Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Scarlet Gospels

Since the early nineties, there have been rumors, mere whisperings perhaps, that a mysterious tome known as The Scarlet Gospels was being written. It’s author? Well, there could only be one author of such a thing: Clive Barker. But what exactly would comprise these other gospels? At one point, erotic poetry. At another, a collection of dark fiction. And then this: a sequel to the novella that birthed the Hellraiser movies, The Hellbound Heart. Ah, what reader of The Hellbound Heart can easily forget it? The Lemarchand box. The Order of the Gash. The Cenobites. Pinhead. This is what Clive Barker fans have been waiting for, a sequel, and that is exactly what you’ll find when you read The Scarlet Gospels. This time, though, Pinhead (a moniker the Hellpriest despises, by the way) shares the stage with that beleaguered, demon-killing detective of the dark arts, Harry d’Amour, and when these two meet, it won’t be pretty. No punches are pulled here. There will be blood. There will be a harrowing journey through the bowels of hell. And there will be a final showdown between good and evil. Like The Hellbound Heart, this story doesn’t sit still, it moves. But, disappointingly, it lacks the poetic eloquence of its predecessor and the depth of Barker’s earlier imaginative masterpieces. (If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: there is nothing in the canon of dark fantasy that can top Barker's Imajica.) Regardless, if you’ve been reading Clive Barker for as long as I have, The Scarlet Gospels is well worth your time. 

So tell me, are you ready to take a trip to hell? Mr. Barker has such sights to show you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Hundred Thousand Kingdom (Inheritance #1) by N. K. Jemisin

I have mixed feeling with trilogies; they are always tricky to pull off when telling stories, regardless of the medium. Sometimes the second one fails to be a good arc or seems to simply be a trailer for the final volume. Frequently, they can just feel overstretched, as if the writer were made to push the story longer than intended. The charming foibles of characters can become grating, endearing writer’s quirks turn to grating phrases. This is especially true as recently creating trilogies has apparently become the standard, even if the original wasn't a trilogy (*ahem Hobbit*).

N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy starts with the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. We follow Yeine Darr, a young woman and leader from the barbarian north as she is called to Sky, the ruling palace, and named an heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This pushes her into a power struggle with her two cousins, both of whom desire the throne. In the midst of this power struggle are a group of gods who, after losing the Gods’ War, have been made the slaves and pawns of the mortal rulers of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Yeine must find a way to navigate and survive the deadly intrigue and learn more of her families past all as she becomes drawn to the subjugated gods.

The relative straightforward story telling from a single character’s perspective is very well handled and a nice contrast to the multi-view, epic fantasies that seem to be popular as of late. By limiting the perspective, the reveal of the plot and the excellent details of Jemisin’s world building are made all the more exquisite. Yet, the compelling aspect of the Inheritance trilogy is that we are treated to a different, richly complex character for each installment. Not three points of view on a single story, but three separately experienced stories that link together. In this way Jemison creates a pleasing and amazingly well made trilogy.  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Best 2015 Romance Fiction Award Finalists

You may wonder what is so fantastic about finalists for the RITA Awards. Let me begin by telling you that the Romance Writers of America (RWA) is the trade association for aspiring and published romance fiction authors. They choose amazing fiction romance novels and their award, The RITA, is the highest award of distinction in romance fiction. If you enjoy romance novels and are looking for a great book, try one of these novels! I have highlighted a few finalists for the RITA Awards below.  

If you would like a complete listing of finalists click here. The RITA Award winners will be announced July 25, 2015 in New York. Here's to a great story with a wonderful feel good ending.

