer shoppes tucked within their cavernous interiors... feather-and-glitter-clad cigarette girls and hostesses, rubbing elbows on the casino floors with cargo-shorts-and-flip-flops-wearing visitors and suit-wearing conventioneers... and all of it found every day of the year in a little desert oasis. Love it or hate it, it's something you've got to experience at least once.

Me, I love spending time there, for the sensory overload and feeling of escape. It isn't always feasible to go on a little road trip (or long plane ride, as the case may be) to indulge in all that is Vegas, though... which is why I enjoy Deborah Coonts' ongoing series set in Sin City, the "Lucky O'Toole Vegas Adventure" books. A little mystery, a little romance--and always a little over-the-top--her books are a fun, frothy bit of escapism (with a dash of behind-the-scenes reality thrown in).

I got the chance to interview Ms. Coonts earlier this month, before the release of her latest Lucky adventure--Lucky Catch--and we discussed her writing process, characters, and, of course, Vegas, itself.


*****
GlamKittyWhat are the best/worst (or easiest/hardest) parts about writing Lucky?

Deborah CoontsThe beginning of the story is always the hardest for me. Where is the exact right place to begin? It’s not always as easy as it sounds. And finding that sweet spot (or not) can make a huge difference. Also, since I write each book as a stand-alone, I must introduce the setting, the characters, and, in a way, the whole story line as it affects the characters up to that point, in each story. I strive to introduce all of this in a unique and interesting way, which can be a challenge the more times I do it.


GKIf you could take one character from the Lucky series and spin her/him off into a new series of books, whom would it be?


DCOh, that’s easy. In fact, I had a spin-off in mind from almost the beginning. I would take Fredericka (Flash) Gordon, Lucky’s best friend and investigative reporter, as a spin-off character. Flash is as strong a personality as Lucky with her own unique voice and perspective. And she is not a corporate executive like Lucky so she can be a bit naughtier, a bit edgier, and get into darker, tighter spots. She’s into kinkier sex and bad boys, and sees the boundaries as a bit blurry on accession, which would be soooo much fun to write.  Although, I have to have a glass of wine (or two) when writing sex scenes as it is, so this could be problematic☺


GKIs there a character you now regret killing off? A story arc you wish you'd taken another way?


DCMy biggest regret so far, and I don’t have many, is that I didn’t quite envision Lucky as a series when I wrote the first book. In that story, I divulged a secret about Lucky’s parentage that I would’ve stretched out a bit. And I made the romance a bit too tidy. But, once the cat was out of the bag, I couldn’t stuff it back in, so no use worrying about it. And the romance? As romances are wont to do, has its rough patches going forward. Thankfully, I was smart enough not to killer the bad guy, a former lover of Lucky’s. He’s coming back…


GKIf Lucky's stories were being made into, say, a Netflix series, whom would you cast in the main roles, if it were up to you (and everyone said yes, money were no object, etc.)?


DCCameron Diaz as Lucky. Ashley Judd as Mona. Meryl Streep at Miss P. De Niro as the Big Boss. Hugh Hackman as Teddie (or anyone he want’s to play). That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Pretty much blew the casting budget, right☺ Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream BIG!!!


GKIf you had to describe Vegas to someone who had never heard of it, how would you do so, in a couple (or few) sentences?


DCVegas: a city where anything is possible. A fantasy where the real world retreats, and dreams loom large. Where fun, no matter how you define it, is a priority. But like a mirage, it lasts only for a little while…. dissipating under the glare of the sun, the harsh light of reality, only to reappear after a bit to be enjoyed anew.


*****
Lucky Catch will be released on August 26, and looks to be another fun romp. (Expect a review once I've had time to finish reading it, as always.) In the meantime, be sure to check out my other reviews and discussions of earlier Lucky escapades, here
And many thanks to Ms. Coonts for the chance to pick her brain a little! :) 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Year the Zombies Invaded the Con

A long time ago in an itty-bitty town far, far away… there lived a bookish little girl, who’d been saddled by her peers with a (to her way of thinking) less-than-ideal nickname. No cutesy monikers flattering personality, energy, or looks for her; instead, what she got stuck with alluded to her undeniable geekiness (as though the oversized glasses and ever-present stack of books didn’t already make things clear enough).

