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The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter – Rod Duncan


Rod Duncan’s created a world known, incorrectly, as ‘The Gas-lit Empire.’  Part of what makes Duncan’s alternate history complete is the complexity of it including scattered inaccuracies through its revolutions, wars, offices, and political systems.  The Anglo-Scottish Republic is mashed up against The Kingdom of England and Southern Wales splitting at Leicester. The flaws and benefits of both societies are uniquely viewed by Elizabeth Barnabus, daughter of a Bullet Catcher, fugitive, Intelligence Gatherer, and main character.  While I am entranced by Duncan’s world, the core of this book is a mystery.  Elizabeth, resident of ‘The Republic’, takes a job to find a missing Aristocrat.  An invention of his, and scientific leanings, make him dangerous.  He is wanted by many, not the least by ‘The Patent Office.’  Elizabeth is uniquely qualified for the task, but if she had any option she would not/should not take it.

Elizabeth is resourceful and intelligent.  That does not mean her life is easy.  She found a way to survive as a 14-year-old girl, alone, without money, in a new land.  This is not an easy task in ‘The Republic’ where women can not own property.  She relies heavily on skills her parents taught her.  As the daughter of a Bullet Catcher, and child of Traveling Shows, she has relied heavily on illusion to survive.  Her parents conjured a twin brother for her as a child.  He plays heavily into how Elizabeth is able contract work, and procure her houseboat.   The book includes excerpts from The Bullet Catchers Handbook at the beginning of every chapter. They are lessons of illusion that pertain to the chapter, but also to Elizabeth’s past and future.  It helps the reader connect to the larger story.  The book is centered on her work as an Intelligence Gatherer searching for a missing Aristocrat from the Kingdom, but taking work in The Kingdom is risky for her.  As a fugitive, she can not be caught in its borders.  This contract also brings danger by drawing the scrutiny of The Patent Office.  Elizabeth does not need anyone inspecting her closely.  What she does need is the promised money – badly.

The political system Duncan created is a backdrop to this book.  It is integral, however, to the greater story of the series hinted at in the expanded title, ‘The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter: The Fall of The Gas-lit Empire.’  The ideologies of the Kingdom and Republic don’t seamlessly match their cultures.  The Republic has strict social standards, very conservative and monotone, contradictory to its democratic political freedoms.  The Kingdom isn’t a true monarchy, but the Council of Aristocrats hold to the political structure of Old England.  While there is a great deal of unfairness swayed heavily in favor of those Aristocrats, women have more rights than those in ‘The Republic’. Duncan’s alternative history has several parallels to historical Victorian democracies and monarchies of our world.  Some ideas Duncan acted on, such as a world where Scotland split from the United Kingdom,  were wished for by various parties but did not come to fruition.  His world is well-built.  It gave me a deeper level of respect for the book and author. Take some time looking at it, including reading the glossary.  You can see there are many words, offices, treaties, etc. that are unique.  I usually skip glossaries.  Honestly, I’m too lazy to read them, and you can usually infer the meanings/content from the writing. You can do that here too, but I appreciated the material included.

The book can be enjoyed on two levels.  You can read or listen to it on a shallow level.  I do not say this dismissively.  I’ve enjoyed several stories wanting to only pay attention to the surface.  This story can be enjoyed on a deeper level too.  The political structures, the history Duncan created, and the detail of the illusions make this story much more than the intelligence job.   I liked Elizabeth going undercover to find the Aristocrat and the twists that individual story holds, but Elizabeth’s own history and what is intimated for the future made me pick up the second book without pause.


The Flux – Ferret Steinmetz (Mancer 2)

Steinmetz second book in the Mancer Series is perfectly enjoyable.  Valentine, Aaliyah, and Paul come back to us.  Paul Tsabo, the world’s most unlikeliest hero, takes us through the fine back alleyways between right and wrong, mancer’s vs. mundanes, faith vs. antagonism.  How nice it would be if the world was black and white.  Instead it is many murky shades of grey where the meek become powerful.  Mancer’s are created from intense passion.  Intense passion, obsession, is usually is born of loss and sadness.  So, the world is left in the hands of Paul, a lanky man of Greek heritage missing a foot who is a bureaucromancer; Valentine, an overweight/voluptuous twenty-something female videogamemancer; and Aaliyah, Paul’s baydly burned, mixed race, nine year-old daughter.  If the bookiemancer we meet in this book were to place a bet on these three I doubt it would be in their favor.

