Friday, January 20, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Jack and Jill's parents had certain expectations about parenthood. Unfortunately, this meant that for much of the girls' early lives their parents enforced their own ideas about who and what they each should be: Jacqueline was to be neat, tidy, and pretty - a perfect daughter for a society driven mother; Jillian (their parents didn't believe in nicknames) was sporty and active - the son her father was disappointed not to have. They were not coddled, they were not loved, they were not even encouraged to find solace and comfort in each other. And so it's no surprise that their door appeared, whisking them away to the Moors. 

The Moors was not a welcoming place. In fact, it was one filled with monsters and evils. Some of them less obvious than others. There, the girls defied their raising. One taking up residence under the roof of a scientist, the other becoming the groomed heir to a Master who reigned with nothing less than terror over the surrounding village. But they were there because they wanted to be. 

Until their door appeared once again. 

So obviously if you've read Every Heart a Doorway, then you know this is a prequel story. Jack and Jill are already in residence at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children when Nancy arrives in the aforementioned story. If you haven't read it, no fear you can start here!

This is the story of Jack and Jill's door. The world they disappeared into before being sent to Eleanor. And what a world it is! It's the stuff of Universal monster movies, literally. Vampires, werewolves, a mad scientist, and sea creatures galore. It's a dark and dreary world, one that only the most miserable children would see as a salvation from the real world.

And miserable is a good way to describe Jack and Jill.

Sure they have a decent life. They're provided for and live in comfort. But they're not allowed to be themselves. They're not allowed to even discover who the real Jack and Jill are or could be. This is what life in the Moors allows them.

In a series with infinite possibilities, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a worthy and wonderful follow up to Every Heart a Doorway!As with the previous installment, McGuire once again wows with rich and detailed world building and characters that are full of depth and emotion.

If you haven't had the chance to start this series, now is the perfect time. You can dive in with either tale and join the crowd of readers now desperately looking forward to the third installment!

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Edgar Nominees Have Been Announced!

Readers! The 2017 Edgar Award Nominees have been announced!

Here are a few of the categories:

Best Novel:
The Ex by Alafair Burke 
Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman 
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye 
What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin 
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley 

Best First Novel:
Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry 
Dodgers by Bill Beverly 
IQ by Joe Ide 
The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie 
Dancing with the Tiger by Lili Wright 
The Lost Girls by Heather Young 

Best Paperback Original:
Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott 
Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts 
The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni 
Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty 
A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum 
Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin 

Best Short Story:
"Oxford Girl" – Mississippi Noir by Megan Abbott 
"A Paler Shade of Death" – St. Louis Noir by Laura Benedict 
"Autumn at the Automat" – In Sunlight or in Shadow by Lawrence Block 
"The Music Room" – In Sunlight or in Shadow by Stephen King 
"The Crawl Space" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Joyce Carol Oates 

Best Juvenile:
Summerlost by Ally Condie 
OCDaniel by Wesley King 
The Bad Kid by Sarah Lariviere 
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand 
Framed! by James Ponti 
Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught 

Young Adult:
Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Hartinger 
The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry 
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse 
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier 
Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor 

Congrats to all the nominees! Embarrassingly I have to admit I've not read many this year. Guess that means I need to play catch up :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Travelers by Chris Pavone

Will Rhodes has a great job. Well, a good job with great perks. As a writer for Travelers, Will gets to travel the globe exploring vacation destinations middle-class America only dream about. But on a trip to Paris, Will meets a woman who tempts him in a way he almost can't resist. When he runs into her again in Argentina, their liaison ends with Will on the hook for favors to the CIA!

As Will becomes further entrenched in a life of secrets and espionage, he begins to realize the game he's been recruited into means something much more dangerous than a potential failed marriage. And as each new travel destination becomes another mission, Will Rhodes is forced to question the loyalties of even those closest to him.

As with Pavone's previous two thrillers, The Expats and The Accident, The Travelers is brimming with action and suspense. But unlike the others, I had a bit of a harder time begin pulled into this one.

We begin with a scene in Argentina where Will is attacked and blackmailed. Then we jump back five weeks, into a scene where Will is getting ready to leave for his latest assignment after returning late from a night out, and apparently pissing off his wife. His job has put a strain on their marriage, as has (we learn) their lack of funds, the house they're renovating, and the fact that they're trying to have a child.