Times have changed a lot since then, though (and hoo-boy, thank the Quantum field for that). Now, it’s actually cool to let your geek flag fly… to show off your knowledge of anything and everything, to sport nerdy (though rarely huge, thank you, fashion gods) spectacles, mismatched patterns, and thrift shop finds, and to revel in pursuits requiring brainpower instead of brawn.

Oh, and, to convene in unbelievably-ginormous numbers at yearly mega-conventions—aka “cons”—to celebrate things now part of pop culture which used to be seen as geeky or weird, from comic books and anime to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror (and quirky mashups of all the above). 

In other words, the geeks have inherited the earth; we’ve won.

Until something which trumps geek-chic comes along and spoils everything, that is…as just so happens in Mira Grant’s San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Among other things, summer is the peak of “con season” (as those in the know refer to the time of year when at least one con can be found somewhere pretty much every single week/weekend), and July 2014 boasted the grand poobah of them all: San Diego Comic Con, which drew an estimated 130,000 attendees from around the world. 

It was the first night of the con—“Preview Night”—when those with special passes could get into the seller halls the evening before anyone else could (all the better to score some incredible deals, especially of the limited-edition or one-of-a-kind variety). The vendors had been rushing about unloading and setting up their booths all day, but the time was finally nigh; the halls were officially open for business, and an excitable crowd was pouring through the various doors, after flashing their shiny new badges at the guards.

If only it had just been the regular motley assortment of fans more-or-less politely pushing their way into the halls… but this year, something new was coming to the party. Something deadly.

No one will ever know exactly how, or who, but someone brought the dreaded Kellis-Amberlee viral strain (the genetically-engineered cure for the common cold, which comes with a humongous, bonus side order of also-turns-you-into-a-zombie-once-it-has-amplified-in-your-body, if you’ve yet to read Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” trilogy*—which, honestly, you should really do posthaste, after reading California Browncoats) into the convention center. Naturally, in the way of all crazy-bad things, the K-A virus is gonna do next what the K-A virus does best: go into amplification mode and turn everyone it comes into close contact (think bodily fluids, mucous membranes, etc.) with into human-flesh-craving monsters, contaminating the next person, and the next, and so on… (Um, no, really. Trust me on this; that’s how it happens.)

And once the doors are locked—trapping all those innocent con-goers inside with the already-infected—only one thing is guaranteed: that no one will get out alive.

~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~


I’ve been to a lot of cons, but this year marked my first time attending (gulp) the San Diego Comic Con. (I purposefully waited until after the con to read this book, for what should hopefully be pretty obvious reasons, and yeah, good call.)  

Mira Grant (urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire’s sci-fi-writing alter-ego, by the way)—a long-time attendee at SDCC—clearly knows what’s what at a con, and her depictions of the setting, the atmosphere, and the people there, are spot-on. Read her words, and you’ll get a good idea of what a con is like (not that ANY words can fully prepare someone for a monster con like San Diego, though you’ll come away with the gist, at the least).   

The real power of The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, though, lies in its structure—we know from the very first pages that no one survived the tragedy—but then we meet the people who were there, and get to know them as friends, as fellow con-attendees that we might’ve chatted with in one of those interminably-long lines…before watching them fall prey to their inevitable, horrific fates. There’s an ineffable sort of sadness at being able to put yourself so firmly into their sneakers (cosplay boots, sandals, loafers, etc.), only to watch their/your dreams and fun dashed so tragically.

