Always

Always

156930 “Always” by Nicola Griffith

Synopsis: Aud Torvingen is back — contemporary fiction’s toughest, most emotionally complicated noir hero returns to teach a new round of lessons in hard-hitting justice, and to confront new adversaries: her own vulnerability and desire.

The steely shell of Nicola Griffith’s seemingly indomitable protagonist Aud Torvingen appears to be cracking. The six-foot-tall fury (who proved in The Blue Place and Stay that she can kill you as easily as look at you) is shaken by the shocking consequences of the self-defense class she’s been teaching, and her investigation of what seems to be run-of-the-mill real-estate fraud is turning out to be more than she bargained for.

Always brilliantly intertwines the dramatic episodes of Aud’s class with the increasingly complicated investigation that introduces Aud to the limits of self-reliance, and to the scary and beautiful prospect of allowing oneself to depend on other people. What emerges is a thrilling, thoroughly engrossing novel that imbues Griffith’s “classic noir hero” (The New York Times Book Review) with an emotional complexity that far exceeds the boundaries of the genre, and will push Griffith to her well-deserved place at the front rank of new-wave literary crime writers.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

Nicola Griffith is still fairly new to me as an author and quite frankly, I have been missing out.

“Always” is the third book in the Aud Torvingen series and while it can stand as a read-alone book, it does help to read the first two. This is a very fast paced thriller set in Seattle, with an additional story line set in Atlanta.

Let me say, right up front, that I am more than a little in love with Aud. She’s completely self-contained to the point she’s mostly unaware of how people and emotions work. She’s a martial arts expert. She teaches self-defense to a group of women who desperately need it. And, at least in this book, she has to figure out how to be vulnerable.

There are so many parallels between Aud and the author, Nicola Griffith. Griffith lives in Seattle with her partner, taught self-defense classes, and is living with MS which also features prominently in this book. Aud is very real as a character because Griffith is able to draw on so many of her own real life experiences without having to just do research on the subject.

What I liked: Again, this can be read as a stand alone book. There are two separate story lines taking place – one in the present in Seattle and the other taking place in Atlanta just before Aud travels to Seattle. The plot switches between the two but there is never an interruption of the flow of the story.

Aud seems to be a bit of a sociopath at times because her responses are a little off the mark and she does not hesitate to do what she feels needs to be done. There were a few shocking moments in this book which I won’t ruin with a spoiler that speak directly to her personality. She’s extraordinarily pragmatic and sees the world in black and white, no grey areas. She’s also terribly damaged and I feel so protective of her, even though she could kill me with her bare hands.

In the Atlanta story line, she is teaching a group of  women self-defense. Aud knows by body language, and words left unsaid who in the group has been brutalized and why they are there. This was a fantastic plot for me and I would have enjoyed reading more about them. Griffith writes so powerfully about how women have been trained from a young age to be “nice” even when our gut instinct is to run. It really made me think.

The Seattle story line is the main plot in this book and that’s where we spend most of our time reading. Aud travels there to check on her real estate investments and ends up caught in her own mystery. There is a new relationship for Aud and I enjoyed reading how her her need for power in all things wars with her new found feelings.

What I did not like: There is a lot of real estate scamming going on that I have zero interest in and zero understanding of. I skimmed much of it.

I loved this book and loved the series. If you are looking for a mystery thriller that features a six-foot lesbian who knows ten different ways to kill you with her bare hands, this book is for you!

The cover art is some of the worst I have ever seen. A fist. A purple fist. Purple maybe as an analogy for a bruise? The fist coming right at you? I like to think about what’s inside the book, not have to figure out what the cover might mean.

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Ashley Bell

Ashley Bell

25241477 “Ashley Bell” by Dean Koontz

Synopsis: At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.

Unprecedented in scope, infinite in heart, Ashley Bell is a magnificent achievement that will capture lovers of dark psychological suspense, literary thrillers, and modern classics of mystery and adventure. Beautifully written, at once lyrical and as fast as a bullet, here is the most irresistible novel of the decade.

*******

3 out of 5 stars

I do like Dean Koontz. I like his writing in spite of the fact that for the last decade or so, all of his books have a religious bent and a golden retriever. That ever present golden retriever makes me feel like I read the same book over and over even when the plot is entirely different.

This book has such a great premise that, sadly, does not quite live up to my expectations. Bibi Blair is our main character and a spunky twenty-two year old surfer girl. She is diagnosed with inoperable, terminal brain cancer. Two days later, she is completely cured.