Paul Tsabo is in charge of the New York police force hunting mancer’s.  Who would be better for the job than the only mundane man to take one down?  Well, its complicated, Paul isn’t mundane is he? He’s carefully hidden his bureaucramancy. He is legitimately trying to find other mancer’s, but he doesn’t have any intention of capturing them if they are not a threat.  Paul hopes to find others like him, Valentine, and his daughter.

Paul’s second job is brewing the drug Flex for a criminal entity.  Unfortunately, his first job and his daughter keep getting in the way -resulting in him owing larger and larger sums to his Oscar.  K-Dash and Quaysean are Oscar’s employees tasked with supporting Paul.  Paul has amazing talent and skill but no one – not his daughter, not Valentine, not Oscar, or some other characters we meet, have any faith that Paul can/will protect himself.  His faith in his fellow man, mancer or mundane, leaves him at risk.  So, their attempts to protect him, while sometimes positive, usually result in highly dysfunctional trainwrecks.

While brewing Flex, his daughter steps in to protect her daddy when his own police force tracks him to his laboratory.  He might have been able to compensate for one variable but both result in the total loss of the Flex, millions of dollars he will now owe Oscar, and the loss of his job with the police.  The usual upbeat Paul is forced to slink back on his belly to Samaritan Mutual, the Insurance Company, he used to work for.  The information he will find working there about the King of New York, a Police Informant whose always one step ahead of him, and about other mancers in New York takes his life in very unexpected directions.  Paul and Valentine are forced to suffer terrible indignities in the name of doing what appears to be best for Aaliyah in this book.  Eventually, we learn all that looks righteous and good isn’t and entities that appear criminal and wrong aren’t either.  I told you this book was murky and grey.

We did meet some new mancers in this book. I wasn’t particularly fond of some of them. I get that Steinmetz mancy is based off of obsession but I had a hard time with the plushomancer. Everything about that just seems downright wrong.

A wonderful component of Steinmetz’ Mancer series is the complex characters. They are flawed well-intentioned underdogs.  Most books present their heroes as fit ideals.  They are the epitome of what society says is desirable – wealthy, attractive, and clever.  Things come to them easy.  We rarely know how they learned their skill set.  They just intuit how to use a sword, naturally lead through charisma, and save the day with their unwavering confidence they are right.  They have crisis of faith and challenges, but they start the game with advantages.  Steinmetz characters aren’t like that.  You only have to look at Valentine to see this.  She turned to gaming because it offered her an escape from her life.  The obsession became magic, but that magic came with Flux/backlash.  She can’t care about anyone because they die.  She lives in her car – her magic getting her evicted regularly.  She has sex with random people met online because it’s the only way she can connect with someone without fear of the Flux taking them.  She eats horribly, but hell carbohydrates make you feel good and in the midst of so much terrible in life a girl should get to have carbohydrates if nothing else.  While this book has focus on Aaliyah; what Paul, Valentine, and her mother believes are the right things for her; there is also added focus on Valentine.  I enjoyed this insight.  K-Dash and Quaysean’s characters are also developed.  They are two of my favorite supporting characters in a book.  For gangsters, who can wreak a high level of havoc and pain, they are kind loving men.  This book stands on its story, writing, and characters, but it also presents diversity in an intelligent realistic way.

I read and listened to the audio version of this book. Peter Brooke narrates the series.  He does a wonderful job.  He grasped Steinmetz humor.  He also handled the range of emotion and characters well.  This is definitely a book you can enjoy listening to.  Fair warning:  you might laugh out loud.  So, if you are at work listening to this, potentially in violation of work policy, be aware.

It’s clear I enjoyed this book and respect Steinmetz.  I encourage you to read/listen to it.  It’s geared to a fantasy audience, but I will say it should appeal to comic book lovers and dystopian fans too.