The Last of the California Browncoats is an homage to the geeks, the book-nerds, the cosplayers, the gamers, the role-players, and the just-plain-different, everywhere… and I, for one, am glad it wasn’t some happy-sappy-crappy ode, but a smart, thoughtful, bloody, and scary-good one. :)
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 of 5 Scared-Smart Mousies

*See my reviews of Mira Grant's "Newsflesh" trilogy here. (Note that they appear from most-recent to earliest, so scroll to the bottom and start there...)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Monsters in the Wilds of Ohio

Last year, when giving my two cents’ worth on Midnight Blue-Light Special (the second installment in Seanan McGuire’s urban fantasy “Incryptid” series, which you can catch up on/refresh your memory about, here), I mentioned a few things of which I have no knowledge whatsoever. (And no, nothing has changed on those fronts, in case you’re wondering… including my utter lack of skill with an onion.)

That brings me to another area in which I have no personal expertise: knowing what it’s like to be the eldest child (or the middle, youngest, or any other position in the familial pecking order, for that matter, being an only, myself). Sure, I can sort of imagine what it must be like, growing up with siblings—splitting the attention, resources, space, blame, responsibility, etc.—but I’ll never actually know.

Not so with Alex Price, star of the third “Incryptid” tale, Half-Off Ragnarok. The first-born child in a branch of the family hailing from a very long line of cryptozoologists (think of them as scientists-slash-monster-wranglers), Alex is the serious one, the level-headed, even-tempered guy who has an ordinary day job… and pursues the not-for-public-consumption side of his work (observing and cataloguing various species of cryptids, or mythological-only-to-you-and-I creatures) under cover of deepest, darkest night.


Compared to younger sister Verity—who holds down a job working at a sketchy nightclub and splits the remainder of her time engaged in the competitive world of ballroom dancing and leaping across New York City rooftops in the wee hours of the night in pursuit of wayward (think badass-killing-machines) monsters—and baby sister Antimony—who is proving to be more than the proverbial handful, even at her young age—Alex is like Clark Kent: a stolid, nerdy, just plain nice guy.

Of course, when one deals with monsters on a regular basis, it’s vital to always keep one thing firmly in mind: Expect the Unexpected (and then, For Crying Out Loud, Deal With It).

Looking at it from the outside, most people probably wouldn’t envy Alex Price’s life. By day, he manages the reptile house at a Columbus (Ohio) zoo, which means handling exhibits and overseeing a tiny staff responsible for taking care of the snakes and other cold-blooded whatnots, therein. The majority of his nights are eaten up tramping through the woods of central Ohio, taking notes on the habits and lives of fricken (feathered frogs, basically), whose numbers seem to be rising at an alarmingly-dramatic pace, then writing endless reports on his findings. And occasionally, he squeezes in time to hook up with sorta-girlfriend Shelby Tanner, a visiting Aussie on assignment at the Big Cats house (think lions and tigers and leopards, oh, my). It’s a mostly-predictable sort of life, just the way Alex likes it.

But, when he and Shelby stumble—literally—across the body of their (former) co-worker one day while walking through the zoo grounds, and Alex notices that the dead guy appears to have been petrified—something which only a very few cryptids (and no humans) can do—life suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting. Then, when another body, also petrified, is found—and an attempt is made on Alex’s life—it’s clear that life isn’t just more interesting; it’s dangerous.

With the help of his grandparents (whom he’s been living with, and who possess, shall we say, rather unique skill sets of their own), and his adopted cousin (a mind-reading “cuckoo” who was injured while saving Verity’s life, and subsequently got sent from bustling-with-too-much-humanity NYC to comparatively-safe-and-quiet Ohio to hopefully speed her recuperation)—as well as some unexpected aid from another corner, Alex understands that it’s up to him to shed his Clark Kent-ish persona and find his inner Superman… saving not only himself and those he cares about, but the secret that is the very existence of cryptids, from regular Joes like you and me (who, frankly, probably wouldn’t handle knowledge of snake-haired people, fire-breathing dragons who can speak, or creatures who can turn you into stone, very well at all).


