Girl, Serpent, Thorn
by: Melissa Bashardoust
Published on: July 7, 2020
Review by: Stacy Palm
Sometimes you come across a book that immerses you so fully from the very beginning that you get lost in the story until the end. This was how Girl, Serpent, Thorn was for me. Full disclosure, I listened to the audiobook rather than read the book. The narration was fantastic, but the story was what captivated me.
First, I would like to acknowledge that the author did a phenomenal job of presenting a diverse culture. She allowed the reader to be invited into this world without explaining what should be understood about this land and its people. She allowed the reader to draw from the references the societal importance of certain things and allowed us to learn by viewing the events through the eyes of the main character. I believe she accomplished her goal and it provided for an exciting and illustrious adventure for the reader.
I do not want to provide the synopsis because I want you to have to opportunity to experience this book in the same fashion, without knowing what is around the next bend. I'm looking forward to many more exciting reads from Melissa Bashardoust.
Title: We Ride On Sticks
Author: Quan Barry
Reviewer: Mark J. Palm
Published: March 3, 2020
Every now and then I read the synopsis for a book and I get a feeling that I will like it. In the case of " We Ride Upon Sticks" how can you not? The 1989 Danvers High School Falcons Field Hockey Team will do anything to make it to and win the state championship, including enlisting the aid of Dark Powers. Since Danville, Massachusetts is the spot where the 1692 witch trials began it seems that there is a lot to tap into. Before you know it the girls, ( and one boy), start winning. Unfortunately, if they want to keep winning they have to be more bad, which is great for us, the reader.
There are eleven starters on a field hockey team, so there are eleven main characters and Ms. Berry attempts and succeeds in doing the nigh impossible by bringing each and every one of them to life in glorious 1980's neon splendor, from Jen, Julie and Sue, to my favorite, the pint-sized terror Little Smitty. The power, promise, and pain of being a teenage girl,( sorry, Boy Cory), along with the joys and trials of being part of a team are all covered with wit, wisdom, and a ton of humor.
One of the unusual tricks up Ms. Barry's sleeve is her choice of narrative voice, the rather rare first-person plural. It takes a few pages to get used to but works wonderfully, and gives us a rare glimpse of all the characters from both the inside and the outside. And what wonderful characters they are! This novel would be a technical triumph for that alone, but it is so full of heart and wit that the technique fades into the background. In case I didn't mention it, this book is as funny as any I have read lately, with a laugh or two per page. The humor does more than provide laughs, though, as the author uses it to great effect to make several sharp points without resorting to lectures.
Let me put it this way. This book is a goddamn triumph, and when I finished I almost wanted to listen to " Look Out For Number One."
Title: The Girl in Red
Author: Christina Henry
Reviewer: Mark J. Palm
Published: June 18, 2019
Authors have been turning to fairy tales for inspiration for a long time now. It probably started a week after the Brothers Grimm first published the oral folk-tales that they edited and published under their names in 1812. And why not? Those early stories that we now think of being for children were essentially cautionary tales with a lot of room for interpretation. Which brings us to The Girl in Red, by Christina Henry.
First off, Ms. Henry doesn't fool around. Her novel is about Cordelia, whom everyone calls Red. It takes place in a time that feels like now, “ Somewhere in an American forest,” to quote the author. There is a plague, that starts with a cough, which is decimating the population and causing civilization to buckle. Red is a teenage girl, an amputee with a prosthetic, and a rabid fan of horror novels and films. It turns out that the one thing she is prepared for is the Apocalypse. At the first hint of trouble, Red prepares a go-bag filled with necessary supplies that never leaves her side, much to the chagrin of her parents and her older brother. When it becomes clear to her family that they must leave their house, Red suggests one obvious destination; her Grandmother’s house, a journey of a few hundred miles, by foot through the forest. The problem is that there are plenty of ‘wolves’ on the way, such as soldiers looking to round up people and deposit them in ‘camps’ for their ‘safety’, along with militias and the sort of crazies that seem to crawl out from under the rocks whenever the veneer of civilization start to disappear. That is basically the whole story.