I received this from Netgalley and Angry Robot in return for an honest review.

Written in Red – Anne Bishop

cs759 escaped.  Her flight lands her at Lakeside Courtyard inside Other territory.  It’s the safest place she might find.  The Courtyard is not subject to human law and may be able to keep her away from The Controller’s “benevolent ownership.”  She entered Howling Good Reads in the middle of a snow storm – hypothermic.  She is fed out of  basic kindness.  Knowing she needs to stay, she asks for a job.  The Others decision to make her Human Liaison is to avoid giving it to the distrusted human campaigning for it. She is the best option because she is the only other option. cs759 names herself Meg Corbyn.  Bishop’s story about her is addictive.  I do think it might be crack.  I read through the first three books, one after another, without break.  I’d read the fourth but it’s not available yet.

Bishop’s world is separated into land governed by The Others and Human’s, but human’s are not generally in control.  They are clever meat. Their value lies in what they create – their technology and devices of use.  Other’s are Shifters, Elementals, and Sanguinatti connected to the majority of land. Human land, that is theirs solely, lies  where their species orginated, but they have outgrown it.  They bleed over into Other territory.  This happen at Other’s allowance.  It should never be forgotten that it is not theirs.  They are renters, interlopers, tolerated only as long as they are useful.

Meg changes the dynamics in Lakeside.  The relationships she builds with Elementals, Shifters, and the Sanguinatti is something new.  It changes the way they see humans – that they can be more than useful or edible. This is something to protect, and a small group of humans on the police force realize this.  They see her as their best chance at survival.   A portion of humans resent Others, those who don’t live close enough to them to respect the danger the can invoke, and eventually/inevitably someone will make a mistake.   They hope Meg’s influence can protect them from being decimated.  Unfortunately, the human’s seeking Meg could easily be the ones to endanger them all.

Meg is Cassandra Sangue, a human seer.  They speak prophecy when they bleed.  Meg and her like have been committed to organizations, originally for their protection, becoming ‘benevolent ownership. ‘  Cutting creates a euphoria that develops into an addiction, causing themselves harm, requiring others to intercede.   Benevolent care transformed into exploitation over time.  The cut on their skin gives the observer to prophecy invaluable knowledge – an expensive commodity.  Meg’s escape brings powerful desire for her capture.   Many seek her for personal gain.

I listened to a portion of the audible book and found I preferred to read the book.  I didn’t find the maturity I was looking for in the voice of Alexandra Harris’s narration.  Meg is a young woman, and naive in many ways.  I understand why Harris’s was chosen and why she interpreted Meg the way she did.

Bishop’s Thasia isn’t a new piece of world building.  The Others aren’t unique.  She populates her book with Shifters, Vampires, and Elemental’s.  Recognizing this, I questioned why I am so attached to the book. Why it feels so comfortable?  While it’s not original, the world is a solid combination of familiar ideas and it also has developed/complete characters.   Her world feels natural and the threats realistic.  It’s compelling, well-written, and built with smart/complex characters.

I recommend this.  It is addictive – read at your own risk.

Time’s Divide – Rysa Walker (Chronos Files#3)

‘The Chronos Files’ is Walker’s time travel series.  Historians from the future, trained by Chronos, to go back in time to observe.  One person, however, deviates from plan causing a handfull of them to get stuck in their last assignment.  The Revisionist changes key events, creates a religion, and starts a movement causing the entire timeline to shift.  No one can return to Chronos or their time.  Kate’s Grandmother, an eccentric woman she knows little about except her mother hates her, requested she live with her for the summer.  She’s not inclined to, but her college will be paid for if she agrees.  It has a classic leaning, except canon wouldn’t accept a grandmother who technically isn’t born yet.  Kate’s grandmother needs her to fix the past so she can be born.  What I’ve described is the basis of Walker’s trilogy.  The Young Adult time travel series is solid, and complex, enough most people should enjoy it.  There is a love triangle, more or less – it depends on what timeline your in – but it’s handled well.  Walker uses detailed/discriminating theory for her basis of time travel and sticks with it.  People who get frustrated at lengthy scientific explanations shouldn’t be overwhelmed.  Those who need the philosophy to hold up to basic scrutiny will be content.  Walker struck a delicate balance.  Book three, ‘Time’s Divide,’ has twists.  In it she ends her trilogy with Kate being forced to travel to the future despite fears and warnings.

