Monday, November 30, 2009

Dutch - Terri Woods

Teri Woods
Grand Central Publishing


He’s not even thirty, but Bernard James, Jr (Dutch) is already one of the most notorious and feared criminals in New Jersey. He was stealing cars with his own crew since long before it was legal for him to drive one. That’s why his friends were confused about his job at a pizza joint. He started sweeping up just for food and a few dollars here and there. Later, it became clear that he was there because the owner of the place had mob ties. Dutch has always understood and respected power.

As the story begins, he’s on trial for his life, accused of a string of brutal murders. The prosecutor is hoping to make his career on this case. The defense attorney is just hoping to get through the trial. Dutch, as usual, seems curiously detached. The story is told mostly in flashbacks, going back as far as the riots of 1967 that changed his mother’s life and led to his birth.

Readers who have a problem with coarse language will want to skip this one, sadly. The dialogue is written very much in the style of what you’d expect to hear from young urban criminals. Dutch makes no bones about what he’s done and who he is and he asks for no sympathy from the reader or from anyone else. His friends are mainly from his youth, including the one female member of his crew, Angel, who later organized her own crew, dubbing them “Angel’s Charlies.” This world may not be familiar to most readers, but the characters are all complex and realistic. There’s more to come in this story, and I’m interested to see where the author takes things next.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2009
ISBN# 978-0-446-55153-3 (trade paperback)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ariel - Steven R. Boyett

A Novel Of The Change
Steven R. Boyett

Urban Fantasy

This is a reprint of a novel that is widely considered a classic of its kind. I missed it the first time around (1983) so I’m glad to have a chance to read it now. For those who read it for the first time decades ago, there’s an extensive Afterword by the author, discussing how the novel came to be.

About five years before the novel begins, on an ordinary day and with no warning, The Change happened. Everything powered by electricity stopped working. Cars and machines simply stopped. Most people thought it was some temporary power outage, but the power never returned. The laws of physics had changed. Creatures from fairy tales began to appear. There was no explanation for any of this; people were simply left to cope with the aftermath.

Pete Garey was in high school when it happened. Now he wanders the country, staying out of large cities unless it’s unavoidable. It’s just safer that way. He’s learned to hunt and scavenge. And he knows that magic exists. He’s heard of unicorns, but never got close to one. Until the day she arrived with a broken leg. She could speak to him. He named her Ariel and she became his Familiar. They traveled together until they made the mistake of entering a largish town. Too many people got a look at her and word spread. A unicorn’s horn holds immense power, and there are plenty of people who might want to get hold of it. One man in particular, a necromancer in New York City, is willing to do whatever it takes to get that power.

This novel was an urban fantasy before the term was coined. It’s part fantasy and part post-apocalypse road novel. There are things in the book that are clearly dated; that no longer exist. They in no way detract from the enjoyment of the story. It’s remarkable how realistic most of the characters are, given the setting and circumstances. There are fantastical creatures here; there’s magic; and there are very human emotions and interactions that have always been, and will always be, no matter what kind of world surrounds us.

Rating: 8
September 2009 (reprint from 1983)
ISBN# 978-0-441-01794-2 (paperback)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sins Of The Flesh - Caridad Pineiro

Sins Of The Flesh
Caridad Pineiro
Forever/Grand Central

Paranormal Romantic Suspense

This book crystallizes why I have a bit of a problem with romantic suspense novels. Because there’s absolutely no suspense on the ‘romance’ angle. Case in point: Mick, who we’re told is an emotionless guy who’s been everything from an Army Ranger to an EMT, is now in the business of “solving problems” for wealthy clients. Clearly, said solutions routinely require killing the problem. He’s hired to find one Catherine Shaw, and told that she’s killed someone in a fit of rage brought on by gene therapy gone awry. There are pictures of the dismembered corpse to back up the claims. Mick is being paid to find the crazy woman and cap her. But he can’t, because before he’s even a couple of hours into the job, he’s already totally in love with her because she’s just so beautiful and tragic. No suspense.

Catherine is the far more interesting character. She’s a world-famous cellist felled by a brain tumor. When we meet her, the tumor has taken her sight, but she still manages to play by ear. She even has a friend in the symphony who helps her with new pieces. It’s clear that she’s in the final stages of her disease and it makes sense that she’d agree to experimental gene therapy. The fact that it might restore her sight is just gravy.

The next time we see Cat, she’s running around outside, naked, having escaped from the medical facility. She doesn’t quite know what’s going on, but she has fractured memories of a bloody corpse. Her sight has returned, but she’s seeing strange colors and can’t remember what’s happening to her. She stubs her toe and bleeds yellow-green blood. She knows that’s wrong. She hides behind a tree, looks down at herself, and realizes that her skin echoes the tone of whatever she touches. That’s wrong, too.

