"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Gingerbread Man by Maggie Shayne

“My darkness is squatting like a demon, right around the next corner, lurking in every shadow, just waiting for me to slip. And when I do it’s gonna grab me, Vince, and I don’t know if I can fight my way free the next time it does.”

Maggie’s Shayne’s  The Gingerbread Man, opens with Vince O’Mally, a smart detective who has trouble separating himself from his victims. He’s haunted by Sara Prague, a mother who is determined not to let the cop forget her missing kids, and makes him promise her that he won’t rest until they’re found. Vince O’Mally does the unthinkable; he promises her that everything will be alright. When it turns out to be a promise he can’t keep, he gets forced into a 30 day leave and finds himself following leads on his own time.

Holly Newman is a cleric at the Dilmun Police Department; Dilmun is a small town in New York where the community is tight and nothing bad ever happens. She suffers from OCD and panic attacks brought on by PTSD, brought on by the one time something bad did happen in Dilmun. In 1983, Holly Newman escaped an attempted kidnapping, but her little sister Ivy, wasn’t so lucky. Holly had to overcome the trauma of witnessing her sister’s abduction, and put her life back together. Now rude Detective Vince O’Mally threatens her peace of mind.

I have both good things and bad things to say about this story; I’m starting with the good.

First the writing: Maggie Shayne had a vision for a mystery and she brought it to life. I’m not criticizing that. The story starts slow and picks up speed; there’s a serial pedophile on the loose and he’s murdering his victims. Two characters from different worlds with troubled pasts, find themselves obsessed with catching the creep. And MS knows what it takes to keep the reader reading: a dark crime, some complex characters, a little misdirection here an attempted murder there… I didn’t guess ahead by the way (I certainly tried). I know some reviews are saying they knew at the 25% marker. At the 25% marker I was staring suspiciously at the misdirect, but I didn’t know. And it makes me question whether the people who say they knew ever finished the book. The only part about the story I found hard to believe, was the idea that a mother wouldn’t recognize her own daughter.

Now. The editing. I’m not stupid. I know not everybody who writes, makes it rich. I know professional editors are expensive. But what stops this Maggie Shayne from printing/emailing out a dozen copies to trusted friends and family and saying, “Hey, read through this, when you have time. Highlight spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, dropped punctuation. Notate repetitive phrases, story discrepancies-- anything you’re not sure of and want me to double check its correctness…” Because as close to Maggie Shayne gets to perfect, it isn’t perfect. There were spelling mistakes; silly ones. There were dropped punctuation marks. There were unnecessarily repetitive phrases that subtracted from character complexity…The most obvious being Vince’s aversion to “needy women” that “needy was dangerous”. There had to be more than one way to word his fears and yet we read the same thing again and again and again; it makes Vince sound like a shallow idiot.

If Maggie Shayne’s mystery plot was undoubtedly a slam dunk, then she butchered her romantic subplot like a zombie ripping out Dale’s large intestine (Walking Dead fans will get that). I loved the mystery but I struggle to understand the romantic elements, most of which were cliché. In The Gingerbread Man (and other novels by other authors), romance is again defined as the art of behaving like a douche to your potential significant other and having them love you more for it. I don’t get it and it pisses me off. Don’t forget the heroine is also a Virgin. I just don’t get it. And Virgin is synonymous for (In-The-Closet) Porn Star. And I don’t get it. He says he won’t love you, but don’t worry he’ll change his mind once he sees you naked. I don’t get it.

I give this three stars. Could have been a four star rating with some editing. Could have been five stars if the romantic aspects had been better thought out. But over all, I enjoyed this story enough to consider reading more from this author.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dust by Hugh Howey

Dust (Silo #3) by Hugh Howey

“Our actions, you know? They last forever. Whatever we do, it’ll always be what we did. There’s no taking them back.”

In Wool we’re introduced to the world of Silo 18; people have fled an inhospitable environment to live underground. They’ve forgotten the world they come from and anyone who dreams of returning to it, is forced out. Shift introduced us to the world of corrupt political heads who are willing to get what they want by any means necessary, as well as the survivors of failed Silo 17.

Dust brings us back to present time in the Silo Saga universe, with Juliette as the newly elected Mayor of Silo 18. Juliette is determined to dig; she wants to expand the Silo 18 and claim 17,  she wants to rescue her new friends and prove to everyone else that she isn’t crazy. Lukas is torn between his love for Juliette and his duties to the Silo as the new head of IT; he’s worried the Juliette is creating too much fear and that the Silo is headed for another uprising.

Donald is still awake in Silo 1, still conspiring with his sister Charlotte, but now he’s running out of time. He’s slowly dying, he can’t keep lying about the noise coming from Silo 18, and the cryogenically frozen body of an attempted murder victim just turned up. Charlotte is flying her drones over the Silo farm, looking to see what lies beyond it, if anything.

