Monthly Archives: May 2014

Review: Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

Suffer the Children

Horror novels don’t have to be filled with gore and horrific accounts of psychical suffering to be memorable. In fact, some of the most memorable horror from some of the masters (Stephen King, Richard Matheson) delves less into the blood and gore side of things and instead the emotional and psychological impact of ordinary people trying to contend with extraordinary circumstances.

Craig DiLouie’s Suffer the Children follows in the footsteps of some of the best by King and Matheson with a haunting story of what would happen if every child on the planet were to suddenly succumb to a virus. In this case, it’s the Herod virus that wipes out the entire population of children, including the unborn. Humanity faces extinction and the overwhelming issue of how to bury the children and try to come to grips that our species is coming to an end.

Until three days later when the children suddenly come back to life, but with a deadly twist. They have a need in order to sustain their resurrection and it appears their hunger has no end.

DiLouie’s novel chillingly details the steps parents and families endure in the loss and sudden return of their children. It also begins to show us what a world would be like in which the justification of “it’s being done for the children” is taken to a horrifying new extreme. (To say too much else would be to reveal too much about the twist and possibly ruin some of the enjoyment of reading it for others. I will warn you to stay away from too much of the books marketing materials and some reviews as they give away too much).

Filled with ordinary people coming to grips with extraordinary circumstances, Suffer the Children works well on just about every level. It’s one of the most gruesome novels I’ve read in a long time — and not because of any level of gore or mayhem. It’s because of the truly bleak situation facing the novels characters and humanity.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Shattered by Kevin Hearne

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #7)

Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles is one of the best things happening not just in the the universe of urban fantasy but in the publishing world today. With the seventh installment, Hearne graduates to hardcover where hopefully he’ll find an even larger audience to appreciate the exploits of Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon.

A quick word of warning, however. If you haven’t read the first six installments in this series, starting here is probably going to be a confusing experience. While Hearne wisely includes a quick refresher on events up until now, it’s no where near as rewarding or as much fun as reading the actual novels themselves. (You will miss out on all the wonderful interaction between Atticus and Oberson, which is among the highlights of the series).

If you’re caught up, odds are you’ve been eagerly awaiting Shattered. The good news is that Hearne has made it worth the wait. Picking up right where Hunted left off, the seventh installment gives us not one but three first-person narrators. As expected, we get chapters told from the viewpoint of Atticus but we also see events unfolding in the eyes of Granuale and the newly brought back to life Owen Kennedy (at least that’s the modern equivalent of his Druid name).

Among the highlights of the latest installment in the series is the introduction of the Yeti and their love of ice hockey, Owen’s attempts to integrate himself into our modern world and, of course, lots of great interaction between Atticus and Oberon. There’s also some moving forward of various plot elements and call backs to the first couple of novels in this series and some interesting ground world put in place for the final several novels in this wonderful series. Hearne’s storytelling assurance continues to grow with each novel and Shattered is among the best this on-going series has offered to date.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was given an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program. And, yes, I eagerly snapped it up. If you’re not reading this series yet, you should be.


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Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens

That Night

At multiple points in the first half of Chevy Stevens’ That Night, I found myself wishing the story would get to the night in question already and maybe get this novel moving forward.

Instead, the story of the falsely accused and convicted Toni Murphy and her boyfriend kept churning on and on, giving the reader details that didn’t matter much in the question of who killed her sister and why or much in the way of character development for Toni. Early on, I got that Toni was a rebel, misunderstood by her parents and the system. I got that Toni faced bullies all her life and I suppose much of the character arc that Stevens is trying to lay out for Toni and the reader is her slowly realizing that she’s going to have to stand up for herself or else be downtrodden her entire life. Of course, it takes being falsely accused and convicted of her sister’s murder and going to prison for Toni to become self-reliant and a “bad ass.”

It’s a shame really because the hook of this novel and the first few chapters are interesting enough. Early on, Toni is an intriguing narrator for the events unfolding (chapters alternate between the events leading up to Toni’s conviction and events is sent to prison). But my patience for her quickly began to wear thin by the time we get to her third or fourth conflict with her parents who “just don’t understand her” and how she can’t wait to get out from under their roof so she can move in her boyfriend.

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Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell


After reading and enjoying Rainbow Rowell’s two young adult offerings last year, I was concerned that her latest offering Landline might not live up expectations. The good news is that Landline shows Rowell once again at the top of her game as she was with Eleanor and Park even if the novel doesn’t quite hit the stratospheric heights that Fangirl did.*

* That may have more to do with this reader than the novel itself. Fangirl was the first of Rowell’s three novels I read last year and was such an unexpected breath of fresh air and a pleasure to read that all of her other novels are competing with my warm feelings and good memories of Fangirl.

