Review by: Mark Palm
Not long ago I read the novella My Daylight Monsters by Sarah Dalton and was very impressed, so when Mary Hades, the first novel in the series was available, I jumped at the chance to read it. I don’t think it’s as good as the novella, but it still has its fair share of thrills and chills.
The novel starts after Mary was released from the asylum. Her parents decide that a holiday at a campsite on the moors of North Hampshire will be a welcome relief. (Didn’t they read The Hound of the Baskervilles, or Wuthering Heights?) The family has hardly unpacked before a ten-year-old boy jumps to his death. Then, at the carnival Mary, with her best friend, Lacey, a ghost, in tow, meets a young carny, and asks him to ride the Ferris wheel with her. After his shift, they do, but they are almost killed when the ride malfunctions, and the operator dies. Mary and Lacey do some investigating, and discover that the Five Moors campsite is a mecca for ghost-chasers, as mysterious deaths have been occurring with alarming frequency. The first being a little girl named Amy, who appears hell-bent on revenge. Her appearances are the scariest moments in the novel, and Ms. Dalton handles them very well.
Mary and lacey have to put Amy to rest, and they gather a rather too-convenient group of ghost-busters, with Seth, the carny who is a sensitive yet masculine dude, a gay teen Goth couple, and a middle aged-guy named Igor, who runs a ghost-tour, and seems to be an amateur para-psychologist to boot. The downtimes in the story, where Mary and the Goths and Seth are palling around are the weakest ones in the boor for me. Heaven knows that you can’t slavishly stick to the main story-line, but the back-ground stuff never really grabbed me. It showed the regular life that Mary is missing, but needed to be a bit more interesting.
When Mary is the focus, the novel is at its best. The small romantic sub-plot between Mary and Seth never really takes off, and is far less interesting the inter-play between Mary and Lacey. The fact that Lacey is a ghost is never made to be a joke, and Ms. Dalton shines in exploring the tension and drama between the two teens. Some of the most poignant scenes in the book are between this pair, and their relationship is the most interesting in the novel. Seth takes up a chunk of the book, but never comes off as more than a clichéd dream hunk. (A carny? Really?)
Near the end of the story the group forms a plan to put Amy to rest, and the scenes that concentrate upon Amy and Mary are among the best in the book. Ms. Dalton has a real flair for horror, and her descriptions of Amy are wonderfully creepy. The supernatural horror is made more potent with the brutality of the crime that created the ghost, the murder of a little girl.
There are a few times in the book where I got the feeling that Ms. Dalton was holding back a bit, and I for one would love to see what she could accomplish if she really let it rip. When she locks in on a scene, like the one where Lacey and Amy face off, the sparks fly like crazy. Therefore, I am looking forward to the next Mary Hades.
Review by: Mark Palm
For far too long fantasy meant elves, fairies, dragons, and various little races of people with too much hair on their feet. If you want a little more meat and blood on your bones, let me suggest Joe Abercrombie, and his new book Half the World. This a brawling sprawling book full of adventure and battles. What makes it so good is that Mr. Abercrombie’s warriors are real, living, breathing people full of nerves and fear as well as courage.
The main characters, Brand, a young man and Thorn Bathu, a young woman, both of whom wish nothing more than to be warriors for their homeland, Gettland. Both however, are unfairly denied the right, and end up finding their destiny tied up with Father Yarvi, minister to the King. They also find themselves sharing a bench as oarsman, (oarspersons?), on a trip halfway across the world to find allies in a desperate fight against the High King. During the trip we get a good look at their world, as well as the assorted cast of ruffians with which they are sailing. More importantly, for the story, both of them learn more about themselves and each other.
Brand is a good guy in all the best ways. Strong and brave, but reluctant to kill, and determined to do the right thing whenever possible. Thorn is touched by Mother War, happiest when she is fighting, but unsure of how to make her way in a world that refuses to accept her. Fortunately, Father Yarvi knows a woman, the truly bizarre Skifr, who can train her to become formidable fighter.
That is the entire plot that you get. Mr. Abercrombie tells a taut and tense story, and the dangers and toil of the world come alive in his prose. The work is dirty and tiring, and the battles bloody and scary. I don’t want to ruin the rest of this wonderful ride, so you are going to have to read it for yourself. Just be prepared, everything doesn’t always turn out all right. Trust me when I say that nothing makes the light brighter than a good handful of darkness.
This is Thorn and Brand’s story, and both are vivid and have depth. They are flawed and human, and still they become heroes often in ways in which I did not expect. I have to admit that I was a little more drawn to Thorn, but she is almost larger than life. There is probably just as many readers out there who are ready to join team Brand.
The one other thing that makes this novel really stand out is that it is the second in a trilogy, and I didn’t read the first, and I felt that I wasn’t missing a thing. That has happened to me only a few times, so I have to take my hat off to Mr. Abercrombie. When my hat is back on I am going to go to the book store and get the first book, Half a King.