Following a bit of a slow start (which both surprised and worried me a little, as I never feel that way when I pick up anything by McGuire), Half-Off Ragnarok takes off once the action finally gets going, and I actually wound up liking Alex Price just fine. Whereas Verity has flair, passion, and runs on high-octane energy at a break-neck speed, Alex is the solid, grounded (albeit monster-chasing) Midwesterner who prefers to live life at a different pace. While there isn’t as much excitement in that, it feels true to his character and serves his story well, as do the relationships with his grandparents and cousin, and with Shelby (who, coincidentally, graduates from casual date to full-fledged girlfriend in a neat way). 


Even with Alex’s relative stodginess and normal-ness, the “Incryptid” series remains a lighter-hearted spin on urban fantasy, as created by the almost-impossibly fertile imagination of Seanan McGuire (who also brings us the incomparable October Daye series). It’s a fun diversion and an easy read, and the upcoming fourth book already has a spot waiting for its arrival on my bookshelf.  :)


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  Mousies Worthy of a Summer Afternoon   

Parts & Pieces

Yes, it's been a ridiculously-long time since I last posted anything, I know. Sometimes, that's just the way the cookie crumbles... or life explodes, all Humpty Dumpty-ish.

My various pieces are mostly back in order, though, finally... so I'll try to show up more often.

Happy reading, one and all. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Like Wading Through a Field of Oatmeal

Sometimes, reading just isn't fun. Slow starts, characters that don't grab me from the get-go, or a general feeling of "huh?" after x-amount of pages--those things just happen, now and then, sure. But when a book--one with excellent write-ups, no less--feels like wading through an endless field of oatmeal? Ugh. That is a special form of hell. 

But no, before anyone asks, I won't share what I'm reading right now. (Or "valiantly attempting to slog my way through", as is actually the case.) Perhaps putting it down and diving into something else will render the porridge-like tome more palatable in future, who knows? (And if so, I'll fill you in, then.) 

For now, though, there's always another book to read (and another, and...). I'll try to find something worthy, and see you soon. :)
   

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Fears that can't be Fought


The world is full of scary things. And, while I’m as terrified by the thought of chainsaw-wielding lunatics (‘nuff said), friendly sociopaths (mainly the ones with a horde of dead bodies stashed in their basements), and evil clowns (who, let’s face it, are just plain creepy even when it’s only your Uncle Bob wearing a layer of grease paint and a stupid red nose) as the next person, those aren’t the things that really give me the heebie-jeebies.

What scares the living daylights out of me--turning run-of-the-mill dreams into nightmares--is quite ordinary. Losing control of my car and plunging over a cliff. Getting hopelessly lost--and running really late--in a humongous airport, all alone. Slipping through the treads of an open staircase, and falling to certain death below. In other words, Normal Stuff that Doesn’t Happen Only in the Movies. (Okay, maybe that last one isn’t too likely, but it’s my bad dream.)

The uniting theme is being powerless when something bad happens... a concept which Nick Cutter gets--and expresses--brilliantly, in his terrifying new thriller, The Troop.


It should’ve been just another ordinary weekend camping trip, with a scout leader taking his troop out for their yearly bonding-and-badge-earning excursion in the woods, with plenty of campfires, mosquitos, and ghost stories. And, indeed, this year starts out no differently.

Scoutmaster Tim--the local doctor in a small Canadian coastal town--and his troop of five boys are dropped off on an uninhabited island ten miles off the coast on Friday. They won’t see another soul until late Sunday afternoon, when the boat returns to pick them up.

Although a bad storm has been forecast, Tim hadn't wanted to cancel the trip--not with this almost certainly being the last one, since the boys are at that age when things like scouting become totally uncool. Worst case, he figures they can radio the mainland and get picked up within the hour if things get bad.

