Review by: Mark Palm
Most historians have come to the conclusion that Nikola Tesla's work with electricity was far better and more important that Edison’s. A lot also believe that Marconi filched a lot of his work from Tesla as well. The consensus on a lot of his other inventions is still out, but one thing is certain; for all of his genius he really never understood public relations. All of that is really inconsequential in reading Tesla's Attic, a young YA novel by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman. Although grounded in a factual basis, this book is really more of a light-hearted romp.
It starts when Nick Slate, his father and younger brother leave Florida after Nick's mother dies in a tragic house fire. They move into Colorado Springs, and after a while it becomes apparent that they have moved into the house that was once owned by Tesla. This discover some of this when they hold a garage sale that ride them of what looks like junk but ends up being inventions with powers that defy the laws of science:( a camera that takes pictures of the future, a tape recorder that records what people mean, not what they say, etc,). These inventions draw the attention of a mysterious and sinister group called the Accelerati, who want the inventions. So the game is afoot, with the Accelerati on one side and Nick and a group of new found friends on the other, both racing to find the devices, and what their purpose might be. This is when the plot starts quickening, and brings one of the book's main strengths to light; the characters.
Nick is fairly basic, but his role is more like that of a straight-man for a group of funny and fully-realized companions. The best of these are two girls, Caitlin, who likes to take a sledge- hammer to found objects photograph it, and calls the resulting carnage Garbart; and Petula, a pig-tailed gadfly who raises the art of self-interest to stunning heights. Also good but not quite up to the same level are Mitch, who is too eager to please, Vince, a wonderful Goth caricature, and Caitlin's moronic off-again-off-again boyfriend, Theo.
Now the plot has parents in prison, secret societies and talking corpses, but it's all meant in fun; how seriously can you take a book that has a baseball glove with so strong a power of attraction that it draws a meteor from space that threatens to destroy all life on earth, and a baseball bat that will shatter it? I also enjoyed the ironic and smart-alack tone of the narrative, full of puns and jokes. The ending even promises that there will be a zombie in book two. You can't beat that.
Review by: Stacy Palm
It was Sunday after church, and I was looking for something to read. I casually picked up my kindle and selected this book. WOW...I literally could not put this book down after that! Seriously, while eating dinner with the family it was on the table and I could not help but continue the story. Every time I tried to set it down it ended up right back in my hands until I finished it that evening.
There seems to be a mix of reviews about this book. I can only speak from my experience and say that I loved the Gothic creepy feel to the book. I felt the author did a fabulous job of keeping the secrets of this school a mystery. It kind of reminded me of a modern day "Turning of the Screw" in a very good way. I loved many of the characters, and there were some of the expected regulars to show up; you can't have a boarding school without the mandatory group of mean girls. However, there were many more well rounded characters with fascinating twists.
I cannot wait for the next book in this series to become available. It is one that I will be waiting for with baited breath.
Review by: Mark Palm
The buzz on Game a novel by Anders de la Motte is that it is supposed to take Scandinavian crime fiction to the next level. Now I am no expert but I have read a handful of Scandinavian writers, and they are very good at the suspense genre. It seems like I am going to have to say that Game falls short of its lofty goal.
Henrik "HP" Pettersson is a slacker who finds a cell phone and starts to receive messages inviting him to play a game ran by a secret master. The tasks range from harmless pranks to criminal acts, and eventually, dangerous ones. Each is filmed and uploaded so that viewers can comment and rank the players. This story is inter-woven with that of a bodyguard with the Swedish Police, eventually turns out to be HP's sister, Rebecca. Much is made of the difference between the careful and responsible sister and the amoral and egotistic HP. Of course it turns out that sometime in the traumatic past HP performed a selfless act for his sister that saved her and put him on the road to being a shiftless underachiever.
Now if it seems like I am wearing my white today, I don't really mean to. I have read a ton of great books about heartless bastards but they were interesting. HP and his sister never really came alive to me, and the main reason was the book's prose. Now I read this in translation, of course, and that could be part of the problem, but the narrative voice of Game struck me as being that of a teen-aged hacker that been awake all night on a diet of Red Bull.
