[Mystery] Review: NO SLEEP TILL WONDERLAND

20 06 2010

Once again it’s time to brush the cobwebs off this blog. I’m still finding it necessary to let others do the heavy lifting, so here is another guest review from the depths of my e-mail.

This is written by Frank Raymond Michaels, writer of horror and dark fantasy; his website can be found at frankraymondmichaels.com and he blogs at locomotive-poe.livejournal.com.

Take it away, Frank.

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No Sleep Till Wonderland by Paul Tremblay
2010, Holt Paperbacks
ISBN978-0-8050-8850-2

Mark Genevich is a Private Eye on a case. He’s not a very good private eye; his business is faltering, his landlord mother requires him to take group therapy sessions as a condition of his lease, and he’s just bungled his latest case by following the wrong woman for last two nights. It’s not all his fault; you see, Mark Genevich is a narcoleptic. What that means is he can fall asleep at any time without warning, or slip from wakefulness into a dream state without noticing the transition. When a suspicious new acquaintance gives him a job protecting a young woman from a stalker, Mark is sucked into a whirlwind of arson, murder, and blackmail from which he’ll be lucky to escape with his life.

So begins No Sleep Till Wonderland, the sequel to Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep. This is a delightful little thriller that reads like a 40’s noir mystery recast with a gaggle of contemporary Boston neurotics (any story that begins with the main characters meeting at a group therapy session should tell you what you are in for). Semi-conscious gumshoe Mark Genevich is the star, we spend half the book inside his fuzzy head, listening to his interior monologue as he wrestles with the ghosts of his past and the demons of his present; he’s witty, morose, hopeful, cynical, and insightful in phases, but overall he’s a likeable smart-ass who bulls onward despite the odds, and we root for him. Tremblay’s prose is peppered with gallows humor, pop-culture references, and snapshots of life in Boston. He puts you right into the thick of things, sweltering in the July heat, stumbling along the streets of Bean Town, viewing the world through his protagonist’s heavy eyelids.

The book is more character-driven than plot-driven, and the characters in No Sleep are drawn from real life; Tremblay’s PI doesn’t swim among the high-and-mighty. These are regular folk — if anything, they’re denizens of the lowest tier of our Great Society, bottom-feeders, broken people in and out of trouble with the law and social services, living on a crisis curve of desperation. Even the nastiest of them are petty criminals dragged along by events that get out of control.

And events certainly, alarmingly, get out of control. One of the fun things about reading No Sleep is just when you think you’ve figured out where it’s going, it pulls you in a completely different direction, and even our hero Mark Genevich, has, at best, a marginal grip on everything that’s going on. As he’s told by the local detective: “You’re simultaneously on the outskirts and in the middle of the whole mess.” The plot twists, playing out like a Greek tragedy, and there were some shocking moments toward the end that made me go back and re-read them to make sure I’d read them right.

I enjoyed the time I spent between the pages of No Sleep Till Wonderland, with Paul Tremblay’s circus of offbeat losers and his flawed hero. This is a truly original mystery novel that defies the genre.

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Feedback for Frank can be left at frm@edgecliffabbey.com.

Thanks for reading!

—pmc2

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[Horror/Urban Fantasy] Review: UNCLEAN SPIRITS

22 04 2010

A guest review for you, Gentle Readers, while I try to thrash some of my to-do list into submission. This one is again written by Crystal L. Woods, my intern at Mike’s Comics, who has done her own time in the bookselling trenches.

Take it away, Crystal.

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Title: Unclean Spirits – Book 1 of The Black Sun’s Daughter
Author: M.L.N. Hanover
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books, 2008
$7.99 U.S./$9.99 Canada
ISBN: 978-1-4391-4305-6

The strengths of this book lie in its dedication in attention to character personalities and creativity by the author in constructing a unique world and taking a different perspective on the subjects of spirits, monsters, and magic.

I found this book to be particularly interesting as it has taken the time to create a world and system of magic all its own. The world runs by its own rules and has deep intrigue on multiple levels. Nothing is without cost, everything has a price – usually high – and consequences will follow whatever actions are taken. It was interesting to watch the heroine of this series begin coming into her own. She is uncertain, frequently bewildered, but not only does she learn – like most of us through mistakes – but when she finally decides to step up and become the heir to her Uncle Eric Heller’s legacy, she does it for her own, very human and personal reasons.

This isn’t a typical, ‘I’m the hero and I know it’ story. She is disbelieving, reluctant to accept what she is told, and still needs time – as many people in life do – to make up her own mind and figure out exactly what she believes and why.

It is a definite plus that she has relatability. Family difficulties on top of being thrust into the metaphorical ‘rabbit hole’ into a world she has never even known existed, but now that it knows about her, isn’t going to simply leave her to her own devices, regardless of her own initial wishes.