The unquestionable leader of the group is Kent--the jock, popular with (nearly) everyone, and son of the town’s police chief. Newton is his polar opposite--the nerd, an overweight boy who’s had to learn ways to avoid being picked on, and is happiest with his head stuck in a book or out by himself cataloguing the flora and fauna. Best friends Max and Ephraim (“Eef”) fall somewhere in the middle; most people like them, or at least have no beefs with them. And then there’s Shelley, the weird kid whom no one really understands or likes, just sort of ignores. 

After sending the boys to bed, Tim heads outside for a last look around before turning in... which is when he hears something he definitely shouldn’t be hearing on a deserted island: someone else

Walking into the shadows, he can’t believe what he finds. It’s a man, sort of--an emaciated, crazed, barely-recognizable-as-human creature. Tim debates the wisdom of taking the horrible specter back to the cabin where the boys are, but the doctor in him doesn’t have a choice, especially given the approaching storm.

He tries to make the fellow comfortable, but something is obviously very wrong. Ranting, sweating, and starving--no matter how much food he’s given--and certainly near death, the man is like nothing Tim has ever seen. 

He should’ve radioed the mainland right then... but he doesn’t. And then, suddenly, it’s too late. The stranger freaks out in the night, smashing the radio. He attacks Tim, infecting him with... something

Tim downplays what’s happened when talking to the boys; it wouldn’t help to frighten them when there’s clearly nothing they can do. In the morning, he sends them out exploring.

The boys return to the cabin late that afternoon to a terrifying scene. Dr. Tim has become a monster--incoherent, looking as though he’s lost 30 pounds in one day--forcing the boys to employ drastic measures to contain him. Meanwhile, the epic storm arrives, furiously pummeling the house with wind, torrential rain, and knocking down trees.

It only seems as though things couldn’t get any worse, though. When one of the boys starts showing the same symptoms as the ghastly stranger and Dr. Tim, the terror really begins... because if you can no longer trust the friends you’ve grown up with, then you really are all alone. 


  
The Troop is one of those books that leaves a lasting impact in its wake. (I finished it over a month ago, and still get chills when I think about it.) It packs such an effective wallop because it simultaneously taps into some of the fears we have as adults--diseases (whether naturally-occurring,  created as weaponry, or by-products of something else) that take root and mutilate/kill almost before we even know we’ve been infected, leaving us able to merely watch helplessly--as well as holdover fears from childhood--facing a monster all by yourself, without a weapon (or even having the faintest clue what an appropriate weapon might be).

It’s more than just an ingeniously-crafted and deeply-disturbing horror story, though; surprisingly, The Troop also offers up a poignantly realistic portrayal of boyhood. Cutter understands being a kid, latching onto all the uncertainties, anger, and fears one experiences at that age, and displays both brutal honesty and touching sensitivity when allowing us a glimpse of each boy’s unspoken thoughts and feelings. (Seriously, there were a couple of passages that brought me to tears... something which rarely happens.)

The Troop is, pure and simple, one helluva read... and author Nick Cutter is absolutely one to watch.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  All the Mousies 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Wearin' of the Green (fun placeholder)

Hello out there! Yes, it really has been forever and a day (erm, at least) since I posted. Just one thing after another, so far this year... which is frustrating, since I've had two separate reviews started--and waiting--on my desktop for... [gulp]... a looong time, now. Ah, well... I promise something new, soon. Really. :)

For now, please enjoy a little boycat, in the spirit of all-things-Irish day. (And no, if you rub/kiss on his belly three times, it does not automatically confer good luck upon you. It does, however, win you purrs, which is a whole 'nother sort of wonderful magic.)

"Lookin' fur a lucky shamrock... "

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cleanin' Up Evil... with a Broom, Some Fangs, and a Bit of Fur


A bed-and-breakfast, to me, involves a large Victorian house--bedecked with ornate, pastel gingerbread on the outside, with uncomfortable sofas protected by embroidered antimacassars, ruffled floral curtains, and old porcelain pitchers full of cut flowers perched precariously on doily-covered, three-legged tables, on the inside--sitting on a large corner lot in a quaint small town, and run by a nice, older couple clad in matching cardigan sweaters. (And no, I’ve never actually been in a B-and-B, in case you’re wondering.)