Lukas and Donald can’t let Silo 1 become suspicious. All it would take is a little suspicion to trigger the push of a button that would end all life in Silo 18. And Juliette is determined to sever Silo 1’s control over her home…

This story has the suspense that Shift lacked, along with an ominous Us vs. Them feel. Silo 1 and Silo 18 are battling for their right to survive the apocalypse, their right to live and die as they choose. Juliette is struggling with the choices she must make to do what is right; the choice between right and wrong never seemed so cruel. The right think might get her killed but the wrong thing will keep thousands of people enslaved. And the ending… It was kind of perfect if you don’t mind the predictability of the triumph of good over evil, which I don’t.

The only question I was left with at the end of this series: What was Thurman’s problem with dogs? He literally wrote the book on surviving the end of the world, and provided the survivors with resources, including the livestock… So why are they eating dog? How were they mislabeled “food” instead of “man’s best friend”? Thurman just doesn't make those mistakes…although, given the events of the story I suppose he wasn't the most sane or reasonable person to begin with…

Rating 5/5

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten in 2014 (so far!)

My picks for the Tuesday Top Ten, as invented by The Broke and Bookish. This week's theme is Top Ten Books I Read in 2014. I haven't done one of these in awhile, stuck in a dry, crusty, reading drought. I planned on a reading 30 books this year, via the GoodReads challenges, I've read 17 even though the GR-Challenge Widget appears to be stuck on 14. I'm probably not going to make 30, but I'm going to give it a go. In the meantime, these are my ten favorite so far!


1, 2,and 3 are going to Patrick Ness's YA, Sci-fi novels, the Chaos Walking trilogy.

4, 5, and 6 are going to Hugh Howey's Silo Saga.

7. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

9. Parasite by Mira Grant. (I can't wait for the sequel!)

10. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. This magical novel pulled me out of my dry spell!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Defending Jacob by William Landay

“Desire, love hate, fear, repulsion--you feel these things in your muscle and bones, not just in your mind. That is how this little heartbreak felt: like a physical injury, deep inside my body, an internal bleeding, a nick that would continue to seep.”

One morning, a young boy is found murdered, stabbed to death in the park. It’s a horrifying crime in suburban Massachusetts, but it’s business as usual for Assistant District Attorney Andrew Barber. Andy sets out to investigate and prosecute the crime himself, but an ambitious young colleague, is about to blindside him. Neal Logiudice is climbing his way to the top; he knows the case is high profile and he sees his chance to make a name for himself. Neal wants to follow the evidence straight back to Andy’s own son, Jacob. Andrew, finding himself pushed out of a job, must figure out how to save his son and hold his family together…

I couldn’t put this book down. I admit it’s a slow burner; it isn’t a fast paced, overwhelmingly eventful crime novel, but the crime is horrifying and the evidence trickles out tantalizingly slow through a wall of emotional, psychological, and biological character angst. William Landay gives just enough to keep the reader on the hook and no more.

Most of the story swaps between Andy Barber’s home life and Jacob’s trial; and it’s sort of perfect that way. You get to know the characters more than you know the crime; the characters are rich multi-faceted people. Andrew is convinced of Jacob’s innocence while his wife Laura is convince of her son’s guilt. They’re mirror images; Andy’s confidence and professional coldness are contrasted by Laura’s nerves and motherly warmth. Under the stress of a murder trial their marriage fractures, heals, fractures some more. The accusations against Jacob bring up painful memories of the murderous relatives Andy tried so hard forget, and he is forced to confront those memories by a wife who is starting to blame him for Jacob’s problems. You’re seeing him struggle with his past and his present all at once, trying to hold onto a marriage founded on lies, trying to keep his son out of prison, and it’s all at once heartbreaking. You want things to work out. You know they can’t. This story isn’t set for a happy ending because no matter the verdict, someone is going to lose.

The best and worst moment of this book was the surprise ending. I was really surprised! And I hated it. It pissed me off. Had I been holding a paperback instead of a Kindle I’d a chucked the effing thing at a wall in a rage. I also loved it. I loved it because it was a beautiful bit of betrayal. Just as WL is tying things up nice and neat and you think its over, he throws in doubt and something so much worse. Nurture vs. Nature. WL presents a terrifying argument and leaves the answer open to reader opinion.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, December 5, 2014

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

“Peter Lake had no illusions about mortality. He knew that it made everyone perfectly equal, and that the treasures of the earth were movement, courage, laughter, and love. The wealthy could not buy these things. On the contrary, they were for the taking.”

Winter’s Tale starts with as a poetic an image any fairy-tale could manage: a white horse traveling through scenic New York City on perfectly snow covered dawn. This is a story of winter romance, magic and miracles, good vs. evil, spanning the industrial age to modern times, as the characters search for reason and justice in the world.

My initial reaction to the book? If you liked Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, or any of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, you’ll probably love this story. The painstaking attention to surreal descriptions and the weaving of the fantastic into a canvas as bleak as a city filled with violence and sickness…Well, it dragged me right down to a time where a person could believe anything was possible… Instead of this digital age where a thousand voices across the internet can assure you it simply isn’t.