There were some occasional moments of satire that I enjoyed, and a kind of nihilistic energy that was amusing, and the jibes about social media culture were spot on. However, any narrative momentum was often derailed by ridiculous action scenes, and a seemingly endless list of deus ex machina characters that showed up to save the day or carry the story along. Oftentimes I was simply confused as the author tried to amp the level of tension by being so vague in the transition scenes that I had no idea who he was talking about until I backtracked and did my homework.
The central plot of the Game seemed at first too omniscient, and later, too easily stymied. Probably the best way to tell that a book isn't quite working is that the more you look at it, the more things jump out that seem wrong. It's kind of like one of those blockbuster films where it seems pretty good when you are watching it, but it fades from your memory the moment you leave the theatre. I can't really endorse reading this, but I am still going to take a shot at reading the sequel, and I will let you know how it goes.
Review by: Stacy Palm
There are special books that aren't really books at all; they are portals into magical places where you feel the joy, pain, and laughter of all the people who live there. That is what it feels like when you pick up this "Lost Lake." You feel very much like being plucked out of this world and taken on a great adventure where you discover new friends that will always be in your heart. Sarah Addison Allen has been a favorite writer of mine since I read "Garden Spells."
There is no writer that does Southern women better. These characters are no exception, from Buelahdeen to Devin, you will be captivated by all. I cannot give this book enough praise, it is moving in a way that is not easily put into words. Everyone should read this book, I've recommended it to both my 12 year old daughter and my husband. This is a story about finding your way home and everyone needs that now and again.
Review by: Mark Palm
As I have noted before Vampires are "in." Actually Vampires are so "in" that I am sure that they are now "out". Now Erzsebet Bathory, the Countess Bathory isn't a vampire. She was a true seventeenth century Hungarian noblewoman who was tried and convicted of the murder of countless peasant girls, for the purpose of staying young by bathing in their blood. Since her legend is often credited with starting many of the clichés that are central to the vampire mythos I am not at all surprised to see her story told.
House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty uses the story of the bloody countess as one of its central pillars. That narrative, of The Countess, her evil cohorts, and the servants who lived in fear, and the few who stood up to defy her and eventually cause her fall, are told in this book in alternating chapters. This seventeenth century tale is gripping, but I found the other narrative threads better, and more suspenseful.
Those are the stories of Elizabeth Path, a modern day analyst living in Colorado, and her mother, Grace an historian specializing in Eastern Europe and planning on writing a book about the aforementioned Countess. The mother goes missing however, in Slovakia, and Elizabeth along with her ex-husband decide to search for her. They are joined by a patient of Elizabeth's, a teen girl named Daisy who is a Goth, and seems to be obsessed with Elizabeth and her treatment. Things get even more complex with the addition of the Countess's modern relatives, a detective from Scotland Yard, and Daisy's psycho sister, Morgan.
Now I found the modern storyline more interesting than the old one. The old one is tense, well-researched and written, but lacks a certain drama because we know the inevitable outcome. Ms. Lafferty shows some skill in keeping it interesting despite this. The modern storyline is very strong, and consists of a dizzying pile of plot twists. Often in thrillers having too many coincidences robs a narrative of its believability, but Elizabeth, like her father before her, who died under suspicious circumstances in Eastern Europe ,is a Jungian therapist, and they both were enthralled by the doctor’s The Red Book. Ms. Lafferty uses the Jungian theory of synchronicity aptly, allowing her to ring change after coincidental change upon the plot while implying that it might all be a matter of mythical archetypes. It's a bold move, and one that pays off, enabling Ms. Lafferty to ratchet up the tension to a nearly unbearable degree.
One of my only complaints with this book is the title. I seldom like to play Monday morning quarterback while reviewing a book, but if I could make a single suggestion to Ms. Lafferty it would be to jettison the title. House of Bathory seems so ponderous for such a taut and tense novel. I would have gone with The Red Book, but I am really just nitpicking here. It's a really good novel despite the name, and I suggest that you read it.