Something that’s definitely never been part of that picture, though, is for said establishment to be run by a young witch (complete with broomstick and some crazy-ass magic powers), or for a werewolf to be living just down the street. 

Trust Ilona Andrews to think of those quirky little touches--suddenly making a B-and-B sound like a much-more interesting place--in the nifty new urban fantasy, Clean Sweep.

#######

Twenty-something Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast in a sleepy little Texas town, where business isn’t exactly booming. Still, she’s proud of the job she’s done over the last couple of years, taking over a long-neglected inn and bringing it back to life (literally, in this case, as she and the building have what I can only call a symbiotic relationship). 

The Gertrude Hunt has one permanent guest--a retiree who used to travel across the galaxy and is a stone-cold killer (thankfully somewhat mellowed now, in part due to her fondness for Mello Yello soda and Funyuns snacks being indulged regularly)--but is lucky to get any other guests, “normal” or otherwise. 

But, when neighborhood dogs start dying--horrible, mutilated deaths--Dina is almost glad business is so slow, because it’s clear that something very evil has come to town... and not in the form of your garden-variety sicko, either. She understands something which none of her non-magical neighbors can: there’s powerful, evil magic behind these killings... and whatever it is, it’s far more dangerous than the nightmares any psychopath could dream up.

Young and relatively-inexperienced she may be, but Dina takes her job of care-taking very seriously, and isn’t about to let anything so wicked decimate her pleasant little town full of decent people. Luckily for her, a lone wolf (of the werewolf persuasion) has recently settled in the community... and seems to have the same sense of obligation that she has. The two (reluctantly) join forces to try and get a handle on just what in blazes they’re up against. 

When a vampire suddenly drops into their laps (figuratively, thank goodness), though... well, that’s when things really start to get interesting. Who can trust whom in this unexpected supernatural trio... and who will live through the carnage to tell the tale?

#######

The husband-and-wife writing duo known popularly as Ilona Andrews never fails to deliver fun, clever Urban Fantasies peopled with appealing, down-to-earth characters (or as “down-to-earth” as supernatural beings can be, anyway), and Clean Sweep is no exception. Dina is unlike other witches I’ve read about, and the cool bond she has with the house is an especially novel touch. (Plus, anyone who names her Shih Tzu “Beast” is worth knowing, am I right?) The werewolf and vampire seem to have some interesting layers, too (even if they do fall into the stereotypically super-handsome, irresistible-he-man mold which apparently all male heroes in such books must).

Clean Sweep doesn’t have quite the same vibrancy or pace as Andrews’ fabulously-entertaining Kate Daniels series--it’s more on par with their very-good Edge series (which, like Clean Sweep, is also set in a small, rural area, and thus feels similarly-appropriate to the slower pacing)--but don’t let that deter you. It’s a neat little tale with some intriguing twists, quick to read, and a pleasant way to spend a bit of time. :) 

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: A Worthy Diversion

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hospital of Death: Patients' Worst Nightmares, Come to Life


No one likes going to the hospital... not as a visitor, and certainly not as a patient. Could there be a scarier, more vulnerable position to be in, than spending time on an uncomfortable bed in a strange, sterile room, clad only in a skimpy gown that flaps open in the back... anxiously awaiting tests, treatments, or (gulp) surgery? 

That last is, I think, the absolute worst of the worst... “going under the knife”. (Who in their right minds would want to find themselves under a sharp-pointy-stabby thing?!)

Consider the near-absolute power which surgeons wield... armed with their scalpels (and all those other scary-looking things that grab, grip, swab, cut, and so on); surrounded by an array of ridiculously-expensive, beeping and humming machines; and aided by a number of other individuals, each with her or his own job to do (or not); all crammed into one small operating room, with your naked body lying helpless on the cold hard table... and your life in their hands.