And Will is a bit of a complainer when it comes to his relationship. He wants it all to be perfect, he somewhat recognizes his faults, but his eye is turned quite easily when he meets an attractive Australian journalist in Paris.

Tsk, tsk, Will!

Intermittent scenes include a man who works in an intel center tracking certain passports entering and exiting the country, a female assassin, and mysterious behavior from the POV of Will's boss, amongst other things. So the beginning of a book is a bit of a mish mash of scenes that test the reader's patience. And patience is what it takes if you're to stick around and see how these pieces all begin to come together.

As the story progresses, the inevitable paranoia and suspicion of Will's life as a spy ratchets up the intensity of the tale and the pacing reaches and almost frenzied height. But again, it does mean getting through a good bit of confusion first.

The Travelers, once the real story begins to pull together, is an excellent addition to Pavone's growing list of thrillers. It's also apparently been optioned for film - and it'll certainly make a cool one at that!

The Travelers is out in paperback now.

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Dry by Jane Harper

Aaron Falk hasn't returned to Kiewarra for twenty years. But when his childhood friend commits suicide after murdering his wife and son, Aaron is forced to return. It's not obligation or memory to his friend. No. It's a summons from his friend's father, a threat or claim to knowledge regarding a secret long kept. 

But Luke's dad isn't interested in blackmailing Aaron. Instead, he wants Aaron to look into his son's death. To prove that the murder/suicide the officials stamped on the case isn't true and to find out what really happened to Luke and his family. 

But even if Luke's father isn't interested in that long held secret, lots of other folks are. Not only is Aaron Falk a reminder of a dark piece of Kiewarra's past, it's also the reason he and his father left. And more than a few people think Aaron Falk should have stayed far away from their farming community. 

I first learned about Jane Harper's debut quite a while back thanks to Reese Witherspoon's interest in the book. Since then it's just been a matter of waiting for the Australian release to land Stateside, which it finally did this past week thanks to the folks over at Flatiron Books.

The story starts with great intensity: an eagle eye view of a murder scene on a dry and dusty farm and a baby crying. It gives me chills even just recalling it for this review!

Aaron Falk, as mentioned above, has been summoned to the Hadler funeral. He and Luke had stayed in touch, even though it's been twenty years since they shared a hometown, but Aaron had never met Luke's wife and children. And though the news of Luke's death (and that of his wife and son) are shocking, it's doubtful even that would have prompted Falk to return to Kiewarra.

Instead, it's a plea from Luke's father, which at first seems to be more of a threat to reveal the fact that he knew Aaron and Luke lied about something two decades ago. Something big enough to make Aaron listen to the threat.

It's quickly revealed that Luke's father has no interest in spilling the beans about this particular secret. It was simply a means to get Aaron, a Federal Agent, to come to the funeral and hear him out. He's certain Luke didn't pull the trigger that killed his wife and son. Certain his son could never have done that to his own family. And as the evidence begins to stack up, Aaron begins to believe the man.

But Kiewarra is the last place Aaron Falk wants to spend any significant amount of time. It's clear no one really likes him, and it soon becomes clear exactly why that is. Twenty years ago, a girl died in Kiewarra. A girl who had been friends with Luke and Aaron. And many people in town have long believed that Aaron played a part in the girl's death.

The longer he stays in town, the more tense the atmosphere becomes. This is a farming community suffering massively from drought and lack of funds. People are losing their livelihoods and with no way to rail against nature itself, many begin to turn their eye to Aaron. After all, the death of that little girl has remained unsolved all these many years...

Harper does a wonderful job ratcheting up the suspense in The Dry. As the story continues the tension in town increases exponentially, leaving more and more victims (and suspects) in its wake. That tension adds a layer of undeniable urgency to the tale, which means an equally urgent pacing. And the plot lives up to that pacing, drawing readers further and further into a tale that twists in a way I definitely did not see coming!

Considering how this one played out, it's no wonder I'm already anxiously awaiting more from Harper - as I suspect many are now! I'm certain we can expect wonderful things from this author in the years to come!