It’s not the whole plot, but I’m not going to spill that. Spoilers, remember? It’s a straightforward story, but that is its real strength. Instead of getting bogged down in world-building and scientific explanations Ms. Henry hues her story down to the bone, and it works like gangbusters. Every conversation, every decision is fraught with significance and makes the tension nigh unbearable. The fates of Red, her family and the people she comes across becomes high drama because there are no frills behind which to hide. A lot of that feeling comes from the character or Red. Intelligent, practical, dogged, and determined to a fault, she makes for a wonderful lead. She is also stubborn, opinionated and a living breathing character brought to vivid life.
The story is told in alternating chapters, ‘after’ and ‘before’, and the book opens with a harrowing ‘after’ chapter that shoves us headfirst into the story as Red has to deal with a ‘wolf’ that almost certainly wants her dead. It’s a gripping opening that sets a tone that never flags or falters until the very satisfying end. The characters are solid, and the writing is taut and terse and the story is as tight and taut as a bowstring. In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this novel and encourage you to get so you can join Red on her trip to her grandmother’s house. It’s a trip well worth taking.
and it kept a fast pace, which was just what I needed. There is heartache and torture, but the overall theme I got from this reading was that it sometimes takes severe challenges to help humans become more than they envision of themselves. It was a powerful tell of people changing the prospective of their capabilities. I would recommend this book to many readers especially those who like fantasy, politics, and character development.
Review by Mark Palm:
Trust me, when it comes to the insane nature of possessiveness and books, I know what I am talking about. Although I am not obsessed with books as physical objects I still revel in the ownership of books. Sue me.
For all of this, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the important role that libraries have had in my life. Weekly trips every Saturday with my father to the Carnegie Library in my hometown certainly started me on my way to being the bibliophile I am today, but rather than take an annoying autobiographical detour, I will just recommend The Library Book by Susan Orlean.
Ms. Orlean takes a moving and amusing look at libraries and the people who work in them and use them, mainly by concentrating on the story of a single library, the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. A good portion of her story is focused on the fire that nearly destroyed the LA Library in 1986.
The story of the fire and the man who was accused of setting it is fascinating, and all of the characters are vividly brought to life. The reactions of this disaster on both the people who worked in the library and the community and revealing and often moving. Ms. Orleans uses that tragic event as a glimpse of the impact that the LA Library, and by extension, all libraries, have upon the people who work at and use it every day.
If you are worried about whether or not this one story is interesting enough to sustain an entire book you have probably never read Ms. Orlean before. Just to assuage you, the fire and the destruction that it caused is more of a frame than anything else. It is handled in detail, but Ms. Orleans uses it primarily as a frame to show that while a library is a place with books and maps and equipment it is actually much more. The modern library, in this book, is a community organization that provides all of the services one expects, along with helping children, the hungry and the homeless that find refuge among the stacks.
The author also traces the history of the LA library, and the cavalcade of interesting figures who have worked there, both in the past and the present, and who have shaped it into what it is today. Of particular interest was the stories of the women who frequently ran the early LA branch of the library, often to great success and little acclaim.
All in all The Library Book is both a loving and a realistic paean to libraries, and the people who love them. Like me.
Review by Mark Palm.
How many thrillers have started with the main character crashing their car -or almost crashing it-because they thought they saw a figure in the road? I’ve read more than a few, and What My Sister Knew by Nina Laurin starts the same way. However about three quarter of the way through Ms. Laurin shows you that even that singular event, like so much of the book, is not what it seems. And that is what makes this novel so gripping.
After the aforementioned car crash Andrea Warren, the main character and narrator discovers that her twin brother Eli, who has been in in prison, was just released, and is suspected of killing a woman. When the twins were twelve Andrea was burned and her mother and stepfather were killed in a fire that Eli was accused of setting. In the present the police are interested in Andrea, first fearing that he may be coming after her, and later suspecting her of aiding Eli. From here the novel follows Andrea as she tries to discover what is happening to her know, along with flashbacks to her and Eli’s life fifteen years earlier, before and after the fire. There are also excerpts from a true-crime book written about the case.
Ms. Laurin starts off simply but quickly entangled me in a plot that is complex but never convoluted. Andrea, the main character is complex and compelling. The supporting characters, particularly her step mother Cynthia, and her step sister Leeanne start off seeming like one-note cliches, but become fully realized and sympathetic. Eli’s story takes a similar arc, though in reverse, becoming harder to read and perhaps, more sinister. The story is taut and tense, and as I have alluded to earlier, so twisty that I cannot reveal much more without dropping a ton of spoilers. Ms. Laurin does an exceptional job of letting the story unfold through Andrea’s voice, and her prose fits that character, and the story, like a glove. After a measured pace in the beginning the last few chapters careen along like a runaway train to an ending that was both shocking and inevitable. If you are looking for a great summer thriller that will chill you to the bone read What My sister Knew.