Quite early on, Cat and Mick end up in each other’s company when he rescues her from some second-string killer sent in because the client doesn’t trust Mick to do his job. Because she’s injured, Mick calls his sister, Liliana, who’s a doctor in an abusive relationship with a surgeon. I admit that I found the two relationships disturbingly similar. Liliana is being abused but is afraid to leave because her abuser is in a position of power over her career. Cat is weak, terrified, desperate and damaged; and Mick is ok with moving in on her while he’s supposedly protecting her. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it made me uncomfortable.

The rest of the novel centers on finding out exactly what happened to Cat and figuring out what to do about it. Liliana is instrumental in those efforts and is a wonderful supporting player. The complexity of her personal life makes her relatable on a level that Cat is not. There’s a good dose of action and speculative science here, too. I found that to be far more interesting than the romance. Sadly, for me, these two storylines worked against each other instead of being complements. The story has a great premise, a lot of promise, and keeps the pages turning, but, for reasons detailed above, it ultimately it fell flat for me.

Rating: 6
November 2009
ISBN# 978-0-446-54383-5 (paperback)

Monday, November 16, 2009

DIal Om For Murder - Diane Killian

Dial Om For Murder
A Mantra For Murder Mystery
Diana Killian
Berkley Prime Crime


Life has changed quite a bit lately for A.J. Alexander. She’s traded her fast-paced life as head of her own PR firm for a life of (supposedly) peace and calm as the new owner of the Sacred Balance Studio. Her Aunt Di left her the yoga studio and a new way of life. The one snag is her annoying co-manager, who was also specified in the will. And her ex-husband, who finally admitted that he was gay, but still wants to be best friends. And, of course, her irrepressible mother Elysia, a former actress.

And let’s not forget her two “star” clients. One is Nicole Manning, who actually has a TV series and a few movies on her resume. The other is Barbie Siragusa, whose mob boss husband is serving a prison term while she makes her own reality show. The morning’s first crisis arises when Nicole calls in a panic, having left her $3,000 cell phone (it’s gold plated, of course) in the locker room. And she simply must have it right now, since she’s expecting a call from a producer. After finding the ridiculous phone, A.J. ends up running it out to Nicole’s home, but only after another run-in with Barbie about A.J.’s refusal to allow a reality show film crew into her yoga classes.

Nicole’s house is a madhouse, with florists and caterers and who knows who running around, preparing for a party that evening. A redhead nearly bowls A.J. over on her way inside. She finds Nicole in her home office. Unfortunately, she finds her dead, having been hit over the head with an ice sculpture. With all the commotion, it could have been anyone. Barbie hated Nicole, feeling that one of her most famous roles was based on Barbie’s life. And the police are looking for the president of Nicole’s fan club. The club set up by A.J.’s PR firm and run by a woman who apparently doesn’t exist. If this is peace and serenity, the wilds of the PR business are looking pretty good.

This is a great follow-up to the first book in the series, CORPSE POSE, and new readers will have no problems getting up to speed with the characters and their background. The one quibble I have is Elysia as the ‘meddling mother’ character. The plot and characters were ticking along quite nicely without her, in my opinion, until she makes her grand appearance about a third of the way through the novel. Her brand of comic relief just seemed somewhat out of place and unnecessary.

Very much on the plus side, the mystery gets started right away, and the suspect pool is satisfyingly large and diverse. Added to this is a subplot about Andy, A.J.’s ex, who comes for a surprise visit, looking the worse for wear. A.J. is a great character, and very realistic as a woman whose life was thrown completely off-track. She’s got her new life and yoga studio, and she’s making it work with no whining or excuses, even in the face of a murder investigation and reality TV cameras. I’m really enjoying this series.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-27705-3

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dawnkeepers - Jessica Andersen

A Novel Of The Final Prophecy
Jessica Andersen
Signet Eclipse

Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy

Picking up just after the events detailed in NIGHTKEEPERS, this sequel continues the story of a small group of people, composed of the descendants of the Mayan Nightkeepers, who are responsible for stopping the demons from coming to earth during the great conjunction scheduled for December 2012. There’s plenty to do before that date; at each equinox, the barrier between the worlds thins, making it possible for various demons to make their way to our world and cause destruction.