My second reaction to this book? This is a story best reviewed by introducing the characters; as the plot is very character driven it would otherwise be impossible to explain the book without spoiling the story completely.

The story starts with Athansor, although he won’t be known by that name until later. He’s a great white stallion, bigger than any draft, grander than any warhorse, with a jump so big bystanders think he flies. Obviously, Athansor is no ordinary horse. He chooses to help Peter Lake, tying His Holy Horseyness to the mortal coil--sort of.

Peter Lake is an Irish immigrant who finds himself frequently on the sad side of abandonment. His parents left him as an infant when they were turned away from Ellis Island and his second family rejects him, when they believe he’s old enough to fend for himself. Constantly losing those he trusts, Peter Lake must struggle to choose the right course of action and he grows up to become a master mechanic… He also becomes a professional burglar; hunted by a vicious gangster, Pearly Soames. Tired of running, he takes his white horse to the Penn estate, ready for one last score.

He just wants to rob the house, but his plan is foiled by Beverly Penn. Beverly Penn is home alone while her family has left for their vacation house at The Lake of the Coheeries. Dying of tuberculosis, she’s an heiress who will never spend her fortune; she sleeps on the roof to keep the fever away, counting stars and dreaming up deities in math equations. Peter and Beverly seem destined for one another and Beverly won’t abandon Peter Lake.

Then enter a character that is actually another setting. The Lake of the Coheeries, where the Penn vacation house is located. The Lake of the Coheeries is basically a fairyland of sorts… Like any exotic local in Pirate’s of the Caribbean, The Lake of the Coheeries is a place that can best be found by honest accident or by those who already know its location. Usually on a moonlit winter night. And of course it won’t be on any map, so Beverly must show Peter the way if he’s to meet her family.

Here is where I leave you, if only to avoid spoilers, to talk about a different set of characters who play an integral part in NYC and whose lives seem tied to Athansor and Peter. First the ominous architect Jackson Mead--though you feel free to draw your own conclusions-- I believe is Lucifer in disguise and he' absolutely obsessed with building bridges. His Henchmen, Reverend Mootfowl (who just happened to be Peter Lake’s mentor) and Cecil Mature (Peter’s most loyal friend). And of course Pearly Soames, hell bent on killing Peter. As Peter falls through time and space swept up in winter magic; these four morally flawed characters haunt his footsteps. Whoever they are, they undeniably reinforce the notion that Peter Lake, despite his flaws, is definitely the Good Guy.

Skipping forward to the future, we get new characters who will inevitably find themselves tied to a man who’s supposed to be dead. Hardesty Marrata and Virginia Gamely. Hardesty could have been an heir, but he gave away a vast fortune to travel the world in search of a “perfectly just city” and instead he found New York City and Virginia Gamely. Virginia Gamely, Coheeries-born, is a passionate journalist with a son from a failed marriage and a big heart. What they have in common, they were hired almost instantly by Harry Penn.

Ancient Harry Penn is Beverly’s younger brother who having survived the breakdown of his family and serving his country, has returned to NYC to run two flourishing newspapers. He offers Hardesty and Virginia employment; and will later, unknowingly employ Peter Lake, tying several generations together as the city begins to burn.

The plot is a character-journey-story to support themes that are probably open to interpretation depending on the reader. (To  me this is the most Fitzgerald-y.) For me, it’s about the possibility of miracles being most possible when you can believe that they exist; with religious undertones that are enhanced by several deity like characters. Second, I believe it’s a round about way of saying love conquers all and that good will triumph over evil, even if good isn’t as good as good could be…After all, part of being human is being flawed. Nobody’s perfect, not even if you live forever. Thirdly, I think Hardesty and Virginia subplots are there to remind people to embrace risk; had either one of them embraced the easy choices, neither would have met.

I give this book a 4/5 because I prefer a more concrete ending than I received. And while the ending wasn't my preference, I understood why the story was left open... since I did draw my own conclusions about what happened and why. So I say it again. This is a fantastic read if you like magic, great characters, flower descriptions, and a plot that encourages the reader to think and believe...If you're looking for something a bit more "modern" or "easy" (there's nothing wrong with that) this probably isn't the book for you.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Quotable Thursday

I just finished reading Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin after breaking free of a reading drought. Beautiful story if you're looking for something that will add a little bit of magic to your life. While I type up a review, here's a long overdue couple of quotes.

"The city was like war--battles raged all around, and desperate men were on the street in crawling legions. He had heard the Baymen tell of war, but they had never said it could be harnessed, its head held down, and made to run in place."

And later:

"Lonely people have enthusiasms which cannot always be explained. When something strikes them as funny, the intensity and length of their laughter mirrors the depth of their loneliness, and they are capable of laughing like hyenas. When something touches their emotions, it runs through them like Paul Revere, awakening feelings that gather into great armies..."

Check back soon for the full review!

Quotable Thursday originally brought to you by Bookshelf Fantasies.