The hope, of course, is that everything goes right, and your condition or problem improves... but the reality is, so many things can go very, horribly wrong.

Welcome to Boston’s prestigious University Hospital, where chief resident Steve Mitchell--a hotshot young surgeon with talent (and confidence) to spare--goes from thinking the world is his oyster... to discovering it’s the end of the world as he knows it, in newcomer Kelly Parsons’ top-notch medical thriller, Doing Harm.


It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but Dr. Steve Mitchell has finally--almost--arrived. As a chief resident he now has a pair of budding young doctors under his guidance (meaning he can shunt off the scut work to them), which in turn allows him to focus on honing his surgical skills. Even better, it looks like the hospital--the creme de la creme of teaching hospitals--is seriously considering offering him a permanent position... provided he keeps cruising along the same path during the next year. 

His home life is pretty great, too; he has a wife he adores, and two small daughters who bring him endless joy. And, with the likelihood of the coveted new job in the offing, he can envision moving out of their tiny house into a place with a little more room for a growing family. 

But then--just like that--everything changes. Following a drug mix-up during a routine surgery, the patient develops one after another increasingly-serious complications, leaving him hovering on the brink of death. 

And then, to make matters worse, it happens again. Another surgery--one in which Steve is called in to assist a senior surgeon--goes bad in a big way, as Steve’s cockiness gets him in over his head, and another patient nearly dies on the table. 

With two patients “circling the drain”--and Steve getting blamed in both instances--his job prospects (and all thoughts of a happy future) are looking less promising by the minute. He haunts his patients‘ bedsides in his free time, endlessly playing back every moment of both surgeries in his mind, wondering how things got to this point. 

Gradually, there’s a little improvement, and he dares to hope everything will work out... which is when one of them mysteriously, suddenly dies, and Steve’s world comes crashing down once more.

When he emerges from his funk (drunken stupor), though, and has time (since his surgical duties and resident responsibilities were put on an indefinite hold by the hospital) to think again, one thing is clear to him: there’s no way his patient--who’d been getting markedly better--could’ve just died... not without some help. As impossible as it sounds, he realizes the facts are telling him there’s a cold-blooded murderer walking the halls of the hospital. And, whoever it is, is almost sure to murder again.

Steve doesn’t know if he’ll have a career--or even a family, if it comes to that--once the dust has settled... but he knows he has to stop the killer before another innocent patient--someone who went into the hospital full of natural trepidation as well as realistic hope--needlessly dies. 

He can only hope he’s up to the task.


There’ve been a lot of good medical thrillers over the years, mostly full of earnest young doctors fighting against some horrible wrong--a formula which Doing Harm also follows. What sets this one apart for me, though, is Parsons‘ attention to realism... not just the technical terms for things--which are easy enough for any writer with the right background (or some research) to include--but in the sense of telling us who these people--the doctors, surgeons, medical students, nurses, and other support staff--actually are... what they think and how they feel (and why), and what they go through.

(An example? I didn’t always like Steve--particularly when he was being a smug, cocksure jerk [who didn’t even see--let alone care about--his patients as real people with lives outside the hospital]... yet I grew to understand why a certain amount of that attitude might be beneficial, or even necessary. It feels like a very honest portrayal.)

It’s when adversity comes along--when the hero is beaten down, forced to either sink or rise out of the ashes a better, stronger person--that most good stories provide the reader with the pay-off, and so does Doing Harm. The very ordinariness of the setting is gripping; the “why” behind the murder(s) is compelling; and the little twists and surprises are, frankly, pretty terrifying. 

I won’t forget Doing Harm any time soon. I doubt you will, either.


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: Worthy of Caterwauling into the Wee Hours of the Night

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life and Death Behind the Robe


I’ll never be a trial lawyer, yet have a fair idea of what they go through (no doubt seeing as it’s well-trod ground in countless books, shows, and movies). I haven’t had jury duty, but have no trouble putting myself in a jurist’s shoes. And, although I’ve never been (nor ever will be, knock on wood) the defendant in a court case, it’s easy enough to imagine how awfully fraught that situation must be. 