For those new to the series, the necessary background in sketched in where necessary. This is a new day, and a new fight. This time, the story centers on Nate Blackhawk, a man who was not raised in the traditions of his people and has very little use for them. Until the other Nightkeepers found him, he’d been in and out of foster homes and jail before starting his own computer game company. There are so few Nightkeepers left that they need everyone, but Nate believes in choosing his own destiny; not that mapped out for him by ancient gods.

The other half of the pair this time is Alexis Gray, a businesswoman who was raised on tales of the gods and the prophecies. She accepts her place in the group, and is frustrated that Nate cannot. In fact, the reader will sympathize with her. Nate spends so much time mouthing off about how he makes his own destiny, and comparing Alexis to the hot Viking woman in his computer games, it gets repetitive and more than a bit insulting to Alexis. Alexis has more faith in fate than she probably should, though, and continues along her path.

The first novel was, necessarily, full of information about Mayan legends and gods and demons. This time, there’s a lot of time spent going on various ‘missions’ that never seem to pan out and feel a lot like filler. There’s an interesting subplot here, concerning Rabbit, the half-blood Nightkeeper and sullen teen, but his story is clearly to be continued in future volumes. This one suffers a bit from the sophomore slump, but anyone who enjoys paranormals or, specifically, Mayan mythology will be entertained nonetheless. The last battle of the novel is epic, and makes me curious to see what else the author’ s got up her sleeve.

Rating: 7
January 2009
ISBN# 978-0-451-22575-7 (paperback)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Fall Of Eden - Richard Michaels

The Fall Of Eden
Richard Michaels


There’s an old saw that tells us that civilization is really only three hot meals away from anarchy. When Charles Spencer and his family boarded a plane to St. Bart’s, civilization was, too all appearances, ticking along nicely. By the time they landed, it was gone forever. The news is spotty, garbled, and slow to arrive, but soon it’s clear that some nuclear exchange has destroyed most of the northern hemisphere. What isn’t gone is left in charred, irradiated ruin.

News like that is hard to take in, and Charles, being an English professor and cautious by nature, wants to take the wait-and-see approach. His younger brother, Dan, a military man like their father, has no plans to wait. Almost instantly upon hearing the news, he arms himself and secures the food and water supplies at their resort destination by enlisting most of the staff. While he’s appalled at the time, Charles admits that, later, he would come to truly respect his brother’s quick thinking.

The characters here are all located in a beautiful tropical paradise when they hear the news; that makes the reality that much more distant and surreal. Charles’ daughter, Chloe, finally believes it when she can’t reach anyone at all on her cell phone. Charles is the type of guy who values his education above all else, and desperately wishes that he could use simple logic to make survival decisions – and feel good about them. Mixed in all this is dealing with his father’s disapproval over his academic-track life and his brother’s apparent feelings of superiority due to his time in the military. It makes a sad sort of sense that, even at the end of the world, he’s still got to deal with family issues that began when he was a child.

THE FALL OF EDEN a very believable and disturbing account of an Everyman facing the end of civilization (and possibly humanity) as he knows it, and doing his best to live to see tomorrow. Charles is always unsure that this ‘new’ him is a better him; maybe it’s just him, regressed to a savage state. He tells the story in first-person, and while there’s quite a bit of introspection (when better than when the world ends?) there’s still plenty of action, and some plot twists that I never saw coming. The story ends fairly abruptly, but even that seemed to fit with the slightly disjointed feel of this not-so-brave new world.

Rating: 8
November 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22994-1 (trade paperback)

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Gray Man - Mark Greaney

The Gray Man
Mark Greaney


The bare bones of this story are surprisingly simple. An elite contract killer becomes the hunted when his handler’s family is kidnapped and threatened with death. That says everything and nothing about this novel. The contract killer in question, Court Gentry, is used to using his head to get out of tight spots and life-threatening places. But the people coming after him now are coming from all over the globe, and he’s not sure if he can actually trust Sir Donald, his contact.

The action begins on the first page and never really stops. Court moves from the Middle East through various parts of Europe. His goal is the French country house where Sir Donald and his family are being held. He’s on his own against hit squads from countries all over the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Jason Bourne only wishes he were as good as Court Gentry.

I cannot speak to the accuracy of the various weapons and munitions used throughout the novel. I don’t care about that. I will not say that this is a completely believable down-to-earth story. I don’t care about that, either. This is escapist fiction at its best: Virtually non-stop action, starring a man who seems unstoppable. It’s to the author’s credit that he manages to hold the suspense throughout the novel. There’s no telling, until the final page whether Court will win or lose. Don’t start this one late at night if you need to get up early; the pages practically turn themselves.

Rating: 8
October 2009
ISBN# 978-0-515-4701-8 (paperback)