Review by: Stacy Palm
I thought this was a "cute" book, and please understand that I spent quite a good deal of time coming up with the perfect word that suited this book. I adore art books and if you are like me and spent any amount of time scouring the shelves for art books to consume you understand that these are generally enormous tomes filled with large scale renditions of beloved works. So you will also understand why this is a mixed review - I simply wasn't expecting the book I received.
The book itself is very small in size, I believe around 5x7 inches. So I was a little disappointed by this at first. After having time to adjust my expectations I realized this was a very handed sized book to have around. It is fulled with many paintings, and it has a very functional locator key for each painting. While actually painting one night, I put the book next to me and found that I began to appreciate the size, which didn't take up much space on my work table, was easily functional for locating examples of techniques, and was overall quite the handy little book to assist in my artistic adventure.
If you are looking for a book to inspire you or simply a small book to keep on a table for guests this is a really good purchase. Just do not expect your "typical" art behemoth.
Review by: Stacy Palm
There are many benefits to being a professional book reviewer, but none is greater than being handed an amazing intense book by a brilliant new author and getting to read it first. Reading A Magic Dark and Brightly was a bit like finding a hidden treasure chest and unlocking it to gaze upon a beautiful gem. I cannot proclaim the book or author's praises loud enough to do them justice. This book contains so much emotion that it easily transfers to the reader. There were moments when I was scared, mystified, and even giddy.
Let's talk about the setting for a moment. Yes, I live in Texas, but I'm a born, breed, and raised Pennsylvanian. This story took me on a journey back to my native land. I could feel the greens of the forest, the rocky beaches of lakes and creeks my friends and I use to swim in during younger days, and the small town pride of history that is woven throughout the community. I truly want to thank the author, Jenny Adams Perinovic, for providing that gift to me. I never missed my home so much as I did while reading this book.
The characters are spirited and intense; I enjoyed everyone. Even the backdrop people seemed so integral which in a small town is so true, there are no strangers. I adored the family history that helped bring these characters to life. I also enjoyed that Ms. Perinovic avoided spending superficial time discussing bikini clad bodies and giving the perception that we were in the midst of a modeling convention every time we met someone new. Granted there are the cute guys, but the cuteness is appropriate and relative.
I would ask that everyone reading this review put every hesitation aside regarding the myth that YA books are for teens only and really can't contribute any valued reading to society BECAUSE this book pummels those myths to pieces. This is a great read if you are young or old, male or female.
I honestly feel a bit guilty because I was provided this book to help promote it's release and I am truly not a talented enough writer to do this book the praise it is due. So let me simply say to you, go get this book.
Review by: Mark Palm
I enjoy it when a book presents a challenge; when some intrinsic part of a novel makes it difficult to review. Glittering World by Robert Levy does that, and in the best kind of way. I am going to try and give you an idea about the feel of this novel, and what makes it so good, without dropping spoilers like bombs.
Michael “Blue” Whitley is a young chef with a hot restaurant, and some financial difficulties. He takes three of his friends to the remote Canadian community where he was born, to sell an inherited house. Starling Cove seems like a wonderful place, the location of a former artist’s colony where Blue was born. Once there, however, Blue discovers that he and another child had disappeared into the woods for weeks, an incident that he does not remember. Slowly, his memory starts to return, and he realizes that his past is a lie. His former life starts to intrude upon his present, with startling results. Soon Blue and Elisa disappear, and Jeremy and Gabe try to find them, and become ensnared in the plots and plans of various locals.
That sounds like it might be a solid plot for a thriller, but Mr. Levy has a loftier ambition. Blue’s past is full of supernatural events, and this is one of the places where Mr. Levy truly shines. There is a sense of true otherworldliness in the way he both imagines and relays this part of the novel. It is rare to see such a fresh and surprising take on some of the oldest legends and myths that we have.
The characters are also first rate. From Blue to his best friend Elisa, her husband Jeremy, and Gabe, a young and admiring co-worker are all etched with care. They all take their turns telling the story, and each has a distinctive and realistic voice. All of them bring a different angle to the story, and we can see them change as the story unfolds. The sub-plots and smaller storylines are dovetailed with the main story, and all bring complexity and tension to the characters. These characters have a life outside of the main story line, and the ways that they interact with each adds depth to the story. Even in smaller roles, the local characters are real as well.
Mr. Levy’s prose is at once sharp, yet dreamy, and it goes hand-in-hand with the background. The landscape and the atmosphere are vivid and lush, and is brought to life with an eye for detail. I could smell the flowers and feel the grass, and while that is an accomplishment in its own right, it really pays off by acting as an anchor to the story’s more hallucinatory moments. That is one of the keys to this novel, because so much of the power and magic in this story is related to the environment.
Finally, this is one of those rare books where the final is apt, and telling. This novel, and the world that is created in it, is truly glittering. It is a dark, romantic, and sometimes scary place, and Mr. Levy brings it to life. I know that I have kept most of the plot to myself, but trust me, Glittering World is worth keeping.