Review by Stacy Palm.
This is the book you have been longing to read!
For some time now I've been on the hunt for a book that would hit all my pleasure points; a book that was smart, thrilling, and fresh. This is all that and so much more. Categorically, I'm a pretty slow reader. I have many hobbies and while reading is one of my favorites, I don't get much time to focus my sole attention on it. I was watching a recent podcast that happened to mention this book as one that they were planning on reading again because they wanted to see what knowing all the answers to the riddles would do to the context of the whole book. I'm not usually a mystery reader, but I was fascinated by the concept and so I feel down this rabbit hole and didn't emerge until I finished the book two days later. It's an odd thing having a book affect you so much that it infiltrates your dreams and waking hours, but I swear to you this morning when my alarm went off for work I dreamingly reasoned that I could stay in bed for 10 more minutes and one of my "other lives" would kick in.
This leads me to the premise and I will be honest - I'm going to be vague here because I do not want to destroy this story for anyone. You are a person, trapped in a world in which you must solve a murder in one day, but you are not always the same person and you do not have consistent skills to solve the mystery. You are not alone - you are hunted and thwarted at many turns. If you do not solve the mystery the loop will begin again.
This book could easily have gone south, but the author did an outstanding job of keeping me captivated, as well as keeping me guessing - never right might I add. This was a story told with great skill and an intelligent mind. If you are going to pick up one book this year this is the book that you must grab. I hope that many readers find their way towards this book and I hope to read many more tales from this author.
Review by Stacy Palm/
I was first drawn to this book because I was familiar with the author's prior work, and also being intrigued by the concept of a strong female lead that wasn't inherently good. I was not disappointed by this book, and in fact, enjoyed it much more than I initially thought I would. I am really captivated by the idea of a book not ending happily. I also enjoy being pulled into a story that mainly surrounds characters who are not always supposed to be likable. The only thing that kept this from being a 5-star book is that I thought more of the characters should have been further down their path of evil.
This story has a lot of political intrigue that I feel has a wealth of opportunity for the author to expand upon in the next novel. He did an excellent job of introducing us to this world and the political structure, but didn't overwhelm the reader with mundane information that wasn't directly related to our characters. The story beginnings with death and takes a child from her mother and leaves her broken and alone. As she grows we learn more about the world and travel with her to a place where she expects to find the skills needed to provide vengeance to the ones who wronged her family.
I truly enjoyed the main character, and I enjoyed the cast of characters that surrounded her. My one complaint is that for what these characters were doing they should have been more callous, but I also understand that you can't write a book in which every character is despised. There were a few characters I wish we would have become more intimate with during their moments. Some of the teachers were magnificently molded. I hope that this story continues down the current path and we end up with a profound series that makes people think, rather than have everything tied into a package with a pretty bow and a happily ever after.
Overall, this book was well written and expertly told. I did not guess the ending and was rather surprised by where this book took me as a reader. I should not have waiting so long to read this.
Review by Mark Palm.
It may have started earlier, but I first became conscious of the concept of the Final Girl in the late nineteen seventies, with films like Alien and Halloween, and the spate of inferior slasher/horror films that followed. If you have not seen these films the basic idea was that after a series of terrifying murders the sole survivor was usually a woman or a girl, confounding the norms of the past. The term “Final Girl” was coined by Professor of Film Studies Carol J. Clover, who suggested(in her book) that the concept was that these films started by identifying with the killer, but switched to identifying with the women. Which still did not stop the filmmakers from killing lots of women .
Anyway, Final Girls is the story of Quincy Carpenter. As a college student she went on a vacation in the woods of Pennsylvania at Pine Cabin and ended up the sole survivor of a massacre. She escaped by running through the woods, were the attacker was killed by the cop who found her. She remembers almost nothing of the evening, although she maintains a therapeutic relationship with the officer who saved her, Coop.