Rating: 4/5

Monday, January 16, 2017

As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka - new edition

I'm reposting this from back in 2014 because today marks the release date of Crown's new edition. And it means a perfect opportunity for me to finally dive into the second and third titles in the trilogy!

Lumikki spends much of her time trying to be completely invisible. But when she stumbles on a stash of bloodied money in her school's dark room, she's forced to change her tactics. The kids who found the money know that Lumikki knows their secret and when one of them becomes the focus of a kidnapping attempt, they quickly recruit her in their efforts to find out what's going on. Lumikki's years of practice at going unnoticed are exactly what they need, but her investigation doesn't stay as secret as they'd all hoped.

I'm a bit at odds with this one. Overall it was an ok read. It wasn't bad but I wasn't blown away. And I really wanted to be. It is, as far as I can tell, my first Finnish read and it's yet another translated teen read, which I think we need far more of. My biggest issue is with Lumikki herself and the lack of development.

But that's not exactly true either. Lumikki is actually pretty well developed as a character. The author gives us a great sense of her and her quirks: she's a teen who's living alone in a small apartment, something she's facilitated so that she can attend a magnet school in another town; she's also an outsider and there's a definite reason for it, a reason that is again facilitated by Lumikki herself. But in giving us a good picture of Lumikki, it's clear that there's so much more to her that we've not yet seen. Obviously this is because it's meant to be the first in a series - which would make stretching Lumikki's story necessary - so maybe my issue is that I can't move directly onto the next book.

The main plot of As Red as Blood does stand pretty well alone (which also lends to my character issues considering this is an otherwise a complete story on its own). Lumikki is wrangled into a plan that involves tracing a mysterious bag of money that some of her classmates stumble upon after a party. The first thing they have to find out is who the money is intended for. Once they've got that down, they have to figure out where it came from. And that's the biggie because it means infiltrating a local drug ring.

While I admittedly didn't LOVE this one, I am looking forward to reading book two. If I'm lucky, that one will tie up a few things and push me from meh to wow for these.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New Releases 1/17/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Indelible by Adelia Sounders

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

Heartstone by Elle Katherine White

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

This is Not Over by Holly Brown

The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo

Empire Games by Charles Stross

Feversong by Karen Marie Moning

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

The Believer by Joakim Zander

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz

The Rising by Heather Graham & Jon Land

Homesick for Another Land by Odessa Moshfegh

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories by Chanelle Benz

K Street by M.A. Lawson

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

New on DVD:
The Girl on the Train
Come and Find Me
Ouija: Origin of Evil
The Free World

Friday, January 13, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Jenna is one of the many ghosts who walk the streets of New York City. She died in 1972, before her time, when she ran away rather than face the grief of losing her sister, Patty. Since then she's spent her nights earning the time it'll take for her to reach her natural death day - the day she can return to Patty. See, ghosts can take time from the living. A few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or more, it pushes the ghost closer to their end and gives the living a burst of youth in exchange. Which is why ghosts have to watch out for those who would take advantage of that ability. 

Of course, they can give time too, so you don't piss them off!

Seanan McGuire is one of those authors who leaves me completely in awe of the seemingly endless worlds of their imagination! Zombie apocalypse, doors to fairy tale worlds, Symbogen, October Daye, Incryptid, and more, McGuire and her alternate author existence as Mira Grant are quite simply amazing. And the amount of work she's populated the reading sphere with is astounding! Her short stories alone seem to be almost countless and she's constantly releasing more.

Which, for a greedy little book junkie like me who also happens to be a fan, means plenty of reading material to keep me busy!

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day may be a small read but its world is so big! This latest novella features ghosts and witches. Ghosts who can take and give time and witches of every variation you can imagine - corn witches, steel witches, rat witches... Witches and ghosts are natural enemies in this world, with witches keen to take advantage of the fountain of youth ghosts can offer them. Jenna takes care around the witches of New York, the ones she knows of, but has yet to run up against any trouble.

Instead, she spends her days as a barista and her nights as a suicide hotline operator, in hopes she can help those who need it most.

But Jenna's quiet existence is shaken when the ghosts of NYC begin to disappear in droves.

I love the details of this world, the rules of the ghosts' existence and the witches' powers. The quiet links to folklore and burial traditions. And the subtle idea that the knowledge behind these traditions might be fading some. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is fabulous!

Rating: 5/5