The Cyrists, a religion, has infiltrated governments, law enforcement, and society.  It was created by Brother Saul with help from Sister Prudence.  Saul’s roots are several centuries in the future.  He claims to want to fix the mistakes of the past for a better future, but his motivations are questionable.  The only thing truly evident is he will use any method, or person, to achieve his ends.  He destroyed the future Kate’s grandmother knew.  Kate is trying to fix it with the limited tools, Chronos Keys and Diaries, her grandmother brought with her on assignment.  Keys combined with specific genetics allow a person to travel in time.  The combination is rare.  Kate is her grandmothers last hope at tracking down the remaining unaccounted for Keys.  She is tasked to keep them out of Cyrist hands, and fix the timeline.  Every step forward shifts reality.  Shifts cause confusion, physical pain, and losses.  The last two books dealt with specific events in history, the Chicago World’s Fair, when JFK was shot, etc. Ultimately, in ‘Time’s Divide’ Kate has to infiltrate the Cyrists and travel into the future.  The problem with this is it is an unknown.  Saul’s actions may have destroyed it leaving a void.  She has nothing to research and nothing she can rely on.

Kate Rudd narrated the audio version I listened to, and she does will with it.  She is consistent in her character interpretation and differentiation.  I prefer to listen to this series rather than read it, but you should like it either way.

I enjoyed The Chronos Files trilogy and Kate’s travels to the past.  Walker wrapped up the story well.  She did leave herself an opening to continue but this is supposed to be the last book.  We’ll see.  Since I have more fascination with history than the future this was not my favorite of the series, but it was good.  Walker delivered on her large cliffhanger from the second book.  I think she could have done more with it, but she had an awful lot to complete in this book.  If you are looking for a quick read, small history lessons, well executed concepts of time travel, and action I recommend the series for you.

The Infernals/Hells Bells – John Connolly (Samuel Johnson#2)

Samuel’s success at closing the gate to Hell didn’t leave him quite in the position one would hope for.  Instead of being hailed a conquering hero for sussing out the plot and rallying people to the cause, they quietly believe he bears some responsibility.  They have done all they can to forget that demons descended on Biddlecombe.  When they see Samuel, however, they remember.  This makes him partially to blame in their thoughts.   If you have not read ‘The Gates’ it’s the wonderful start to the tale of Samuel Johnson vs. the Devil series. Everything started because Samuel and his faithful dachshund, Boswell, went trick-or-treating on October 28 when he was eleven.  He was maximizing his candy gathering potential when he interrupted a party of bored adults playing with the occult.  It all went downhill from there.

Samuel is thirteen now, and infatuated with the girl every little boy falls in love with.  He’s not spoken to her yet.  He’s still working up the courage. Aside from regular teenage worries he keeps seeing Mrs. Abernathy in the reflections of a puddle or mirror.  He just catches her out of the corner of his eye.  He has no doubt being the focus of an extremely powerful demon with a grudge is not a good thing.  During this book he is transported through a portal to Hell.  Luckily, he has company.  In trying to obtain Samuel a few others were brought to Hell by mistake. England has its own devilishly mischievous creatures.  Mr. Merrywether’s dwarves, an acting troupe of four little men, are pleasantly troublesome. The badly behaved crew is always in conflict with the law and once in Hell they give the demons just as much hassle.

We get to be reunited with “Nurd – The Scourge of Five Deities, Wormwood, and some of our other endearing demonic friends.  John Connolly did not disappoint with this sequel.  He includes the footnotes I loved in the first book.  There is a lot of scientific information in this and the last book.  The footnotes allow for some humorous/clever explanation.  It has been likened to Douglas Adam’s humor in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’  I don’t disagree, but Connolly has his own voice and style.  I saved this for Halloween because I believed part of it was set on October 31st, like ‘The Gates,’ but that was a misguided notion.  The third book, however, is set during Christmas time.  I will be putting ‘The Creeps’ in the queue at the end of November.