Best First Book
The Smuggler Wore Silk by Alyssa Alexander
For Such A Time by Kate Breslin
Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
To Scotland with Love by Patience Griffin
Mind Sweeper by AE Jones

Contemporary Romance Long
Fever Pitch by Heidi Cullinan 
To Scotland with Love by Patience Griffin
It's In His Kiss by Jill Shavis
Somebody Like You byBeth Vogt
The Sweetest September by Liz Talley

Inspirational Romance Finalists
Huckleberry Summer by Jennifer Beckstrand
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
Deceived by Irene Hannon
Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie
The Widow's Suitor by Rose Ross Zediker

Historical Romance Fiction
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
In Bed With a Rogue by Samantha Grace
Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

Romantic Suspense Fiction
You're Not Safe by Mary Burton
Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane
Midnight Action by Elle Kennedy
Grave Danger by Katy Lee
Concealed in Death by J D Robb

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Vacationers

beach read (noun)
bēCH/ BrE//riːd//
 A book you can take on vacation, which is good enough to engage you, but not serious enough to require your utmost attention

The weather is getting warmer, school is wrapping up, and pools are opening soon. It is officially beach read season! You don’t have to go to a beach or on vacation to enjoy the simple pleasure of a good book. Your personal definition of a beach read might differ from the next person, but the key elements are really just a good book devoid of intricate details and storylines that you can easily drop or pick up as your activities change. 

I recently read The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which was recommended to me by a friend. It’s a tad heavier than your usual beach read due to some of the subject matter, but, at the same time, it is light, uncomplicated, and refreshing.

In the book, Franny and Jim take their troubled marriage and a group of family and friends on a trip to Mallorca. Originally, the trip was intended to be a celebration of Franny and Jim’s thirty-five year marriage, but recent events have caused their relationship to hit the skids. Instead, the beautiful vacation becomes an event to be survived by the seven people involved. Turns out Franny and Jim aren't the only two on the trip with relationship issues.

You might find yourself smacking your forehead in response to some of the characters’ decisions or lack of action, but there is little else to disturb you in this funny and well-paced book. The backdrop of the beautiful house and landscape in Mallorca, paired with Franny’s zest for delicious food, give it a very small touch of Eat, Pray, Love appeal. At one point, Franny even considers embarking on the same type of life affirming journey. One review called this book "delicious," which is a very fair assessment. Overall, a very smart and delightful read.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Historical Fiction of the American West

 According to Stuart Rosebrook of "True West Magazine", "the definition of the Old West is changing and moving further and further into the 20th century.  The three genres that are growing every year in westerns are mystery, romance, and frontier, all of which are pushing their heroes and heroines well into the 21st century."

Explore some of these intriguing historical novels:

Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach

She was the only woman ever lynched as a rustler. History called it "justice". But it was all a lie. Her real name was Ella Watson.  She was murdered by her neighbors for her land and water rights. Now, on the 125th anniversary of her death, hear the true story. 

Wild Ran the Rivers by James D. Crownover

This is a story of pioneers, pirates and ponies, floods, earthquakes, a mysterious wilderness settlement and how the second generation of a Cherokee family found a home on the Little Red River.

Ragtime Cowboys by Loren D. Estleman

In prohibition-era Southern California, detectives Siringo and Hammett must solve a mystery involving a ruthless politician. An exciting tale in which the Old West and Hollywood collide.

The Bully of Order by Brian Hart

A novel of fate and redemption set in the Washington frontier during the lawless logging days of the late 19th century. 

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale
An ex-slave on the run becomes a Buffalo Soldier, U.S. Marshall, sharpshooter and friend to Wild Bill Hickok.

Backlands by Michael McGarrity

The second installment of the authentic American West trilogy set in the raw, untrammeled New Mexico back-lands during the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II. Started with Hard Country

The Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry
A story of the closing of the American frontier told by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

The Bridge by Robert B. Parker

Marshals Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are back in Appaloosa, where their work enforcing the law has been exceptionally quiet. All that is about to change. An ominous storm rolls in, and along with it a band of night riders who show up  where a three-hundred-foot bridge is under construction. As clouds over Appaloosa continue to gather, things get much worse for Cole and Hitch... 

Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

The continuing story of the OK Corral that began in her novel Doc, Epitaph gives voice to the real men and women whose lives were changed forever by those fatal thirty seconds in Tombstone.

The Last Shootist by Miles Swarthout

The sequel to the classic western The Shootist by the son of the original author.