The cast of characters accompanying the heroine is certainly an eclectic group, each with their own personalities, excentricies, and ideas about what is right and wrong. Of course, this complicates matters at the most inconvenient times, but it keeps the reader guessing and waiting to see what happens next and I eventually grew to like all of them for just those reasons.

My only major drawback was in finding the amount of expletives being used.

That may have been understandable in some sense with trying to keep character and believability, but I personally found it to be mildly excessive and a bit of a put-off at its heavier moments and thus wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone under age 15.

Other than that, the story kept a great pace and I am looking forward to seeing the next book ‘Darker Angels’ and where this ongoing adventure takes the young Ms. Jayne Heller and her companions next.

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Feedback for Crystal can be e-mailed to clwoods at mikescomics dot com.

Thanks for reading!

—pmc2





Nearly drowning in delight.

5 04 2010

I’m on a lucky streak, it seems, since the books that have wandered across my path of late have all had something in them that have spoken to me on a gut level, and seem to have been written just for me.

* Paul Tremblay kindly gave me a copy of PHANTOM when I met him and John Langan at Boskone 47 in February. I’ve been dipping in and out of it ever since; the stories “Kinder” by Steve Berman and “A Stain on the Stone” by Nick Mamatas jumped out at me first for name recognition. “Kinder” made me giggle fiendishly in righteous happiness, and “A Stain on the Stone” punched me in my Long-Island-born-and-reared guts, as it was probably supposed to do. Then I went back to the beginning and read “The Cabinet Child” by Steve Tem, and whoa Nellie, I was right back to the days when I first discovered Manly Wade Wellman. I can’t wait to go back to reading the collection from cover to cover.

* At our local used bookstore, Annie’s Book Stop, I recently found two new-to-me titles from authors among my old favorites. THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by Anne Rivers Siddons spoke to the same domestic gothic part of me that spurs my annual re-read of Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY. And somehow Christopher Golden managed to get into my head and view the eight-year-old me-that-was who started writing an epic fantasy called THE REALM OF THE RAINBOW when he created Thomas Randall and gave us the book STRANGEWOOD. I now have to wonder what has happened to Eiderdown the talking cat, to Krimson Fleetfoot, and to the Gremlins in *my* decades-long absence from the world I thought *I* had created. [shudder]

* Last but not least, I got a lovely box of new and recent urban fantasy titles this week from a colleague at Simon and Schuster. Last night I started reading EMBERS by Laura Bickle and was charmed by her description of a creature who could double as everyone’s pet, including my own deceased cat, and was intrigued by the level of detail she put into her protagonist’s crime investigation. These two seemingly disparate elements create a balance in this book that I think is utterly necessary for good storytelling.

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I’m sure I’m probably due for some clunkers after such a feast of goodness. But for now I’m gleefully fed with dark fiction.

—pmc2





I REMEMBER THE FUTURE – right here, right now!

29 11 2008

A happier ending, at least for me, to the story I reported in my previous entry, on the 16th.

As was crossposted today at The Mike’s Comics Livejournal – http://mikescomics.livejournal.com – I have in my cold little hands [and am about to put into my lovely stockroom] a healthy stash of autographed paperback copies of Michael A. Burstein’s first collection of short stories, titled I REMEMBER THE FUTURE and published by Apex Book Company.

 

This is a delicious smorgasbord of selections, appealing to my preferred tastes in science fiction – science fiction that actually deals with SCIENCE.  My personal favorite story is “Time Ablaze”.

Please get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to sell you a copy.

—pmc2





[Horror/Urban Fantasy] Review: ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY

15 10 2007

While I get caught up on some other matters in my offline and my online life, please welcome Crystal L. Woods as a guest reviewer here at Bookseller By Night. She’s graciously consented to take some of my NEIBA swag off my hands, while I work through my backlist of reviews owed [and you Gentle Readers know who you are… quit it with the voodoo dolls! (grin)].

Without further ado.

——-pmc2

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Title/Author: Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin

Publisher/Publication Date: Orbit US/ Hachette Book Group, October 2007

ISBN: 0-316-02046-X / 978-0-316-02046-6

Price: $12.99, Paperback

Strengths: A strong, believable heroine and cast of characters that instantly draws you directly into the world of the main character. It is humorous, sometimes tragic, fast-paced and a book that anyone looking for a good vampire novel will not easily put down.

Review: Vampire fiction/fantasy is very common, which also means at this point I have come to expect a great deal from anyone writing in the genre. This book I found to be exceptional among them as the protagonist, Jasmine Parks, is a heroine who is both sassy and tough, but also vulnerable and quite human; which makes her not only accessible, but someone who is fun to read. When I began, I placed it somewhere between Anita Blake meets James Bond, and the story is well executed without any overly risque scenes – which is one of my main objections to anyone writing vampires with that as their main hook to the audience. My only real worry is that it may date in ten or so years due to pop culture and historical references. Beyond that, however, I place this as a wonderful debut novel and am eagerly anticipating the two further novels yet to follow.