‘The Infernals,’ like ‘The Gates’ audio version is narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds and he does an amazing job.  Do not read this book even  if you only occasionally dabble in audio books.  He is paired perfectly with the material and, in my opinion, adds to the experience of the book.  I’m sure reading it will not disappoint, but I highly encourage you to listen to this book not only for, but also specifically for, his interpretation of Mr. Merrywether’s Elves/Dwarves.

It is a middle grade book, however, most of the people I know who have read and enjoyed it are adults.  There is much discussion regarding Hell and demons.  This may have you questioning whether eleven and thirteen year olds should be reading it.  The UK title is ‘Hell’s Bells’ and was changed for the US publication in part because of this concern.  It is not frightening or inappropriate.  There is no profanity included in it unless you count ‘Hell’ as profanity.  It does not comment upon religion in a negative or positive light.  I, personally, would not have a problem with nine year olds reading it, but I am not offended by Hell or demons.  I include this so you have some context in determining how family friendly it is.

Book Review: Hallowe’en Party – Agatha Christie


(This book, or part of it, is set on Halloween)

It is Autumn, this week there have been storm clouds in the sky and wind pulling leaves off branches.  I am preparing for Halloween and hopefully a horde of trick or treaters who will be  knocking on doors in the near future.  In my preparation, I was also listening to Christie’s ‘Hallowe’en Party.’  It is a book I have not read by an author I consider an old friend – even if I never met her.  Agatha Christie and her beloved Belgian Hercule Poirot are special to me.  I watched the series with Hugh Fraser as Hastings and David Suchet as Poirot with my family as a child. Recently, I watched several with my father and they withstood the test of time.  It was with joy I found out the narration was done by Hugh Fraser heightening a sense of nostalgia for me and I burrowed down into blankets and dogs to enjoy this mystery.

Hercule Poirot is older now, at the end of his career, but he still seeks justice with a well-groomed mustache and patent leather shoes.  At the request of his friend the famous murder mystery writer, Ariadne Oliver, he has come to help solve the death of a young girl.  Ariadne was invited to her friend’s house for a Halloween Party.  Amidst the broom decoration, witches telling young girls fortunes, bobbing for apples, and the snapdragon a girl is found drowned.  Not in a mundane fashion either, she was found with her head floating in the tub used for bobbing for apples.  No one can think why someone would want her dead.  She wasn’t delightful, in fact she was known to seek attention by lying, but she wasn’t what one would consider special.  Ariadne heard the young girl boasting of having seen a murder to her friends, but when no one believed her she flounced off in a huff.  It wasn’t until the party was over anyone noticed her disappearance.  Ariadne, noticing something more sinister, insists Poirot come and use his skills to find out what is really happening in this quiet village.

Christie’s writing is as enjoyable as ever.  Her humor in these delicate murder mysteries is part of what I think made her stories unique and loved.  She never skimped on creating real whole characters.  ‘Hallowe’en Party’ is not long but it is packed with a good mystery, and commentary on the times it was written.  This was published in 1969 and while it still holds the atmosphere of a quiet English village you can feel Christie seeing the changes in England as she writes about it, including the changing opinions on children, accountability, and justice.  Much is said about how making “morally right” decisions can have larger, and in Christie’s view more negative, impacts on children and society.

The Halloween party is perfect.  You get a lot of discussion about village witches, the difference between pumpkins and vegetable marrows, young girls seeing their future husbands in mirrors, and a Snapdragon.  I had no idea what a Snapdragon is.  For your information  ‘Snapdragon’ is a Victorian parlour game where raisins are put in a shallow bowl filled with brandy.  The Brandy is lit and children try to grab the “snapping” raisins from the bowl.  It sounds a touch dangerous to me but it definitely fits as a fun Halloween game (even if it usually took place at Christmas time).