But don’t let the fact that I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Fangirl make you think I didn’t like Landline. It’s a very close second in my ranking of Rowell’s novels and an early contender as one of the ten best books I’ve read (or will read) this year.

On the surface, Georgie McCool has a great life. She works with her best friend as a writer for a hit TV sitcom and together they are finally getting the chance for their dream TV project to become a reality. At home, she’s got a great husband in Neal and two great kids whom she adores.

But with the holidays rolling around, Georgie finds herself torn between going with Neal to visit his family for Christmas and cranking out several scripts for an upcoming network meeting for the dream TV project. Neal, it seems, has reached a breaking point in their relationship and declares that Georgia is welcome to stay in Los Angeles to work on project but that he’s going home to see his family and taking their daughters with him.

Georgia is suddenly concerned that her marriage could be dissolving and that she’s not seen the signs that she should or could have been fighting for it all this time. Georgie seeks solace at her mother’s house where she’s able to call her husband on the old landline phone from her teenage bedroom.

But there’s something different about the landline and the connection to Neal. As we find out over the course of the story, this isn’t the first time that Neal has left Georgie behind to go Omaha and his family in frustration.

Landline has a supernatural twist to it that Rowell wisely grounds in the reality of her strong, solid characters. The novel explores Georgia and Neal’s relationship as well as the long-simmering jealousy over the closeness Georgie shares with her comedy-writing partner and best friend (who is also male). Rowell translates the relatable characters from her young adult novels to the world of adults and never missed a beat. Just as I was with Fangirl, I found myself saying “Just one more chapter” and reading on far longer than I expected to. This is a novel that hits all the emotional moments and earns each one.

I was interested to see how Rowell would follow-up her banner year last year. The good news is that she keeps well in stride with Landline. If you loved Rowell’s other books, you’re going to love this one. If you’ve heard a lot of buzz for her and wondered what it was all about, this is a great place to jump in and see what the buzz is all about.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel from the Amazon Vine Program.


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Mini-Review: The Keillor Reader by Garrison Keillor

The Keillor Reader

As a big fan of Garrison Keillor, I’m always excited to see a new published offering hit the market.

This collection, celebrating his fortieth anniversary of “A Prairie Home Companion” contains a nice mix of the many different types and styles of writing that make Keillor one of the most unique, distinctive voices working today. The most fascinating part isn’t just the stories, poems and essays Keillor has chosen for this collection, but instead are his notes on the creation and writing of the various pieces. These thoughts are almost like a DVD commentary, providing readers and fans with insights into how he works and the business of being creative.

If you’re a Keillor fan, this is a must-have. I know I’ll be adding a hardcover copy to my Garrison Keillor shelf.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Big Finish Thoughts: White Ghosts, The Elite & Hexagora

Doctor Who: White Ghosts (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.02)

White Ghosts  by Alan Barnes 

After the promising ending to “The Kings of Sontar” I’ll admit I had high expectations for the next fourth Doctor adventure.

And I’ll admit upon first blush, I was a bit disappointed by how easily it seemed certain developments from “Sontar” were swept aside. But pondering it further and taking the opportunity to listen to the story again, I feel like my first feelings of disappointment were misplaced and that maybe, must maybe I’d missed what this series of audio stories are trying to do in terms of the fourth Doctor and Leela. And if the stories can pay this off (and if that pay off can come without the Daleks being involved), I could see myself being a lot more pleased than I was after my initial assessment.

Avoiding a close run-in with a missile, the TARDIS materializes on board a planet that is kept in perpetual darkness. A scientific research team is there, studying a newly created species of plant life. But there’s a reason the team is doing so on a planet where there is little or no light — a secret that quickly comes to light (pun not intended, but it works). Before you know it, the story unfolds as a fast-paced, two-part base-under-siege story as the Doctor struggles to understand the implications of what’s going on and Leela fights to defend herself and the rapidly dwindling supporting cast from becoming what plant vampires.

Barnes’ story works well enough on the surface. Like another story I recently listened to, the ending comes a bit out of left field and feels a bit too rushed and like Barnes is trying to wrap things up too quickly or within the time constraints placed upon him. It’s a shame because had the story been given another five minutes to breath, it might have worked a lot better.

And there are some interesting implications to the philosophical disagreement that came up between the Doctor and Leela in the last story and the role the Time Lords play in sending the Doctor on this mission. If this season of stories is about exploring Leela’s reaction to how the Time Lords use the Doctor to do their dirty work, this could be a very interesting turn of events.