Jasmine – Jaz, as she refers to herself – Parks, works for the CIA doing Special Ops work dealing with vampires and other preternatural phenomena. She is an ‘assistant assassin’, and after being transfered from a Helsinger unit, she is now working with an enigmatic, over 300 year old Romanian vampire named Vayl. What starts as a simple assassination of a terrorist sympathizer brings them not only closer as a team, but into a situation that will not only bring them both face-to-face with their own individual pasts, but into a deadly maelstrom with more far-reaching repercussions and higher stakes than they ever could have imagined.

My rating for this book would be an 8.5 out of 10.

Despite it not necessarily being of the most enduring quality, it is one of the best vampire books I have read in a long time. Though targeting adults, I would handsell this to older teens as well, as I believe they may appreciate not only a great story that immerses you from page one, but may well be able to identify with the fallible and jaded Jaz Parks.





[Young Adult] Review – DARKHENGE

7 07 2006

Title: Darkhenge

by Catherine Fisher

Publisher & Imprint: Harper Collins/Greenwillow Books

Pub Date: March 2006

Price: 15.99

ISBN: 0-06-078582-9

Primary audience: ages 12 and up, lovers of mythology, art, and subtle magic

Notable aspects: language, sensitivity, shifting points of view, plot, interesting setting

Review: “The tree branched like a brain.” I was hooked from the very first sentence by this “imported” author. DARKHENGE originally appeared in Great Britain in 2005, but this book is accessible to well-read American readers.

It seems to start out as a tale about Rob, a student in his late teens with an artistic streak, who carries the burden of a family tragedy. We are led through a day which seemingly blends the ordinary with the magical….. his bike goes off the path in precisely the place that his younger sister had her horseriding accident. As Rob picks himself up, a horse passes him on the path, its rider seemingly his sister Chloe. That, however, is patently impossible, since his sister is lying in a hospital in a coma several miles away….

The story itself branches outward like the limbs of a tree. An archaeological dig led by a professor with an agenda, a man who literally appears from underground, Rob’s parents in their separate grief and avoidance of same, Rob’s godfather [a priest with some highly nontraditional views], and Chloe herself…. all have their tales to tell in this novel which leans equally heavily on Welsh mythology and the Celtic tree calendar, but which has at its heart the issue of self-perception and communication.

The language in this book is glorious. When we are seeing things through Rob’s eyes, we are given solid descriptions which involve the richness of colors, invoking his gift and training as an artist. When it shifts to Chloe’s point of view, words seem to matter more, since she aspires to be a writer, but they are slippery and not easily grasped, since she is younger and more tempestuous.

There is a happy ending, but it does not come frivolously or without cost.

Reviewer’s name & bookstore: Patty Cryan, Mike’s Comics, Worcester, Massachusetts

Rating: 9





{Young Adult] Review – THE KING OF ATTOLIA

2 07 2006

Title: The King of Attolia

by Megan Whelan Turner

Publisher & Imprint: Harper Collins / Greenwillow Books

Pub Date: February 2006

Price: $16.99

ISBN: 0-06-083577-X

Primary audience: lovers of medieval fantasy, fans of intrigue

Notable aspects: plot, characters, strong ending, sensitivity

Review: I have to admit that I’ve not reread The Thief since its original publication, and I’ve never had the opportunity to read The Queen of Attolia.  Even so, I am delighted to report that this sequel needs neither to support it as a splendid book in its own right.  In fact, my lack of knowledge of the characters of the King and the Queen was not dulled in the slightest, because this time around we are seeing them through another’s eyes.
 
Those eyes are those of Costis, one of the Queen’s guards who is biased against the King, who he perceives to be an interloper.  Due to an incident where Costis is disgraced, he is assigned to personal duty to this new King, whom he first despises, then is confused by, with the final result being respect and devotion.
 
The long-term reader of Megan Whalen Turner’s books *knows* that the King and Queen are Gen and Irene, *knows* that they truly love each other despite the courtly games they play.  Costis, and thus the first-time reader of this novel along with him, does *NOT* know these two in the guise of mind-mates.  Seeing the King and Queen through his eyes, and watching the court intrigue unfold and flow around them, makes for a dramatically different story than the usual fantasy tale.
 
This is a very mature story with subtle themes; although traditional “mature” material such as marital relations is not explored here, there is much in the dialogue and descriptions that will go over the heads of younger readers, not because of “inappropriate content”, but because of a lack of life experience.  The dialogue, especially between characters who must speak in code to one another for fear for their lives, is *so* realistic, with so many undercurrents, that it requires multiple readings to truly “get it”. 
 
That being said, this book is a marvelous whirlwind, extremely rich in characters and descriptions, and one that I will not only treasure reading again and again, but which is prompting me to seek out the first two books to see the “other” sides of Gen and Irene.

Reviewer’s name & bookstore: Patty Cryan, Mike’s Comics, Worcester, Massachusetts