Being the judge, though--the mysterious, all-powerful figure who sports those flowing robes and rules like royalty in his/her courtroom--well, picturing just what that’s like is another matter. Until now, that is. Enter newcomer Michael Ponsor into the fray of legal thrillers with his stellar debut, The Hanging Judge.

~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

It’s just another ordinary morning in an urban neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts... until, that is, a drive-by shooting leaves a drug dealer and an innocent bystander--a nurse on her way to put in a shift at the lower-income clinic she volunteered at--dead, on opposite sides of the street. 

An off-duty officer gives chase, eventually apprehending the driver--an underage kid; the shooter had already bailed out somewhere else. After some questioning down at the station, though, the kid gives up the shooter: a fellow gang member (and ex-con) who goes by the street name “Moon” Hudson.

A warrant is issued for his arrest, and Moon is taken into custody in his own home early the next morning, in front of his wife and howling baby daughter. To his apparent surprise--and his wife’s obvious shock--a stash of drugs is also found, in the basement. Things don’t look good for Mr. Hudson.

Things look far worse, however, once the case gets political. The powers-that-be (including an influential relative of the slain nurse) are calling for heads to (more-or-less-literally) roll--Moon’s sizable melon, to be precise--but there’s just one small catch: Massachusetts doesn’t have the death penalty. So, the US attorney does some finagling, and the case is taken out of the state’s hands and placed squarely into the realm of the federal court (which does allow for penalties with the most final of punishments). 

Judge David Norcross--with only two years on the bench under his judicial belt--is the one “lucky” enough to catch the case... along with all the public outcry and political urging to see the guilty party get the needle. Unfortunately, Judge Norcross is sort of conflicted on the whole idea of the death sentence, and none too happy at the pressure being applied from all sides.

Of course, the outcome of any case is dependent upon a great many people... such as the chain-smoking, seen-it-all defense attorney with decades of experience (who actually sort of believes in his client’s innocence); the elegant, driven, female prosecutor (under enormous pressure to get a guilty verdict); the prosecution’s witnesses (from the sweating, beat-up cop who was first on the scene, to the shifty kid who acted as driver, to a storeowner who saw the shooter run by his establishment); the victim’s family (the nurse’s husband and three sons, each feeling sadness, anger, and/or bitterness over the crime); the defendant’s wife (who claims her husband was home at the time of the shooting); and the defendant, himself (sitting at the defense table, trying to marshal his emotions and expressions into something not-so-guilty-looking). 

Interspersed throughout the story are a series of interesting little asides, which depict a murder trial in colonial Massachusetts (and allow the reader see how far our legal system has come, in the interim). This side story--which also ties in with the author’s own tale--is a fascinating bit of history, and a nifty little bonus.  

With twists and turns galore--including a budding romance, assorted threats, missing persons, and so much more--it’s a bumpy, exhilarating ride to the final verdict.
   
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

It’s been a long time since I read a really good legal thriller--heck, even a not-so-great one, for that matter--something which dawned on me only a few short pages into The Hanging Judge. (But don’t worry; this one falls squarely under the “really, really good” column.) Better yet, it’s not just a compelling story with interesting characters and a fresh point of view--experiencing everything through the eyes of the judge, from his courtroom to his chambers to his home and personal life--but is a fully-fleshed-out tale, with due attention paid to all the characters, so that each feels like a real person (with believable emotions and motivations).

As it happens, there’s an excellent reason (aside from sheer talent) why The Hanging Judge feels so true-to-life: author Ponsor is, himself, a former trial attorney and magistrate judge, and has been serving as a US district judge for more than a decade. (Fortunately for us, he also happens to be a very clever man with a wonderful feeling for timing, a great sense of humor, and an easy and elegant mastery of words.)

In short, The Hanging Judge is a page-turner I don’t think you’ll want to miss. 


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  Totally Worth It!