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Review: Girl Defective by Simone Howell

Girl Defective

As I read Girl Defective, I kept finding myself wanting to love it but instead I found myself only liking it.

Like most teenagers, Skylark Martin is trying to find herself and her place in the world. She’s confused about the status of various relationships, including the one between herself and her record-store running father, the one with her estranged rock-star mother (Sky continually uses the “Ask Me Anything” link on her mother’s web site to ask pointed questions to which she receives little or no acknowledgement), the one with her ten-year-old boy-detective brother and the one with her older friend Nancy, who Sky may or may not have a crush on.

Enter into the world of her record shop, Luke, the older brother of a girl who mysteriously disappeared (the case is one of several that obsess her younger brother) and you’ve got a novel that could be a coming-of-age story. Or it could be the sarcastic observations of that girl who doesn’t exactly fit in and is having some confusing feelings as she grows up. Or it could be a mystery as we try to solve the mystery surrounding not only the missing girl, but also a series of (apparently) random vandalism crimes in the neighborhood.

What it all adds up to is a book that has an intriguing narrator, some fascinating characters and a frustrating lack of focus. There are portions of Simonne Howell’s Girl Defective that I absolutely loved and there were others where I just wanted to skim past them to get back to the more interesting stuff. I feel like there’s a great novel lurking in here, if there had been a bit more focus.

Overall, I liked the book but didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped or expected to based on the first few chapters. I’ve heard good things about Howell’s other books and this one makes me a curious to pick those up and see what else she has to offer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Don’t Try to Find Me by Holly Brown

Don't Try To Find Me: A Novel

“Don’t try to find me.”

With those words, fourteen year-old Marley sets off every parents’ worst nightmare — your child running away from home, vanishing without a trace. The only clues are how thoroughly Marley went to cover her tracks, including erasing her tablet and clearing out messages from her e-mail in-box, cell phone and her social media accounts.

Marley’s parents, Rachel and Paul throw themselves into trying to figure out why their daughter would board a Greyhound bus and attempt to vanish. Paul throws himself into the crisis, embracing the role of the father trying to hold his family together while Rachel realizes that the intense scrutiny may bring up some secrets she doesn’t necessarily want shared with her husband, much less the rest of the world.

And while these secrets are devastating to Rachel, Paul and Marley, author Holly Brown wisely keeps the secrets fairly restrained and doesn’t indulge the temptation to make them overly melodramatic or predictable. The reader is clued in early that things aren’t necessarily what they seem and that both narrators (Rachel and Marley take turns narrating chapters) aren’t necessarily reliable or telling us the whole story. The back and forth of the chapters as each secret and the consequences of certain decisions are played out for each of the characters helps keep the story moving forward and keeps raising questions that are (thankfully) all answered by time we get to the final pages of the novel.

It’s interesting to see that the marketing blurbs compare this book to Gone Girl and Reconstructing Amelia. While I understand the temptation to hype every book coming on the market told from the point of view from two (or more) unreliable narrators, I think that marketing Don’t Try to Find Me along those lines is a disservice to this book. The book is more along the lines of Reconstructing Amelia with much of the mystery and suspense coming from how little the parents in question know about their teenage children. Luckily Don’t Try to Find Me can have a happier ending since Marley has only vanished and is trying to disappear from the grid and start a new life, but the questions of just how well you can and should know your children and what you can and should know about their friends (both in real life and on-line) will linger with you long after the final page is turned.

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

20140319151353!The_Amazing_Spiderman_2_posterCan a movie that runs close to two and a half hours be rushed?

If it’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you can certainly make the argument.

The second installment of the rebooted web slinger is jam packed full of spectacular action sequences and comic book continuity galore.   It’s also got three classic era Spidey foes taking on our favorite web-slinger on the silver screen, though all three don’t necessarily battle Spidey at the same time.   The film also sets the table for several other classic foes to make their way to the big-screen — either in the next two installments that are slated to come our way in the next four years or in the spin-off films.

And yet there were times throughout the movie that it all felt like all of these action sequences were disconnected that lacked the emotional core that set (at least) the first two Sam Raimi movies apart.

Part of it could also be that the film opens with a spectacular Spider-Man chase sequences, full of high flying antics, stunning visual effects and a Spider-Man movie finally getting the essentially quipiness of the character as close to perfect as you could want and it’s all (pretty much) downhill from there.    Director Mark Webb sets the bar so high in the first ten minutes of the movie that it feels like the rest of the movie is struggling to keep up.

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