Review – Dreams and Shadows

Dreams and ShadowsWhat happens when a wish comes true? What happens when that granted wish is cursed? Colby Stevens and Ewan Thatcher meet as children, and what seems on the surface to be a needed friendship for both, actually turns out to be a harbinger of death and destruction. When Colby and Ewan reach adulthood, the world hidden behind a magical veil appears for a battle on the streets of Austin, Texas.

In Dreams and Shadows, Austin, Texas is a strange place. A place where the magical and non-magical worlds collide and where knowing where a path will lead is invaluable knowledge. This version of Austin is where we pick up the story of Ewan Thatcher and Colby Stevens, two children who meet at the fairy court in the Limestone Kingdom and whose lives are forever changed by a wish Colby made.

Ewan Thatcher was the perfect baby, wished for and loved like no other — his doting parents wanting only the best for him. When Ewan is kidnapped and replaced with a magical child doppelganger, his parents’ lives come to a dramatic close on Earth. Ewan, safely stolen away and cared for in the fairy realm, is meant to live out his fate as a sacrifice for the everlasting lives of the fairies that rule in the Limestone Kingdom.

Colby Stevens is a forgotten child of an alcoholic mother and long gone father. With no friends to speak of and little family life, he spends his days playing by himself in the nearby woods. It’s in these same woods that he meets a djinn named Yashar, and a cursed djinn at that, and makes a wish to see all there is to see. After much discussion and unsuccessful convincing by Yashar that another wish would be better, Colby gets his way and a whole torrent of problems rain down.

Colby wants to meet a fairy and as it turns out Ewan is that fairy. When the powers that be in the Limestone Kingdom find out about Yashar and Colby’s visit, they ban them from the realm but not before Colby finds out that Ewan is to be sacrificed. Going back to rescue Ewan sets off a battle that will be played out long in the future on the street of Austin. A time in the future when Colby is a hardened 22 year-old wizard working in a vintage bookstore and drinking his evenings away with fallen angels in a basement bar and shortly after Ewan finally meets the girl of his dreams and becomes the rock star he always wanted to be.

Colby starts off so innocent, but with a cursed wish, all that is gone and he spends the rest of days attempting to protect Ewan from a fate he doesn’t know about. The mythical world fears Colby not only for what he knows but what he can do and has done. Those fears have kept Austin, Texas and the Limestone Kingdom separate but that could all change with thought and a bit of meddling. And Ewan, he’s a shadow of his former magical fairy self, a self he didn’t even know existed until he was told about it. The intersection of these two lives becomes a battleground where no one is willing to concede.

To readers of fantasy I say, read this now. If you don’t think you like fantasy, read this because it will change your mind. Dreams and Shadows is thoroughly engrossing. It’s fantasy full of all the gritty details you want and need from a story like this. The setting, which seems ordinary on the surface, is perfect because it allows reality to seep into a story that brings together so many mythical elements and characters that it feels grounded. That might sound odd, but I happen to like my fantasy mixed with reality. It makes it more enticing for me as a reader. Really, I want to tell you all about this story, but this is one you need to read to see how brilliant it is.

Dreams and Shadows
C. Robert Cargill
Harper Voyager
ISBN: 9780062190420

Review – Ashenden

AshendenAshenden is an old, yet still grand, English country house. Falling into disrepair over the years, it can still impress, even if it’s just by the enormous cash reserves needed to heat the place. When Charlie and his sister inherit the crumbling estate, the stress of how to care for the place takes a toll on their already distant relationship. The two begin consulting engineers and surveyors to determine what needs to be done and whether or not selling or renovating is in their best interests, or the house’s.

While a decision is made about the house’s future, its past begins to unfold giving the reader a glimpse of the people it has sheltered, the sorrows and joys felt in its rooms, and the memories that have seeped into its walls. We are introduced to the people that have walked the halls of the house from the architect who envisioned the grand space, to the staff who kept the fires burning, and the families that owned the property.

What I enjoyed about this book was the way all of the stories were tied together, each flowing smoothly into the next. It wasn’t about the people but how the house was transformed by the years from a money pit that was wanted more for the prestige it bought, but was ultimately unaffordable, to the original builder, the individuals that toured the house, and the sick it protected. The people come and go but the house itself is the one constant that brings everything together.