What I liked: Bibi’s story is interesting, and for the most part, original. She is sent on a quest to find the illusive “Ashley Bell” whose life she is destined to save. There are nefarious characters who are hell-bent on stopping her along the way. Bibi is a likable character and she has a rich inner monologue that this book depends a great deal on.

I really liked, and would have loved to learn more about, her relationship with her Grandfather, the Captain. There were things hinted at and alluded to that I really needed spelled out, but the relationship felt real when reading about it.

Koontz is also, as always, very descriptive and does a great job of building this world, both internal and external.

What I didn’t like: There is a huge plot twist that I really needed earlier in the book for it to make more sense. I’m all about leaving the surprise till the end, but this particular twist needed an early reveal for a smoother plot. Bibi’s parents are also surfers and the book is littered with surfer lingo. Or, what Koontz perceives as surfer lingo. No surfer I have ever known, and I have known a few, has ever spoken like that. It did not translate well.

This is a giant of a book. I love my epic reads, but there was a lot of wasted space there in the middle. Lots of reading and not really going anywhere. 130 chapters.

Bibi’s fiance was essentially a non-character for me. I did not connect with him at all and honestly skipped many of his early chapters.

So, why did I give this book three stars? I did like it, I just was disappointed. I have been disappointed in most of the recent Koontz books I’ve read come to think of it. It was a good book but could have been so much better.

The cover … meh.

The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char

23363928 “The Library at Mount Char” by Scott Hawkins

Synopsis: Carolyn’s not so different from the other human beings around her. She’s sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.
After all, she was a normal American herself, once.
That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.
Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.
In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn’t gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient Pelapi customs. They’ve studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.
Sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.
But Carolyn can win. She’s sure of it. What she doesn’t realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she’s forgotten a great deal about being human.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

Well, crap. I haven’t the faintest idea of how to begin to review this book.

I don’t suppose I can leave it at, “It’s amazing, go read it immediately.”

I’m going to start with what I liked most about this book.

The world building is fantastic. To create an entire new world, new mythos, new philosophy in one book is hard and it’s exceptionally well done here. This falls into the fantasy genre quite simply because there is no where else to put it. Fantasy, sci-fi, historical, dystopian, horror, speculative – I think it fits all those genres.

Carolyn is our main character in this book but many of the other characters get equal play. Parts of the book are disturbing, parts are laugh out loud hilarious (remind me that in real life I can’t bitch-slap a lion). She goes through quite the metamorphosis through the story and it’s wonderful to read her development.

The character development is well thought out. There doesn’t seem to be much thought given to them at first, and then you find that you are incredibly invested in everyone in the book.

There is a lot of gore in this book. Descriptions of killing and of torture and of abuse. Somehow it makes sense that it’s here and necessary to the story. It’s violent but not gratuitous.

The one thing I didn’t like was that it took me a good 50 pages to really get hooked by this book. Normally I give up very quickly, but I am so glad I stuck with this one. I know I keep saying amazing but I don’t have any other words for this.

Again, I have no idea how to review “Library”. I don’t know where it fits, who should read it, and how to think about it. I just know I loved it and will definitely reread in the future.

The cover is …

… wait for it …

… amazing.

 

 

Trans-Sister Radio

Trans-Sister Radio

126814 “Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian

Synopsis: With Trans-Sister Radio, Chris Bohjalian, author of the bestseller Midwives, again confronts his very human characters with issues larger than themselves, here tackling the explosive issue of gender.

When Allison Banks develops a crush on Dana Stevens, she knows that he will give her what she needs most: attention, gentleness, kindness, passion. Her daughter, Carly, enthusiastically witnesses the change in her mother. But then a few months into their relationship, Dana tells Allison his secret: he has always been certain that he is a woman born into the wrong skin, and soon he will have a sex-change operation. Allison, overwhelmed by the depth of her passion, and finds herself unable to leave Dana. By deciding to stay, she finds she must confront questions most people never even consider. Not only will her own life and Carly’s be irrevocably changed, she will have to contend with the outrage of a small Vermont community and come to terms with her lover’s new body–hoping against hope that her love will transcend the physical.

*****

2 out of 5 stars

I really had high hopes for this book, even though the title is a tortured pun. Unfortunately, I feel underwhelmed.