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

Young Catherine Wainwright flees Dayton, Ohio, in the wake of a terrible scandal. Facing destitution, she agrees to marry a recent widower and travels to Galveston Island, Texas. She is ill prepared for the life that awaits her and when the worst storm in a generation descends, she will find herself tested as never before.
The Poacher's Daughter by Michael Zimmer
Vigilantes hang Rose Edward's husband and burn down their cabin. Without a home or source of income, Rose feels lost until she joins a band of horse thieves. Running from the law, returning to ranching, and seeking revenge against her enemies, Rose quickly gains a reputation and becomes known as the notorious Rose of Yellowstone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle.

I have described this novel to friends as simply odd and somewhat difficult to describe. It follows Sean Phillips, the creator of Trace Italian, a mail-based, turn-by-turn, mail in strategy game. Trace Italian was created as Sean lay in a hospital, recovering from a disfiguring wound. He created this massive, post-apocalyptic world to help cope with the pain during his recuperation and now makes a living from it and other, similar games. As we learn more about Sean and his impressive and well-conceived game, we also learn of a young couple that became obsessed with the game. As they tried to live the game in real life, one of them dies and Sean must navigate both their obsessions and his own.

In a world that is increasingly interconnected, digital, and intertwined, it is fascinating to read of a character that is incredibly isolated and whose primary social interaction is through a text-base, mail-in, role playing game. Wolf in White Van is thought provoking exploration of a character that is defined by his isolation and his obsessions. Darnielle’s excellent job of pacing, careful revelations, and ambiguity are an interesting juxtaposition of the straightforward style. Wolf in White Van is an odd, dark look at nerdom, and some elements will not be to everyone’s taste. However, the writing and treatment of Sean Phillips makes this a worthwhile and remarkable read. 

As a side note, this cover is simply brilliant, both in its own right and how it ties into the novel itself. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Audie Award Finalists Announced!

Since I began listening to audio books I have always looked forward to the announcing of the Audio Publishers Association (APA)  finalists for the 2015 Audie Awards®. These awards are the only awards program in the United States devoted entirely to honoring spoken word entertainment. The Audie Award winners will be announced at the Audies Gala on May 28, 2015. 

The best thing about the finalists is every book has an excellent narrator which makes for great listening! Once the list arrives I select a few books and begin listening. Sometimes I don't even know what the story is about...I simply have chosen a book that has a great narrator and I let the story unfold as I listen.  I have (in all honesty) never been disappointed by this selection method. This goes against everything I ever learned, however I have not failed to find a beautiful story to listen too by selecting a great narrator.

I have, on the other hand listened, or rather begun to listen to a great novel and then turned it off because the reader read abysmally. These Audie Award Finalists have two things going for them.  They have a great author and an excellent narrator which makes any of these books a pure pleasure to hear.

The following are a few of my favorite finalists for the Audie Awards. If you'd like a complete listing you can find it here. You may ask yourself if they are all good, why I have a few favorites.  The truth is...I just do.

Enjoy and happy listening.

Nominees for Audiobook of the Year

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Full cast production

Mandela: An Audio History by Nelson Mandela; Narrated by Nelson Mandela

What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey: Narrated by Oprah Winfrey

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler; Narrated by Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, Seth Myers, Mike Schur, Eileen and William Poehler, Patrick Stewart and Kathleen Turner. 

Below are a few of my favorite authors who have been nominated for an Audie Award. There are many other nominees...for more finalists go here.

The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom; Narrated by Mitch Albom
You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry; Narrated by Dave Barry
Missing You by Harlan Coben; Narrated by January La Voy  
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr narrated by Zach Appelman
The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy; Narrated by Bronson Pinchot
Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen; Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Flash Boys by Michael Lewis; Narrated by Dylan Baker
In The Morning I'll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty; Narrated by Gerard Doyle
The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg; Narrated by Christopher Lane
Hounded by David Rosenfelt; Narrated by Grover Gardner
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson Narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer