Review – Lords of the North

Lords of the NorthThis is the third book in the Saxon Stories series following The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman. I’ll try to avoid spoilers but you know the drill.

Uhtred helped Alfred win his last war against the Danes, but now, Uhtred is bored and tired of Alfred and his priests. Feeling unappreciated — Alfred rewarded him for his war efforts but minimally at best — Uhtred buries his hoard and leaves for the north with plans to capture Dunholm, a northern stronghold. After he inadvertently frees slaves, he also frees the region’s king, Guthred, and he now the men he needs to help him win Dunholm. Except, the gods are no longer smiling on Uhtred and his life, which had been running relatively smoothly, once more takes a strange turn when Guthred sells him into slavery. In an odd twist of fate, his only ally in the north, Hild, a former nun, convinces Guthred she must return to Alfred in Wessex and her nunnery. Upon returning to Alfred, she becomes Uhtred’s only hope for rescue.

Uhtred is a bastard in many ways, except when he’s not, and that can be a lot of the time. He’s a lord in his own right, except he has no land and the land that is his is being ruled by his uncle who usurped Uhtred’s father. Uhtred wants his land back and going north is his way of signaling to Alfred that he’s done with the war. Alfred isn’t ready for that to happen yet, and while he won’t admit it, he needs Uhtred more than Uhtred needs him. While Uhtred might be unreliable, when he makes an oath he won’t break it and Alfred keeps using that one very loyal part of Uhtred. Uhtred knows it but keeps letting it happen because he knows it’s the only way. To be fair though, Uhtred keeps using the oaths to his advantage as well so it’s fair play on both sides.

This is the third book in the Saxon Tales and I have a huge lag between books. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the series, I have been, but I forgot about the series until my last visit to the library when I decided to pick them up again. Cornwell is a favorite when I need some historical fiction, even though he can be a bit on the brutal, bloody side. Then again, he is writing about a very brutal time in history so it all fits. Besides, I like Uhtred. He’s surprising in that he’s extremely loyal, can be a very good guy when he wants to, which happens more often than he cares to think about, and he’s a bit of a softie, especially when it comes to the ladies. I swear, this man is always falling in love. It never gets mushy though which is what I like.

Here’s to the fourth book — Sword Song.

Lords of the North

By Bernard Cornwell

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 9780060888626

 

Review – World War Z

World War ZMy husband, who doesn’t read much fiction, bought World War Z one night as we were browsing our local bookstore. I’d heard about it, good things too, but I figured I was done with the zombie thing. A few weeks after said purchase, we find ourselves at the movies and on comes the preview of the movie version of World War Z, which looks awesome by the way. We get home and my husband goes looking for the book, and for the next two evenings, does nothing but read. For a man who doesn’t read fiction, he can’t get enough of it. Of course, I had to read it. And now that the movie is coming out, I’m finally getting around to my review. Here’s my take.

There’s a reason this book is subtitled an oral history of the zombie war. It’s exactly what it is. The author himself plays a part as the curator of the stories of individuals that have survived the zombie war. He travels the world speaking with people who have, in some way, large or small, made an impact in the war. The introduction of this book is critical to understand why these stories are being collected and told this way. You see, Brooks was an agent of the United Nations that helped to document the ten year war against the zombie outbreak, but when the final document is published, he realizes how much was left out. He plans to change that with this book.

I have to give it to the author — this was an incredibly effective way to make this fiction seem real. The individuals’ stories fake or not, are scary and totally believable. He pulls in religious factors, political factions, impact of political decisions, and the final result on not just humanity but the world as a whole. I have to say, bravo on that one. Brooks made a zombie story completely believable. The way he describes the spread of the plague — organ donation as one way — is brilliant and the political ramification in attempting to stop it are so detailed you can picture this happening in the world we live in.

OK, so I’ve gushed but I do have some little complaints. It began to feel repetitive and tedious to me. There’s a ton of military interviews and only so many descriptions of how to shoot a zombie in the head that I can take. But, it makes sense, he’s describing a war and I get that. I’m just not much for reading battle scenes, of which there are many here. Also, he interviews very few women. Jenny, over at Jenny’s Books, talk about this so I hand it over to her. Go read it.

I didn’t read The Zombie Survival Guide, which is Brooks’s first book. My sister, a zombie aficionado, did and when I told her I was reading this I’m pretty sure she starting salivating and wanted to get her hands on it.  I promised I’d send it as soon as I finished the review, which oddly, I wrote after only a few days which is totally not my style but anything for the sister.

So, the movie. Will I be seeing it? Probably. I have to say the preview looked damn good and if it’s anything like the book, I’ll probably not want to leave my house for a bit. Until I’m sure there aren’t any walking dead in my hallway. But, I know to aim for the head so I’m prepared.

World War Z

By Max Brooks
Crown Publishing Group
ISBN: 9780307346612

Review – Clockwork Phoenix 4

Clockwork Phoenix 4Clockwork Phoenix 4 is a collection of 18 stories edited by Mike Allen. Who, I will tell you now, is a master editor. And the authors, all masters as well. This collection is really fantastic. I took my time reading it and was rewarded each time a new story began. You can call it speculative, fantasy, science fiction, but what it is, is good reading. After each story, I was left thinking of the characters and settings which were believable and yet unbelievable at the same time. I’m not always a fan of short stories, and soon after the book arrived, I become a little apprehensive and worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I shouldn’t have worried. There are stories in this collection that I’ll go back to again and again. They are so rich and detailed I know I’ll find something new each time I pick up a story.

Not to give away anything, I’ll do a short sentence or so about each because I feel each story deserves a mention. You’ll note I have many favorites.

Our Lady of the Thylacines by Yves Meynard – A Girl learning the value of life from the Lady. A slightly dark tale containing that all important lesson of the value we place on life. This is a great story to start the collection.

The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter by Ian McHugh – Behra is the ninth daughter of the Canal Barge Magician and she is full of the magic her father harnesses for his use. When she finds her magic and learns to use it, all bets are off and she wants out. Fantastic piece — I love stories like this. Blood magic is used in cruel and vicious ways in this story and the world building is amazing. A favorite of mine.

On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse by Nicole Kornher-Stace – A post-apocalyptic world full of ghosts and the person who collects and catalogues them. I had a bit of trouble following this one but it’s such an interesting concept that I think I will go back and re-read it. A world ravaged yet full of ghosts is appealing.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – Do the dead get lonely? A drowned girl floating away her days wonders much about the world after meeting the beach bum. There’s a creepiness to this story but not the creepy you think of when you think of ghosts. I think it’s the idea of floating around, never knowing where you’ll land or what will happen that’s creepy. Maybe it’s just the great unknown and how scary it can be or maybe it’s just me. It’s a wonderful story though.

Trap-Weed by Gemma Files – A heart-broken selkie running from loneliness is captured by a collector. I love tales of sea creatures and the magic infused in this story is perfect. It rocks you slowly along bringing you to a bittersweet end that’s a strange metaphor for life and where we should place our trust. A favorite.

Icicle by Yukimi Ogawa – A half human, half snow-woman leaves the only home she’s ever known to look for her father and finds a love she can’t have. Oh, is this one a hard lesson of family life. Heartbreaking and yet wonderful. A favorite.

Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story by A.C. Wise – Two hungry ghosts haunting the world in the only way they know how. This is such a sad story but instead of disliking the ghosts, I just pitied them. When you open yourself to love, you open yourself to heartbreak. So good.

What Still Abides by Marie Brennan – Throw some Norse gods and the undead together and what do you get? This story. It’s told using Germanic derived words, according to the author’s website. Yes, I looked that up. I needed to know. In fact, the language makes this one. It brings it to a whole other level. Reading this one is an experience.

The Wanderer King by Alisa Alering – A post-apocalyptic world of the dead and dying and two women looking for a way out and the king that can get them to a new world. Oh, what a wonderfully sad, terrifying world. It’s brutal and full of menace. A favorite.

A Little of the Night by Tanith Lee – Fleeing from a murder, a man comes upon an evil place, and instead of continuing to run, he feels compelled to search for the source of that evil. He becomes drawn to it. A great, great story. A favorite.

I Come From the Dark Universe by Cat Rambo – Sex in a far off place. A brothel manager takes in a woman who says she came from the dark universe but offers no more. She’s quiet, mysterious, and maybe just the right bit of love needed for another lonely soul. Love in a whore house is so complicated. Eventually, what we come to learn is that there’s a love for all of us, if we’re willing to be patient. It’s hard to describe this as romantic (brothel and all) but it’s the best way to describe this so I’m going with it. It’s my absolute favorite in this collection. It’s one I will read again and again.

Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw by Shira Lipkin – A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.

Lilo Is by Corinne Duyvis – Being a single mother of a spider-girl can be interesting, to say the least. Oh, my god. So wonderful. I laughed my way through this one thankful I didn’t need to deal with a spider-girl. Mostly I laughed nervously because spiders completely freak me out. I went back and re-read parts too. Love it. You’re tired of reading this, I know, but, a favorite.

Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer by Kenneth Schneyer – A critic takes us on review of an artist’s work. It’s such a strange story but very interesting. The descriptions make you see not just the artwork but the artist. A good read.

Three Times by Camille Alexa – Do you know what it means to be alive? An entity takes human form to learn what it feels like. Sweet, sad, than utterly heartbreaking. A lovely little gem of a story.

The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – A universe of replicated humanoids each with a role. When one being begins to die, she undergoes surgery only to wake with a chest full of bees where a heart should be. This reminded me of The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. A strange world that not only confuses but fascinates. A great story.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – A scribe attempts to note the life of the Old Woman, who constantly interrupts and berates him. It’s amusing, warmhearted, and slightly sad. A good story.

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff – An extended family gathers for a Seder, and in doing so bring together the universal soul. The history of soul 2065 evolves, and in turn, becomes a most wonderful story. Spanning 70 years, the soul changes but never forgets. An amazing way to end the collection. A favorite.
Ask me what this collection is about and I’ll tell you it’s about life, it’s about love, it’s about tragedy, it’s about the alluring nature of sex, it’s about the feeling of belonging. There’s so much more to these stories than you think there will be. Go and read them. That’s all I have left to say.

Mike Allen shared a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 4 with me for review.

Clockwork Phoenix 4

Edited by Mike Allen

Mythic Delirium

ISBN: 9780988912403

 

Review – At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of MadnessThis turned out to be a difficult review to write (one of the reasons why it’s taken me so long to post it). After reading The Shunned House, also by Lovecraft, I had very high hopes for At the Mountains of Madness. Unfortunately, I’m torn. I alternately liked and disliked this book and I’m not at all sure what to say about it.

There is one thing this man can do really well and that is freak you out. I read several chapters of this book before bed one night and woke up every hour with the strangest dreams. I stopped reading it in bed after that. While the story is slow, it’s a re-telling of an Antarctica expedition that went bad, it does have some great parts. Notably, the descriptions of alien-like cities, worlds, and creatures left behind. The expeditions to and explorations of these alien cities are some of the most interesting parts of this book. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the equipment on the expedition. I know that sounds boring but it’s not. Don’t forget, this is a recounting of an expedition so these details are important to the story and while they may seem boring, they set the scene, if you will.

What I didn’t so much enjoy was the slowness of the story. I know I should’ve had sympathy for the narrator who was having trouble telling his story but I wanted to poke him and tell him to move it along. The tension does build this way and you do end up wondering what happened because he doesn’t come right out and tell you. He holds back; obviously the story is terrifying for him and re-living the story isn’t something he wants to do. You need to stay with him and listen carefully because those details provide a much larger and scarier picture. The problem for me was that I didn’t have much patience for the character and I wanted to know more about the aliens before he was ready to divulge info. Yes, the story does provide ample time to use your imagination but mine didn’t seem to be working when I was reading. This happens.

The version I borrowed from the library had an introduction by China Mieville, a favorite author of mine. But thanks to schedules and the library wanting their books back, I didn’t have the chance to read his breakdown of the story which I think would’ve gone a long way for me in thinking more deeply about the story itself. I was saving it for the end and never got to it since it took me longer to read than anticipated. I’m thinking I might need to request this again to read that introduction.

I still want to read more Lovecraft though. Is there something you’d recommend?

At the Mountains of Madness

By H.P. Lovecraft

The Modern Library

ISBN: 0812974417

 

Review – The Black Country

The Black CountryA small English village sustained by coal mining and strange superstitions is slowing sinking into the mines that crisscross under the village. It’s a rather bleak place. When a child and his parents go missing, the local constable, knowing his limitations and resources, asks Scotland Yard to help. He wants to uncover what happened to the family and figure out if the eyeball found by a young girl in a bird’s nest belongs to one of the missing.

When Inspector Day and Sergeant Hammersmith arrive from Scotland Yard, they are stunned by what they find and it’s not just the eyeball that has them confused — no one in the village will talk about the family or anything else for that matter and there’s a strange sickness taking over the place. Some are willing to blame it on superstition and others seem happy to pretend everything is normal. Day wants answers but meets a solid wall of silence in the form of Blackhampton’s residents. Hammersmith has the same luck when questioning people and unfortunately seems to be coming down with the same strange illness afflicting almost half the village. Calvin Campbell, a visitor to Blackhampton that no one knows, but oddly everyone seems to trust, becomes a focal point for Day’s investigation but he can’t pinpoint any connection and Campbell, like the rest of the residents, won’t talk.

The Black Country is Grecian’s follow-up to The Yard, the first book in the Scotland Murder Squad series. Even though this is the second book in a series, it stands on its own just fine. Grecian creates an eerie atmosphere from start to finish, and I have to say, and without giving anything away, the killer here is creepy and unexpected. I didn’t want to believe it but there it was fitting in perfectly with the dark overtones of the book. In fact, I like when that happens and I find myself surprised. Grecian didn’t let his characters off easy and as a reader I appreciate that.

The village of Blackhampton is the perfect setting — far away but not completely uncivilized yet cocooned enough to hold tight to old superstitions. The coldness of the people is much like the weather and the aloof way they deal with the disappearance of a well-known family is telling. Even the offhand way they think of the mines and the fact that the village is slowly sinking into the very thing that sustains the place and is slowly killing its residents tells you what sort of place it is. Day and Hammersmith aren’t prepared for the living in this place and yet it’s the dead that brought them there. Something is very wrong with not only the place but the people.

Then there are the secrets. Everyone in Blackhampton has something to hide be it an affair, a past, or a murder. People go missing in Blackhampton and there’s always a reason given and a reason accepted by the residents. It’s interesting to see how the village manages to block out change and progress yet holds dearly to old beliefs that no longer hold any ground.

Grecian’s first book made my to be read list when it came out. I didn’t get to it but jumped at the chance to read his second. I’m glad I did because it’s a satisfying read and I plan to go back and follow-up on the first book. It defiantly deserves a look. If you enjoy dark mysteries, The Black Country is worth a read.

 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 Black Country

Alex Grecian

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN: 9780399159336

 

Review – The Hollow Hills

The Hollow HillsThis is the second book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian legend series following The Crystal Cave. Some spoilers may apply.

Arthur is about to be born and Merlin is called on by Igraine and Uther to keep him safe, which he agrees to do until the time is right for the world to know of the new High King who will unite the land of Britain. Keeping a small child safe and well-hidden is not an easy task in a country fighting over land. When the time to reveal Arthur comes, Merlin is left in awe of the gods and Arthur as the new High King.

I love Arthurian legend and I liked The Crystal Cave very much. I’ve read only a few stories told with Merlin as the narrator and that was certainly a reason for picking up the series. However, this second book was extremely slow reading for me. At one point, I considered scrapping it and moving on but decided to keep going. I was rewarded in the end but there were way too many info dumps to get to that point. Stewart takes this story slow telling you everything about Merlin and repeating often told tales more than once. Yes, Merlin is the one telling you these things so he can explain how wrong it is or how valuable the tale is for the ages but, I don’t want all that. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many Arthurian based books that I get bored with the back story sometimes, but I don’t think that was the case here. Frankly, the first part of the book was just boring. Merlin is roaming around making sure no one knows about Arthur but it’s boring with him meandering around. When he finally settles down, and meets Arthur, it does get more interesting.

Also, I wanted more of the magic and there isn’t much of that here. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as I don’t usually want magic in these tales but honestly, I just wanted something, anything other than what I had here. It was slow moving, meandered just as badly as Merlin rambling about the countryside, and was just boring in parts. Yes, I know I already said that but if Merlin can do it, so can I.
Here’s the deal I made with myself about this series. I have the third book in my house. I will read it and if it gets better, I’ll turn to the library for the rest. If it bores more, the series is done but I can say I gave it a good try. My quest to read Arthurian legend has not come to an end and I’m hoping Stewart’s third book makes up for it.

Did you read this? Thoughts? If you liked it, I want to hear why. My opinion is not the last. Also, here’s my review of The Crystal Cave. As you can see, I loved the first book.

The Hollow Hills

By Mary Stewart

William Morrow & Company

Book Club Edition

 

Review – Palisades Park

Palisades ParkToday, something different — me gushing about book outside my normal reading habits.

I tend to read heavily in the fantasy and historical fiction genres but every once in awhile I like to step outside of my reading habits and try something new. Palisades Park was that something new. Let’s just say that stepping out of routine is a very good thing, because if I hadn’t taken that chance, I never would have found this book.

Eddie Stopka is a kid with dreams. Looking to escape an abusive step-father, he runs away as a teenager but he can’t stay away from his little hometown on the New Jersey coast for long. When he returns, he finds a job at the Palisades Amusement Park, a place that holds very happy childhood memories for him, and it’s there he meets the woman who will become his wife. Taking a chance, the two buy into a French fry stand at the park, start a family, and live a life. However, it’s their oldest child, a daughter named Toni, who is the true dreamer in the family. Having seen a woman high diver at the park, Toni immediately knows that’s what she wants to do when she grows up.

Even with her mother telling her women can’t be high divers, Toni persists. Her mother gives in enough to get her and her brother swimming lessons, but beyond that, doesn’t give much encouragement to her diving dreams. Toni, however, knows her heart and it sits at the top of the high platform in front of an audience.

I’m a character driven reader. Yes, plots are nice and I like when they stick together for a story to play out properly, but when characters are wonderful, I’m in for the duration. The Stopka family, well, even for all their faults and problems, they are a pleasure to be with. Also, Brennert manages to evoke such a sense of time and place in this story that I felt right at home with the characters and setting.

Brennert knows how to draw a reader in and keep them in the pages of the book. Palisades Park spans over 50 years and the characters are not immune to the world around them — WWII, Korean War — as well as smaller scale problems pertaining to family life and work. Even with all the years in between, the story doesn’t falter and the characters feel very genuine.

Palisades Park is what I think of as a soft-spoken book. There’s not always a great deal of happiness in the lives of the characters, and we are reminded that bad things do happen to even the best of people, but somewhere in all the mess that is life, there is a wonderful story. The laughter is tinged with a bit of bitterness, sometimes even sadness, but the dreams that are held dear, can sometimes come true. I like leaving a book with that kind of ending.

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.
Palisades Park

By Alan Brennert

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9780312643720

 

Review – The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the JinniOtto Rotfeld is a lonely man who wants a wife. Knowing his chances are nearly impossible with the women of his Polish village, he turns to an outsider to fulfill his request. A man who practices dark magic agrees to make him a wife of clay, a golem. The request is difficult to fill but the strange old man manages the creation, and shortly after, the golem and her master board a ship for America. Rotfeld wakes the golem on the ship but dies soon after leaving her to fend for herself in a world she doesn’t understand with no one to watch over her. After arriving at Ellis Island, the golem runs, inundated by the wants and needs of those crowded around her. Rabbi Meyer, a widower making his way in New York, spies the golem. Knowing what she is and fearing for not only the golem but those around her, he takes her in and names her Chava.

Maryam Faddoul is the heart of her Syrian neighborhood. One day, she takes an old copper flask, a family heirloom, to the local metal smith, Arbeely, to be repaired. While fixing the flask, Arbeely unknowingly releases a jinni. The jinni, now named Ahmed, has trouble living by the strict rules that govern human form. Chained by the spell that captured him hundreds of years ago, he can no longer take his true jinni form. He struggles to accept what little he can experience of life as a human. While roaming the dark streets of New York City he attempts to find a bit of freedom. It’s on one of these explorations that he meets Chava and becomes fascinated by her and what she is.

Mythical creatures struggling to fit into the daily life of 1890s New York City, Chava and Ahmed want to stay hidden but chafe at pretending to be human. Taking to the night, the two explore the city, grow close, and begin accepting that life will always be this way for them. When they are involved in a tragic event, their lives, and the lives of those around them, change forever. Choices are made, lives move forward, and the golem and jinni once more find ways to survive.

How can you not love a story about mythical creatures set in 1890s New York City? It’s such a rich story and I enjoyed how Chava and Ahmed fought to fit in. The Syrian and Jewish neighborhoods that take them in are full of incredible characters and their lives become mirror images of the immigrants around them.

Chava is particularly interesting in the way she fights not to fulfill every want and wish she is mentally bombarded by. Built to obey a master, but living without one, she learns to control the impulse to help everyone and fix everything. It’s painful and troubling but she endures. Ahmed, on the other hand, steeps himself in sorrow and self-pity longing for a former life far out of reach. It’s Chava who teaches him there’s more to being human than what he believes. It’s the limitations of these mythical creatures that make them human.

Wecker does a fine job of pulling strings in this story. What might feel like several story lines is really one very long tale that twists and turns but never tangles. It’s an incredible web that draws people together in ways never imagined. There’s nothing better than a story like that. This may be a story of mythical creatures, but in the end, it’s a story of people adjusting to new lives and learning how to fit in. The simplicity of that is what makes this wonderful.

I don’t usually go in for book trailers, but why not, here’s the trailer for The Golem and the Jinni.

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 Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker

Harper

ISBN: 9780062110831