Small town politics and gossip, as is tradition, help Christie’s characters find their murderer.  I loved this book.  It will definitely be something I reread/relisten to around Halloween.  It is the perfect length at 336 pages or about six hours listening time.  It will get you ready for a Halloween party of your own…

*This is on sale for $1.99 on Amazon starting 10-19-15*

Book Review: The Wailing Wind – Tony Hillerman


( This book, or part of it, is set on Halloween )

Deputy Bernadette Manuelito of the Navajo Tribal Police gets called out on a last-minute call to check out an abandoned car.  She arrives at the scene to find what looks like a man sleeping off a night of drinking.  The dead man, however, doesn’t rouse.   Everything points to natural causes, there is no obvious cause of death, and she didn’t look hard at the scene until the gun shot was found by the EMT.  The murder of this man, Doherty, and an old case Joe Leaphorn worked years ago seem to be related.  It is tied to the legend of The Wailing Woman, the lost treasure of The Golden Calf, and the Halloween night years ago that Wiley Denton shot the con man McKay.

Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries with Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn are infamous.  The legendary Joe Leaphorn has been solving cases in the Four Corners for years.  Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant has retired but it hasn’t stopped his curiosity.  He reaches out to Sgt. Jim Chee when he hears about the murder of Doherty.  He wants to know if it has any relation to his previous case where Wiley Denton shot a con man trying to sell him the location ‘The Golden Calf.’  The motivations aren’t obvious, but maps are found at Doherty’s murder site along with an old tin of placer gold.  Everything from the old case gets turned over, including Denton’s missing wife, who was supposed to go to a lunch with her friends the day of the murder.  She never showed up and never came home. People thought she ran off.  She was too young and too pretty for Denton.  She was believed to be in league with McKay because she introduced him to her husband.  No one, however, who knew her believed it to be true and neither did her husband.   Denton, in fact, hires Leaphorn during this book to look into her missing persons case.   He never stopped looking for her.  Leaphorn can’t shake the feeling this has something to do with the police report of three kids on that Halloween night.  They said they heard a woman crying amongst the old army bunkers at Fort Wingate.  It was Halloween, however, and the kids were scared.  By the end of the night two of the kids were convinced they heard “La Llorana”/the wailing woman, another one was sure it was a Skinwalker, and the last thought it was vampire.  It got dismissed as nothing.  Leaphorn isn’t so sure.

I read all of Hillerman’s books several years ago.  In fact, I remember listening to some of them when I was a kid  back when audio books were books-on-tape.  My family was traveling cross-country and we would stop at the Cracker Barrel’s, trading one Hillerman book-on-tape out for another.  Leaphorn and Chee made it so we could drive fourteen hour days and not commit murder.  Enough nostalgia.  The point is I read them awhile ago and forgot how good they are.  I reread this mainly because it’s Autumn and Halloween is coming.  I wanted to indulge in the murder set on October 31.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I got to rediscover a favorite author and series.  Hillerman captures the cultural intricacies and beauty of the American Southwest.  His writing is beautiful in a sparse way that reflects the scenery of the area.

Hillerman has a wonderful grasp not only of the Navajo culture in the Four Corners area but also the Zuni, Hopi, Hispanic and belagaana/caucasian cultures living there.  He grew up in the southwest.   It is how, along with research, he obtained the information contained in his stories. He has  received the Navajo Tribes Special Friend Award and Center for the American Indian Ambassador Award for bringing attention to Native American culture and concerns.  I recommend you read Hillerman’s books if you enjoy mysteries or if you have any interest in the American West.  They are contemporary Westerns.  If you are looking for where to start, the first of the Navajo Mysteries is ‘The Blessing Way.’

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s novel is hailed as a distinguished and important work in horror.  ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ has a distinctly gothic feel even if it was published in 1959.  The house is a dark character enveloping people into its warped halls unwilling to let them go.  Dr. Montague, a scholar, who after considerable years searching finds Hill House.  It’s history is dark.  Tragic events taken place through the years lead him to believe it could be haunted.  He intends to find out by researching the phenomena correctly, in a controlled experiment, with people who have an inclination toward the paranormal.  He finds his participants by sifting through reports of metaphysical events.  Montague then sends out letters to the candidates he determined qualified and invites them for a summer at Hill House.  The three people who respond come for their own reasons.  They did not come, nor stay, because of an interest in the paranormal.