Review by: Mark Palm
With the proliferation of fiction series that are threatening to overwhelm publishers now, I often find myself judging books both individually and as a part of a larger whole. This time I thought that I would review the second book of a series, Emilie and the Sky World, by Martha Wells, without reading the first, Emilie and the Hollow World. Think of it as an academic experiment if you must, Faithfull Reader.
The first thing that I have to say is that I wish that I had read Emilie and The Hollow World, because I was disappointed if not confused for the first quarter of this book, It starts off with Emilie and her friend Daniel visiting Emilie's cousin, looking for a place to stay. In a page or so Emilie relates a vague story about how she ran away, and with her now-injured companion, were swept up in a Grand Adventure full of daring deeds, unknown worlds, and beautiful sights heretofore unseen by any eye. After that a sizable chunk of the early part of this book is taken up by Emilie resting up, recuperating, and once again meeting with her exploring team. Miss Meneport and the rest of the explorer/adventurers travel on to Meneport, the book is set in an alternate world, semi-Steam Punk, with sorcery to begin their next expedition. An alien skyship has been sighted in the skies above Menaes, and Emilie, along with Lord Engal and Professor Abindon, and a pile of faceless assistants, will by flying through the Aether to investigate.
Now I enjoy feeling my way through a book without a ton of information about the world in which it takes place just fine, because it imparts a certain degree or realism that I find more refreshing than a scholarly breakdown of all the flora and fauna and culture that I might encounter, but in this case I was bored. All of the details of the last adventure were tossed aside as we watch Emile fight with her uncle and deal with the burdened associated with her stow-away brother Efrain.
Once we make contact with the alien ship the both the pace and the level of interest pick up as we encounter a locked-ship mystery, a race of sentient plants, extra-terrestrial possession , and a creepy world made of cast-off parts torn from other locales. Here Emilie shows herself as a hood heroine, smart, brave and resourceful. I also liked the way that Ms. Wells takes advantage of the fact that Emilie is an assistant, and her subordinate positions allows her to engage and report on the various action going on around her as the leaders of the group wrestle with command decisions. In the end with luck, pluck and a great deal of co-operation everything turns out well, although not all of the characters escape to tell the tale.
Now if this seems like a negative review it really isn’t. The main problem I had with this book is that it didn't stand on its own that well. Once I got the hang of it I liked it just fine, and the main feeling I got when I finished this book is that I wished I had read Emilie and The Hollow World first.
Review by: Mark Palm
Half of my family's roots are sunk deep into the hills of West Virginia, and it seemed like my mother had a chilling folk tale for every occasion of my childhood, so it's no real surprise that I have a fondness for fiction set in and around Appalachia and the Ozarks. From Manly Wade Wellman to Sharilyn McCrumb, to a wonderful novel I found called The Devil and Preston Blair, there is richness in the hills, and I found it again in The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh. It's a tense yet nuanced book about a teen, Lucy Dane, from Henbane Missouri. Lucy's mother, Lila, a mysterious outsider who disappeared under strange circumstances years before, is still whispered about in the small, insular community. When Lucy's friend Cheri is found murdered Lucy finds herself compelled to discover the fates of both of the lost girls.
The novel splits into two narratives, Lucy's in the present, and Lila's in the past. This move could have easily stolen the drama of the modern story, but Ms. McHugh does an exceptional job of inter-weaving the two stories to heighten, not diminish the tension. Although the twin stories of the mother and daughter are the heart of the book there are a ton of wonderfully drawn supporting characters, from Ransome to Daniel and Bess and Gabby. Birdy, in particular, makes me wish that Ms. McHugh would write a spin-off. She reminded me so much of one of my Aunts that it was scary. A fine contrast is provided with two more dual stories, those of Lucy's father, Carl and his brother, Crete, whose plot circles around the tale of the two girls. The rural background is so evocative and well-described that it too, emerges as a character, and has a large influence on the lives of the people who live there.
If all of that isn't enough, the story is a grueling exercise in suspense, as events slowly but surely build to a tense climax. Ms. McHugh cleverly balances her dual storylines so that neither runs away with the story, and both main characters, Lucy and Lila, are finely drawn, compelling and believable, the kind of characters you find yourself rooting for. That there is tragedy in their stories makes their heroism even more impressive.