The story is told from four different view points; that of Dana who ends up in a relationship with Allison right before going through gender reassignment surgery. Allison, who is a divorced grade school teacher and the mother of teen aged Carly. Carly who dealing with her mother’s lover as she leaves for college, and lastly Will, Carly’s father and Allison’s ex-husband.

Let’s begin with what I liked. My favorite thing about this book was the internal struggle that Allison goes through. Her male lover transitions into her female lover and she really struggles with that as she is not a lesbian. She never sees Dana as something other than what she is – a woman after the surgery and Allison deeply mourns that. I often feel that in relationships where one partner transitions, there is huge pressure for the remaining partner to stay in the relationship even if that’s not the right thing for them. I felt that this part of the story was realistic and sensitively written.

Trans-phobia is also a huge issue in this story. It’s set in a small town and the townspeople are not happy that a deviant, a man in a dress is parading around their town and making a mockery of them. Allison feels immense pressure to leave her job and is even asked to move out of the center of town so no one has to see her and Dana together. The towns people are brutal and friends quickly become enemies. It’s scary how quickly that shifted in the book, and eye opening.

I didn’t like a couple of things. One glaring thing is the use of the words “tranny” and “trannies”. Those words are typically used as derogatory terms. I understand the need to take back certain words, especially in the LQBTQIA+ community, but this was not an appropriate forum.

Also, back to the titles radio reference. Both Will and Carly work with NPR broadcasting and use Dana’s story as Carly’s big break. Dana actually had very little to say during the broadcasting, but everyone else offered their opinion. It was a little jarring how her story was used with very little thought to Dana herself.

And, finally, that odd happy ending. That ending made this book the complete opposite of a book about transgender issues and relationships. Just weird and a little too neatly tied up in a bow.

Not a great book, but not the worst.

The cover is surprisingly lovely.

 

The Girl in 6E

The Girl in 6E

20640318 “The Girl in 6E” by A.R. Torre

Synopsis: I haven’t touched a human in three years. That seems like it would be a difficult task, but it’s not. Not anymore, thanks to the internet.
I am, quite possibly, the most popular recluse ever. Not many shut-ins have a 200-member fan club, a bank account in the seven-figure range, and hundreds of men lining up to pay for undivided attention.
They get satisfaction, I get a distraction. Their secret desires are nothing compared to why I hide… my lust for blood, my love of death.
Taking their money is easy. Keeping all these secrets… one is bound to escape.
What if you hid yourself away because all you could think of was killing? And what if one girl’s life depending on you venturing into society?
Enter a world of lies, thrills, fears, and all desires, in this original thriller from A. R. Torre.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

Warning: Could be triggering for violence and child abuse

This is the story of Deanna Madden, who moved into her apartment 3 years ago at 19 and has not left since. Locked in every night by her drug addicted neighbor at her request, she lives a very solitary life. She has not seen another living person in three years.

Deanna is alone, except for her wildly successful webcam business. There, she is Jessica Reilly, a college student who moonlights as a virtual sex cam girl. On the web cam, she is anyone they want her to be and she can forget who she really is for a little while. Her income is in the seven figures and is her nest egg should she give in to what she really desires.

Other than the neighbor who locks her in, her two psychiatrists that are only a call away, a hacker who keeps her identity safe, and the UPS guy who delivers all the things she needs to live, Deanna/Jessica is completely alone. By choice.

She has three rules:

1. Don’t leave the apartment.
2. Never let anyone in.
3. Don’t kill anyone.

You see, Deanna lives every day with the urge to kill. She fantasizes about killing her neighbor, killing the UPS man, killing anyone really. She dreams of killing and of blood and has locked herself away to keep the world at large safe … from her.

Her life seems fine and she is relatively happy until one particular customer on her web cam asks her for things that make her sick, and make her afraid for the little girl he asks her to pretend to be.

Deanna is forced to do what she most fears – leave the safety of the apartment in order to save a little girl from a predator.

This is an excellent book! A very original premise with a heroine who reminded me of Dexter a little. There was obviously a HUGE amount of research done into the world of virtual sex and web cam girls. I found it fascinating. There is very little in the way of actual sex in this book, but the descriptions of virtual sex are very graphic. I think they need to be in order to understand the logistics of how virtual sex really works.

This book is also a love story, believe it or not. I could have done without the love interest, but it does help flesh out Deanna’s character and help her to become a little more human. I personally like the psychopathic side of her as well as her decision to become a vigilante.