Ashenden is a mixture of short stories about the people that admired the grand house, found love and heartbreak inside its walls, and those that recovered in the green expanse that was part of the property. Its residents, owners, builders, all make and break the house and while the reader sees the past, it’s the current owners that are struggling with the future. I liked the way Wilhide smoothly moves the story along while it remains in place at the same time. It’s a very effective way to tell the story of the house and make it more than simply a structure of bricks, glass, and wood. It becomes a living part of the story, in fact, the story itself. With each new chapter, I wanted to know how it was holding up and what it had become in its new reincarnation as it does change with each new generation that walks through the doors. From the start, you know it’s not a simple home but something built and imagined to be more than that.

Many of the stories told here are very sad but overall I wouldn’t say that about the book. It made me smile many times, and even though the individual stories being told were not on the whole always happy, it was an honest look at the people who passed through the halls and that I could appreciate — nothing too sad but not all that happy either, a nice equilibrium of stories.

Wilhide is a writer who cares very much about the details and it is those details that make this story. Without the finer points and the clear image she creates of the house, this story wouldn’t work. The particulars create an invisible web that lets the story meander, but always bringing it back home. It’s such a lovely story and a satisfying read for a winter evening.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Ashenden

By Elizabeth Wilhide

Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781451684865

Review – The One I Left Behind

The One I Left BehindI’m going to confess right up front — I read the ending of this book first. That happens often with me but I’m religious about reading the ending of a thriller before even getting 20 pages in. It’s my thing. This isn’t my first McMahon book and she has a way of creeping me out early on so I need to find that strand of sanity to hold onto while she pulls me through the story with my eyes half closed. Knowing the ending didn’t make this any less exciting. McMahon doesn’t take a straight path to the end, and even knowing still made it nerve wracking.

Reggie Dufrane’s life has never been easy. Born to a former beauty queen, she always idolized her mother, wondering at her beauty but never really knowing the woman beneath the veneer she created for her daughter. Having lost her ear when she was attacked by a dog at a very young age, Reggie grew up with one real ear and one fake one, never to be the beauty her mother was. In the summer of 1985, a serial killer begins terrifying the residents of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. When the severed hands of the victims begin appearing on the front steps of the police station, every resident in town waits, waits for the body to appear next. And each time a hand appeared, a body soon followed. When Reggie’s mother disappears, she knows the killer, dubbed Neptune by the local press, must have her. When her mother’s hand, recognizable by the scars she suffered rescuing Reggie from the dog attack, everyone waits for the body. It never appears. Days pass and months go by but the body of Vera Dufrane never appears.

Making the most out of an opportunity to start over, Reggie moves far away from Brighton Falls and puts as much distance as possible between her future and her past. A well-known architect, she celebrated in her industry but she’s never escaped Neptune and he haunts her till the day her mother re-appears — alive.

I knew how this was going to end but I still wanted to have every light on in the room I was sitting in and all the doors locked in the house. With most thrillers, I love the crazy ride, and you do get that here, but there’s the psychological element that McMahon does so well. It’s the cruel way she plays around with the characters letting you see every picked scab and dirty secret long-held onto in the dark.

Reggie is damaged goods, both mentally and physically. Her mother, a woman more damaged than her, is not one to look up to but she’s all Reggie ever had. The summer of her disappearance and supposed murder becomes an eye opener to Reggie who learns that her mother and the woman known as Vera Dufrane are two very different people.

McMahon doesn’t let anyone off easy and sometimes I did long for one person without any crazy skeletons in the closet beyond the embarrassing moments in high school that we all have. Those people don’t exist in her books and that’s what makes them so readable and difficult to read at the same time. Her characters are so flawed they become believable and unbelievable all at once and because of that you can’t stop reading. By the time you want out, you’re too far in and you need to know how it’s all going to turn out — good or bad.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The One I Left Behind

Jennifer McMahon

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780062122551

Review – Ghosts of Manhattan

I’ve always loved the movie Wall Street. There’s something so fascinating, annoying, hateful, and sad about Gordon Gekko. He’s a car wreck I can’t stop gaping at. And, yes, I like the sequel, Money Never Sleeps too. Who doesn’t want more Gordon Gekko?

When I was offered the chance to review Ghosts of Manhattan, I took it. I, apparently, want more Gordon Gekko.

Nick Farmer is a bond trader at Bear Stearns and he hates his job. Any novelty it once held has long since faded along with any interest in the parties, drugs, and hookers. Those bonuses, though, are what keep him going back to the office every day. He’s married, but after several years, is realizing that he barely knows his wife anymore and he isn’t sure he even wants to know her any longer. The job is taking a toll not just on him but his wife and their marriage as well. When Nick is approached by a paranoid analyst who is scared of what his research foretells, Nick starts wondering if the right time to get out is now.