I picked up this book in anticipation for Fall, October, and Halloween.  It does not have a Halloween theme, is not set in October, or any part of Autumn.  It is, however, a seminal horror classic.  It is the haunted house genre. People read it every Halloween.  Who doesn’t want to indulge in a book about a haunted house when you can go to one after reading it?

The strength of this book lies in Jackson’s writing.   Her brand of horror is mental manipulation rather than physical danger.  Hill House has a twisted history of playing tricks on its inhabitant’s minds.  Those who come to stay tend to die rather than leave.  The few who have been able to leave develop an unhealthy obsession to go back.  Jackson includes some good twists and turns.  That said, it’s one thing to decide to spend a weekend exploring a hostile paranormal phenomena, but what could possibly possess anyone to stay a summer in a house believed to be haunted?

I listened to the narration by Bernadette Dunn.  She has a beautiful voice but it didn’t inspire the fear Jackson made her characters experience.  I do wonder if I read it instead, if ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ might have had more of an impact on me.  Dunn’s interpretation of climactic moments didn’t sound particularly different from the everyday events.

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ was horrifying to readers when it came out.  It was original.  It, however, is not now if you have read other haunted house tales with a paranormal investigation.  I recognize the books I’ve read were Jackson’s descendants.  They, unfortunately, prepared me for the climactic points of this book.   It will not have the effect on current readers it had on those in the sixties.  This does not mean you shouldn’t read it, but you should know its history, so you can respect it even if you are not frightened by it.

Book Review: Lexicon – Max Barry

Max Barry combined Poets and secret agents in ‘Lexicon.’  Words can persuade us, lead us in the direction people want us to go.  All a Poet has to do is ask you a series of five questions.  The answers will let them know what words and sounds will bend you to their will.  Ancient stories about the Tower of Babel hold more truth than we give them credit for.  Wil Jamieson is at the center of a search for a word, the Bare Word.  He doesn’t know it but when Elliot finds him in a bathroom, sticks a needle in his eye, and starts asking the five questions he realizes his life is changed.  From here people get killed, Wil is kidnapped by Elliot, and he starts to learn about a life he doesn’t remember he had in Broken Hill, Australia.  He is ‘The Outlier,’ it doesn’t mean anything to him, but it means a lot to these people.

Words are fascinating.  There is a power of persuasion in them, maybe not quite as strong as Barry makes it out to be, but if you study marketing and psychology there is credence to being able to make people susceptible to persuasion.  It can be as simple as the color of the plate you serve food on, the temperature set in a casino to keep you awake and alert, the lack of windows in a casino to discourage the notice of passing time.  These examples are not related to word choice but do relate to the science of suggestion.  Barry takes this real concept and increases the risk and reward potentials with ‘Lexicon’

Emily Ruff is a teenage junkie living on the streets in California.  Her game is Three Card Monte and she is very successful, well, successful enough that she can eat and get a fix.  One day a gentlemen in a cheap suit comes to play.  He’s a mark, she knows if she doesn’t let him win he’ll continue to play and she’ll have a good night.  Just as he is ready to pick she chooses to let him win at the last moment.  She can’t figure out why, but she’s lost him.  You let a guy like that win and they have no interest in playing.  This leads Emily down a path to be recruited for a very special school, one with no name, that teaches her to utilize her natural skill at persuasion.

The school is different from any you have ever seen.  It is very strict.  Boxers fists are considered lethal weapons because of the damage they can do.  Just imagine if your words had the same power.

Barry’s thriller is good.  I love the concept.  The anachronic story is told from multiple perspectives at different time frames.  The pace becomes frenetic towards the end – especially since you have key pieces of information the characters don’t.