When the story starts Quincy has a quiet life with her lawyer. boyfriend Jeff and her baking blog. Coop informs her that Lisa, one of the other two living “Final Girls” who survived horrific massacres and with whom Quincy had been in touch, was found dead, an apparent suicide. She also finds an email from Lisa on her phone, left only hours before her death. Not long after that the third “Final Girl”, Samantha Boyd, shoes up on Quincy’s doorstep.For years she had been off the grid, but now she wants to talk with Quincy about Lisa’s death. A reporter manages to take a picture of their first meeting and the two women find themselves back in the news. Meanwhile Quincy invites Sam to stay with her and Sam’s rough-edged ways immediately have an influence on Quincy, as the two begin drinking and shoplifting and eventually the pair begin hanging around Central Park at night, attempting to be vigilantes, leading to Quincy attacking and seriously beating a man. At the same time a reporter keeps trying to warn Quincy that Sam is not what she says she is.
This first-person narrative by Quincy in the present is mixed in with a third-person narrative of what happened on the night of the massacre at Pine Cabin. This narrative arc adds a great deal to the tension of the book because they are replete with details that Quincy has repressed because of trauma, or so it seems.
It would go against the reviewer’s code to give more away, but things are not what they seem, and many of the assumptions set up early in the book are blown up as the story progresses, and while the beginning is a bit slow by the end the action is barrelling along like a runaway train. The prose is solid and most importantly, doesn't get in the way. The same can be said for the dialogue, which has some snap and flow. Quincy and Sam catty the tory, and their characters have depth and realism; sometimes you like them, and sometimes don’t, but they are always compelling. Even more important is that both Quincy and Sam have a definite narrative arc, and Mr. Sager lets the characters and the story shape and impact each other. The rest of the characters do their jobs. Like a lot of thrillers what carries the load is the plot and the story, and both are spot on here. At the end of the day it’s all about whether or not you want to see what happens next, and Mr. Sager does an excellent job of that here. So read Final Girls. It’s a lot better than any crappy slasher flick.
Review by Mark Palm.
It astonishes me how many writers and readers underestimate the power and the utility of transparent prose. Everyone, myself included have gushed about the eloquence of Nabokov and Faulkner, etc, and rightly so. These writers have the ability to make prose sing and soar. In some works, particularly in the field of thrillers and science fiction, the most important job of prose is to convey actions and describe events in such a way as they can be understood. Stephen King once said in defense of transparent prose, and I am paraphrasing, that the best way to prove its usefulness would be this: if you want to appreciate transparent prose, a writer should describe how to drive a stick-shift to someone who does not know how and then sit in the passenger’s seat of a car and let that person drive.
All of this preamble is important to understanding and appreciating Andy Weir’s latest novel, Artemis.
The heart of this book is Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a twenty-six-year-old woman who has lived most of her life in Artemis, the only city on the Moon. It’s a wonderland for rich tourists and the elite of society, but most of the two-thousand or so permanent residents are support staff, and Jazz is one of them. Their lives are tough, and Jazz, a porter, can barely make the rent on a cubicle not much bigger than a closet. So she also smuggles in harmless contraband for some extra income. Then one of her richest and most trusted clients offers her a job that will net her a lot of money, but requires her to commit a crime far more serious than she is used to. One, that if she is caught will get her imported back to Earth. Not only is Artemis the only home she has ever known, but exile to Earth could very well kill her. The cash is too tempting, and Jazz takes the job. That is when things begin to go really wrong.
Mr. Weir’s gift for the transparent prose of which I spoke earlier really steps to the fore here. The author seems to have an instinctive grasp of how to unravel a twisting plot while explaining a bevy of complicated technology without slowing down the breakneck pace of the action. And once the action starts Mr. Weir never take his foot off of the petal until the explosive climax which melds action, intelligent planning and a ton of clever science that makes one proud to be a geek.
I really enjoyed Jazz, though I could understand how some folks might not. She is a genius without drive and immature wise-ass that only tries really hard when she is breaking rules or protecting the people for whom she cares. I found her a living character, but unfortunately, she was one of the only ones in the novel. Everyone else, almost without exception, was either a type or advanced the plot. It seemed like Mr. Weir could not find a way to put himself in their shoes because Jazz was also the only character whose dialogue seemed fresh and funny. Although this does not cripple the story it does take a bit of the shine off because it’s hard to care for the people that Jazz does when they don’t really feel alive.
Still, when all is done, I found Artemis to be a success. Mr. Weir’s ability to mix excitement and adventure with solid believable science and tell a gripping story is quite an achievement. If he can get a real grasp on character and dialogue there is no telling what he can do. I can’t wait to see.