There is a LOT of sex in this book. Graphic sex acts for the web cam, not so much with another person. It’s an excellent book and I’ve already started the second book in the series.

The cover is amazing and perfect for the book.

 

 

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits

20501606 “Futuristic Violence and fancy Suits” by David Wong

Synopsis: Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements.
An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move.
Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes.
A young woman from the trailer park.
And her very smelly cat.
Together, they will decide the future of mankind.

Get ready for a world in which anyone can have the powers of a god or the fame of a pop star, in which human achievement soars to new heights while its depravity plunges to the blackest depths. A world in which at least one cat smells like a seafood shop’s dumpster on a hot summer day.
This is the world in which Zoey Ashe finds herself, navigating a futuristic city in which one can find elements of the fantastic, nightmarish and ridiculous on any street corner. Her only trusted advisor is the aforementioned cat, but even in the future, cats cannot give advice. At least not any that you’d want to follow.
Will Zoey figure it all out in time? Or maybe the better question is, will you? After all, the future is coming sooner than you think.

*******

3 out of 5 stars

I liked this book. I really wanted to love it, but I have issues with it.

The premise is excellent – Zoey Ashe is the only daughter, and sole inheritor of a billionaire who has left a secret that everyone wants. Zoey is the key to opening that secret and the story begins as she is being hunted in the trailer park she lives in.

The title is apt – there is a lot of futuristic violence in this book. Technical weapons you can download into your skeleton and constant video surveillance world wide courtesy of the Blink network. There are a lot of fancy suits, both good guys and bad guys. Some of the good guys want to protect Zoey and most of the bad guys want to kill her for the money she now has and the secret she now owns.

My issue with this book is that it’s way too long. Much of the middle of the book I could do without. There are so many gems of humor and brilliance hidden in the book but they get lost in the sheer volume of the words. Much of the humor is crass (loads of dick and fart jokes here!) but I don’t mind that in the least.

I also feel that the main bad guy, Molech is very one-dimensional. Yes, he’s the bad guy. Yes, he has embedded super implants that make him super-hero strong, with robot hands. And yes, he even gets a super-hero costume. He even beats Zoey to within an inch of her life and yet somehow she lives, even though we know he has vaporized people with just one punch.

I liked the book, but honestly didn’t like the characters very much. I liked the cat best of all.

And the cover .. because the cat is on it.

 

 

11/22/63

11/22/63

10644930 “11/22/63” by Stephen King

Synopsis: Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

I put off reading this book for a long time because I felt sure it wouldn’t interest me. I don’t care much for politics or political history and I was really afraid this would end my great love affair with Mr. King.

I should have known, I could not have been more wrong.

I don’t even know where to start with how much I loved this book. It ranks right up there with one of the best books I’ve ever read – hands down. This is not the Stephen King who wrote “The Shining” and “Pet Semetary” and scared the daylights out of me. This is the King who wrote “The Green Mile” and made me cry while reading it.

“11/23/63” is the story of Jake Epping who travels back in time from 2011 to 1958 with the help of his friend Al who has found a portal of sorts in the back of his restaurant. Al’s plan was to stop the JFK assassination, which then becomes Jake’s mission. He has to lay low for a few years before the event, but he has the opportunity to right some other wrongs in the meantime.

He lives for those some of those few short years in a small town in Texas, falling in love with the town and falling in love with the librarian at the high school where he works as a teacher while he waits and watches Oswald and the road that leads him to JFK. There was obviously a huge amount of research that went into this book. I don’t know if the facts are 100% correct and to be honest, I don’t care. The story is what interests me, the fiction. The story of Oswald’s descent into murder as written in this book is exceptionally well done. The details and the characters are brought to life in such a way that the writing must mix fact with fiction.

This book also relies heavily on the “butterfly effect” – that can be defined as “The scientific theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever” by the Urban Dictionary. I often wonder if I could go back and change the past, would I? After reading this book, my answer is a resounding no.

“11/22/63” is a massive book but didn’t feel like a long read. The majority of the books I read are loaded onto my tablet so I don’t have to carry around a stack  everywhere I go. The book is over 800 pages long, and kept my attention for every one of those pages. I didn’t want it to end, but at the same time I did so I could find out what happened next. While “The Stand” remains my all time King favorite, “11/22/63” is a very close second.

The cover for this book is perfection.