Caring about people, things, or ideas is a danger to Poets.  The more someone knows about you the better they can control you.  After all, it only takes five questions to categorize the average person.  Poets guard against affiliations, love, want, and need eternally protecting themselves from compromise.  So, what happens if you break the rules?  This aspect of the story I found compelling, but it also opened the door to handling relationships/lack of relationships and sex in a very base way.  If I believed Barry meant for it to come off crass I think I might respect the way he handled it better even if I did not like it.  In this book, women seem to be categorized as an “Eve,” women who tempt men into compromising situations because of their own wanton desire.  Both Bronte and Wolf exhibit these behaviors and they are the only women in the book with real character developement.  It wasn’t flattering, and interesting that men were seen to be more controlled/moral. From this aspect alone, I would have thought ‘Lexicon’ was written at an earlier time.  It’s an outdated notion.  It’s not a huge part of the book but is important to the story

I listened to Heather Corrigan and Zach Appleman’s narration.  They did a good job.  Appleman, specifically, did a fantastic job with Wil’s Australian accent and the character’s personality change.

The book is interesting and for the most part enjoyable.  I think many people will like it despite the concern I mentioned above.  There are a lot of concepts that make it worth reading

Book Review: Updraft – Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde’s debut novel left me wishing for a sequel even though I knew her story was complete with this book.  Wilde’s novel is a great stand alone.  She created a world that could be a futuristic dystopia, but I saw it as a fantasy with its own world.  In Wilde’s sky towers she has a young woman preparing for her skytest.  If she passes she can become a trader, like her mother, and fly among the towers, bringing good luck, and visiting the spire.   As teenagers will do from time to time, she chose not listen to her mother, she stayed outside to watch her mother’s departure and skymouths attacked.  She was locked out, unable to get in, and to everyone’s shock was able to shout down the attacking skymouth.  The good luck is she saved her life, the bad luck is it brought her to the attention of the Singers.  The Singers keep Tower law, live in the Spire, and separate from the rest of tower society.  Singers, once identified, learn the secrets of their culture and must break from their families . Wilde’s story centers on Kirit’s journey once the Singers decide they want her to be one of them.   ‘Updraft’ is good Young Adult fiction.  I applaud its lack of romance.  I enjoy love and romance but it’s nice to see young adult fiction centered on a girl whose focus is solely about the situation and task at hand.  Not every story needs a love interest.

Kirit wants to be like her mother, a famous trader and a credit to her tower, but her mistake took her irrevocably off course.  Her skill at flying and her desires became irrelevant.  Singers have the power to change not only her life but the lives of everyone a person cares about.   Many lessons are learned.  Kirit learns that some choices can not be unmade; that your actions effect not only you, and when/what battles to fight and which ones you should leave alone.

Wilde’s writing is good.  Her story, while is definitely a coming of age story, has some unique attributes.  Her world is interesting, set in the clouds her towers grow from bone. Her people are a society created from the aftermath of war.  They are a remnant of a people who struggled to create their society heavily reliant on law, tradition, and the Singer’s.   Wilde doesn’t give into utilizing trends or obvious cliché’s  when the plot became tricky.  I applaud Wilde for sticking to her guns and relying on her solid plot to move the story along.  It made me cheer to see youth having bigger things to worry about than a love interest.  I enjoy love stories.  Love is an integral part of who we are as people – how we react to it when we get it and when we lose it. It is a driving force, but I like recognizing teenagers/children are more complex.  Multiple forces and concerns grow people into adults.  It’s nice to see others highlighted.

Khristine Hvam narrated the audible version.  She does a great job.  She’s well-known and has narrated ‘The Chronicles of Elantra’ series by Michelle Sagara, ‘The Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ by Laini Taylor, ‘Conversion’ by Katherine Howe, and ‘Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines amongst several others.  Hvam didn’t disappoint with ‘Updraft’ she handled several characters and the emotion of the story with ease.

This is a strong book with solid world building.  If you are in the mood for a good coming of age story, that does not rely heavily on romance, this is one of the few books that falls in that category with a female protagonist.  I hope Wilde continues writing.  I was surprised this was her debut.  Her writing reminded me of a seasoned author.  I have high hopes for her writing career, and look forward to reading more of her novels in the future.  I would definitely recommend this to teenagers but I am an adult and I enjoyed it.  I expect other adults to enjoy it as well.

I received this from Audible in return for an honest review.  If you would like to go to audible and sample a snippet of Hvam’s narration take the link below.

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