Nick is a character I want to feel bad for. He hates his job, the people and corporation he works for, the lazy ethics of the place, and the lifestyle he, for better or worse, has become accustomed to. On top of all this, his personal life is falling apart. On the other hand, he does nothing at work, drinks, does a little cocaine from time to time in New York’s finest bathrooms (they have floor to ceiling stall doors if you must know), and charges back thousands upon thousands of dollars to absurd expense accounts without even blinking. That’s what made me want to scream at this book but I also kept reading because of it. It’s hard to understand that type of money. Absurd isn’t even the word to describe it. Insane maybe but even that’s not enough. But I wanted to see how deep that hole went and how far Nick was willing to fall into it. The answer to that is pretty far. Sadly, he knows it but keeps going.

But Nick is also a likable character. As I said, he hates his job and his personal life is circling a large drain ready to suck him into a vast hell. He knows it but doesn’t do much about it, which is probably best since anytime he tries, he fails miserably. He’s a good at heart with some decent intentions but has yet to figure out how to wield anything positive.

The world Nick lives in, almost unwillingly (he doesn’t know how to get out until he has to), isn’t his fault though and I’m not giving the character an out here. He has his bad, maybe even reprehensible moments, but there’s something about him that seems redeemable and that I could work with. I like to like characters in books, and Nick has a likable side under all the grime.

I know some of you may be thinking about this book in terms of Wall Street only, and that’s not the best way to approach this one. Yes, the main part of the story surrounds Nick’s job and there are numerous hateful people in his circle doing numerous hateful things, but there are some nice moments, some funny moments, and in the end, a new beginning. I liked that about this one.

Also, now the theme song to Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is stuck in my head.

The publisher sent me a copy of Ghosts of Manhattan for review.

Ghosts of Manhattan
By Douglas Brunt
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-1451672596
4 stars

Review – The Map of the Sky

H.G. Wells is an unhappy man. His latest work, The War of the Worlds, has a sequel that he didn’t write. Having agreed to meet with the American author who he believes has unjustly made money off his idea, Wells grumbles his way through the streets of London to the pub for the meeting. This author, who impresses Wells more than he cares to admit, tells him incredible tales of monsters and aliens and when Wells fails to believe, he offers to show him. In a locked room at the natural history museum, Wells gazes upon what he believes to be a true Martian — just like the creatures he created in his latest book.

At the same time, in America, young socialite Emma Harlow is once more declining the attentions of almost every eligible man in her social circle. When one of the men, Montgomery Gilmore, manages to annoy her to the point of a challenge, she tells him what it will take to win her hand in marriage. A fan of H.G. Wells’s latest book, she wants him to re-create the Martian invasion from The War of the Worlds. Gilmore, a man with money to burn, accepts the challenge and sets out to construct the invasion in the hope of winning Emma’s heart.

When the day arrives for Gilmore’s event, people gather around a supposed space ship in a field outside of London. Among the onlookers are Emma and Wells who was drug there by an inspector from Scotland Yard believing Wells would know what is going to happen. What happens is beyond them all and has them running for their lives.

Palma takes several different stories and weaves a tale that starts in London, travels to the Antarctic, heads to America, and then lands back in London. I have to admit that starting this review was daunting simply because I didn’t know where to start. There is so much going on in this book but Palma manages the story well, tying up loose ends and making each part of the book feel complete.

The Map of the Sky is the sequel to his first novel, The Map of Time. While I want to say this book can stand alone, there are some characters that return, in new incarnations, and having the entire back story does help in reading this one. Palma obviously has a special regard for Wells’s work and even though his works are prominent aspects of this book, I don’t think one has to have read the books — in this particular case it is Wells’s The War of the Worlds — to enjoy the story.

Time travel, aliens, historical figures — it’s a nice mix. I enjoyed the odd historical figure thrown in, Edgar Allan Poe for example, and Palma does a good job of not making you feel as if he’s tossing out names but creating enough back story for that character to make sense in the full context of the book. I appreciate that. However, I will caution that this isn’t a book that lets you come and go; there’s a lot going on for it to be a leisurely read. It’s more the type of book that sucks you in with the small hints buried in the story and twists and turns that don’t seem to have an ending until the entire scheme is played out.

Palma is an appealing writer and I have to say I enjoyed both of his books. He’s into the details which make his stories come alive.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of the Sky

By Felix J. Palma

Atria Books

ISBN: 9781451660319

4 stars

Review – All Seeing Eye

Jackson Lee Eye is a man with a thing about touching — he doesn’t do it. When he does, he can see everything that happens in that person’s life; the good, the bad, and the mundane. It started when he was 14. He found the shoe of his younger sister Tess lying on the ground, and picking it up, saw her dead in a well. That vision, and the aftermath, haunts him every day of his life. After finding the shoe, he saw his mother murdered and he himself pulled the trigger on his step-father. After years in a state home, he escapes and makes a living using the only skill he has, the ability to read people. When a scientist comes knocking on his door asking him to become part of a study, he goes on high alert. As it turns out, he’s being blackmailed by the government. Forced to help the military bring an end to an experiment gone wrong, he finds himself re-living the events of others and he knows this little experiment will leave him with nightmares for the rest of his life.