If it sounds like I am raving about this book I am. The Weight of Blood is one of the best books I have read this year, and I can recommend it without reservation.
Review by: Mark Palm
If there is a writer whose influence far outstrips his accomplishments, it is H.P. Lovecraft. When he was good, he was very good. A handful of his stories, The Colour Out Of Space, The Call of Cthulhu, hit like a bomb. This cosmic grasp of horror makes you feel the weight of the uncaring cosmos. Unfortunately he was not that good that often. He did, however, help create or define a style of genre of fiction that would be mined by many writers. This anthology, Lovecraft’s Monsters, edited by the prolific Ellen Datlow, is not the first based on Lovecraftian themes, but it is the best that I have read so far.
The range of the works is impressive, and the variety of authorial tone and voice is as well. There are even a hand-full of poems, all better that Lovecraft, as well. The connective thread that binds these stories together is supposed to be literally, Lovecraft's Monsters, and there is a clever little index explaining the beasties, but it really isn't necessary.
Ms. Datlow has always had a way with anthologies, and the list of the contributors is strong. The least effective stories are still solid, and the best are exceptional. The best, to me are Bulldozer by Laird Barron, a potent mix of 19th century noir, hard-boiled pulp, and hallucinogenic horror: The Bleeding Shadow, where Joe. R. Lansdale, one of the best genre-jumping authors now writing fiction mixes up thirties-style noir with Delta Blues: and The Same Deep Waters As You by Brian Hodge. This one has secret government bases, an animal behavioral expert, and Deep Ones. Other stories by Neil Gaiman, John Langan, and Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley are nearly as good. All of the stories share a Lovecrafty vibe but the breadth of styles and modes of execution are very broad, and go to show just how far the "literary horror" boom has taken us.
On top of all that it looks like a beautiful book, with evocative illustrations for each story, and several creepy drawings spread here and there. Unfortunately my reading kindle kind of lessened their impact. Stefan Dziemianowicz has an insightful foreword, and Ms. Datlow chips in with a solid introduction. So I am telling you now, in the name of Yog-Sothoth, get this book, and prepare to lose some sleep.
Review by: Mark Palm
This may come as a surprise to some people, but I have a real fondness for fairy-tale fiction. I have read several good ones lately, (Sorrow's Knot, Splendors and Glooms, and Iron-Hearted Violet), and I recommend them all heartily. The trick is that they are a lot harder to write then they seem, because I have read lots of god-awful ones as well. The Orphan and the Thief by M. L. LeGette is neither one of these. It's somewhere in the middle.
The story is about, not surprisingly, a thief named Toad, who is incompetent enough to get thrown out of his gang, the Ramblers. In an attempt to get his way back into their good graces he attempts to rob the richest man in town, whose bodyguards promptly catch him. To save his skin Toad accepts a mission to try and steal the ingredients for a spell that the rich man wants. As he is invariably lazy Toad tries at first to lift the supplies from a nearby apothecary, and that is how he meets Melena, the Orphan. Melena, as benefits he station, has a tale of woe. Tragically orphaned and working like a slave for the Bells, she has been searching in vain for her long-lost brother, Milo.
Toad and Melena meet during Toad's ham-handed attempt at robbery, and learning of Toad's quest she decides to join him. She mainly makes this decision because Toad lies to her and tells her that he will be paid enough to enable Melana to leave the Bells and buy her own home. So the mis-matched pair, along with Melena's mini-Dragon, take off in a quest for magical ingredients. They meet uniciorns, ogres, witches, and pirates. They have adventures a-plenty, but they always seem to have too-tidy of a resolution, and lack a sense of true danger that most successful fairytales embrace. A Deus Ex Machina seems to be lurking behind every corner, and while Melena came to life for me Toad seemed wretchedly underwritten, and almost an afterthought.
There is also an annoying magic beer mug with a variety of handy powers. After some twists and turns everything turns out all right, and everyone is happy. Ms LeGette shows moments of real imagination and heart, but never quite enough to push this book up to the next level.