This was the book I was in the mood for. I wanted a little creepy, a little dark, and I got it. And the characters — well, at least one — were likable. Jackson Lee Eye and his dog Houdini were very likable characters and the others provided the creep factor I was looking for.

I expected a twist and got it, and it happened in the way I wanted it to which made this a very satisfying read. In fact, I devoured the book. I don’t have an explanation for this but I always, no matter what, enjoy stories where one or more of the characters are a psychic. I have no reason why but I just love it. And I loved how Jackson reacted to each person and what he/she was hiding. In some cases, the sociopathic natures were more interesting than the characters themselves because I kept waiting for these people to reveal themselves.

Being a person that reads the last few pages of a book early on, I was slightly surprised to see a little twist at the end that I didn’t catch. Yep, I may not like surprises all that much (really, I read the last page before I hit page 10, what would you expect me to say here) but I liked the one I came across here. I guess you can say it’s still nice to be surprised by characters.

I’m being evasive and that’s intentional. I try my best not to give away spoilers and this story unfolds in a way that I don’t want to give away because that’s the fun of it. If you’re looking for a good October book, one to curl up with on a windy fall evening, well, here’s one. It’s a fast moving thriller that will make for a good evening read.

All Seeing Eye

By Rob Thurman

Pocket Books

ISBN: 9781451652222

4 stars

Review – The Map of Lost Memories

Irene Blum has spent her life studying the Khmer Empire and acquiring knowledge of ancient civilizations and artifacts. She’s an expert in her field and fully expects to be running the Brooke Museum of Oriental Arts in Seattle, which houses a collection she helped to build, in due time. When the curatorship is given to another, it devastates her. Still reeling from the death of her father a few months earlier, she turns to Henry Simms, a close family friend and the man who helped raise her after the death of her mother. He is also the person who instilled in her the intense interest she has in the Khmer Empire. Mr. Simms is dying of cancer, and knowing it will be the last great adventure of his life and the start of one for Irene, he shares an unknown diary with her that talks about lost copper scrolls containing the history of the Khmer. The scrolls are supposedly hidden in an ancient Khmer temple in the Cambodian jungle. With nothing left for her in Seattle, Irene leaves for Shanghai to convince a woman named Simone Merlin to join her on the trip to Cambodia. Both women have much to prove — to each other and themselves — and the trip to discover the lost scrolls becomes a test of wills.

While the big draw for me was the setting, Shanghai and the Cambodian jungle in 1925, it was the characters that surprised me. Everyone has secrets so deeply ingrained it drug them all down and each and every character fought out of desperation; each not wanting to admit being wrong or to give in. The setting amplified every single flaw these characters carried.

Irene and Simone are bound together in horrific ways that neither woman wants to think about — murder, drugs, and a personal history neither knew existed until Irene found Simone in Shanghai. Their interactions are sometimes painful to witness but that’s what I enjoyed so much about this particular relationship. In 1925, two women struggling to be more than what society has deemed appropriate was great to see. Their efforts to regain some sense of themselves, understand their dreams, and deal with how those dreams have changed made for notable characters.

The Map of Lost Memories is full of mystery and suspense — some of it brought on in the course of the discovery of an archeological gem in the jungle and at other times it’s complete human folly. I adored the mixture. I feel like I’ve skipped the brilliant setting in favor of discussing some flawed but captivating characters. The setting and the discovery of an ancient Khmer temple deep in the Cambodian jungle was what made me want to read this book and it turned out to be a book full of characters looking for and waiting for redemption in different forms.

Historical fiction is a favorite of mine and the thing that keeps me reading this genre are books that make me want to know more about an event, a person, or discovery after I finish the book. This book did just that. I found myself wanting to know more about the Khmer Empire and the forgotten temples covered by moss and vines.

A setting that’s fascinating, thrilling, and dangerous, and characters that are in turn annoying and absorbing with strong personalities but are flawed and human. Together these elements made it difficult for me to put this book down. Fay obviously has a love for Asian culture and history. If she decides to write more books with this setting, I’ll be reading.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of Lost Memories

Kim Fay

Ballantine Books

ISBN: 9780345531346

4 stars