Review by: Stacy Palm
This is historical fiction at it's best! Why do I say that, well I wanted it all to be real. This is the story of two people born and raised in Napoli Italy at the turn of the 20th century. Alessandra is a feisty beauty who has a talent for speaking with the dead. Tomaso is an ambitious photographer and journalist who adores Alessandra as a close friend. These two characters get caught up in a whirl wind adventure while touring Europe in an effort to scientifically prove the existence of spirits or physic abilities that present themselves as spiritual.
This book is one that easily captures the reader. Truthfully, when I first opened the book I had intended to give it a glance over to see what it was about. Before I knew it the bedside clock showed well passed midnight and I was a quarter way through the book. These characters are ones that you cheer for with every accomplishment. Unfortunately, not everything that happens is joyful.
There is much to this story, villains, heartbreak, successes, and failures, but through it all is the underlying excitement you get while routing for the underdog. I could not put this book down as a result. I loved the Italian language that was thoughtfully woven throughout the story. Each scene was so beautifully written that you feel as though you are there at each sitting with our characters. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Review by: Brennan Palm
Recently the almighty gods of literature have seen it fit to bless me with the opportunity to consecutively review two amazing books, The Last American Vampire and The Sequel, which are very different. This is the review for the latter of those books, and it is AWESOME!
Reading the Sequel is like riding a roller coaster that moves too fast. The beginning of the book is like crawling up that mountainous arch, excitement and fear chewing at the pit of your stomach. Till you sit upon that massive perch, stationary, watching the world below crawl by, but then you suddenly feel the ride lurch forward as the coaster plummets down toward the ground below at 60+ miles per hour, you don’t even really have time to scream, much less comprehend WTF’s going on. All those loops, bends, and screws seem to blend into one short disorientating moment, and then you are at the end of the line and the feeling of having experienced something really cool remains with you.
If anything this roller coaster effect is The Sequel’s greatest strength, and greatest weakness. At the same time you’re thinking “that was really cool!” however you’re also thinking “WAIT! I need to go back; I couldn’t comprehend what just happened!” Unfortunately, the only way to tell what really happened is to go back and ride the roller coaster in slow motion. The cool thing is the much used roller coaster comparison is literally perfect for this book. During the first part of the book, The Sequel seems like a normal book about a writer named Zachary Gold who wrote an incredibly successful novel about a doctor who began experimenting with the unused portions of the human brain, and eventually constructed his own alternate reality inside his own mind. Everyone he knows is trying to get him to write a sequel.
Matters only get more complicated when he meets a man called Cardoza. Cardoza says Zachary stole his book. Causing Zachary to bolt from the coffee shop he was in, fearing for his life. He then runs into a library were he meets a strange woman who wants to write his book for him. That’s when it happens, you reach the last part of the book, and it lurches forward, reality falls apart around the reader literally. It’s like all the twists and turns and questions in the Matrix and Inception got smashed together and compressed into less than 200 pages.
I give this book top ratings and my recommendation. I just can’t wait to re-read this book after its release.
Review by: Mark Palm
I have read my share of books set in insane asylums. Heaven knows I don’t want to go there, but I can definitely see its use as a setting; particularly when you want to scare the crap out your readers. That’s what Sarah Dalton does in My Daylight Monsters, a novella that starts the Mary Hades series.
Mary is a typical English teen, except for her ability to see ghosts. Except that isn’t what they are, exactly. They are frightening visions that come to her as harbingers of bad luck. She sees one before a fire at her school kills a girl.
Either way, what makes them so scary is that Ms. Dalton does not really tell us what they are. We see them through Mary’s eyes, and what she sees has scared her so much that she agrees to be committed to the psych ward of the local hospital. There she meets her fellow inmates, who are all well-drawn, particularly Mo and Lacey, who become her best friends. Instead of getting better, however things get progressively worse. Mary’s meds are taking their toll, and the patients at the Terminal Care ward next door are dropping like flies, so much so that the staff is getting worried. Mary and her fellow inmate know that something is wrong, but who is going to believe them? Not only is their sanity questionable, but they are teenagers. All of this works wonderfully. The atmosphere is constantly tense, and scary, as Mary decides that she has to take matters into her own hands, for the people that are dying as well as herself.
One of the real strengths of the story is the balance between the real-world terrors of the psych ward, and the supernatural ones that only Mary can see. It’s a fine line that Ms. Dalton rides masterfully. There are some terrific plot twists that my role prevents me from spilling, and Ms. Dalton does an excellent job in making Mary, and the terrors she has to face, very real. An imposing sense of the weight of things unseen, and definitely malign, hangs over this book. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but Ms. Dalton does, giving up enough hope to keep the story moving, but reminding us that things don’t always, or even often, turn out all right. Mary comes out at the end scared, scarred, but strong, and definitely sane.
Review by: Mark Palm
Sometimes in between the P&R series, the post-apocalyptic dystopias, and the Steam-Punk meta-mash-ups, a straight up thriller slips through. If I am lucky, a straight up-thriller with a touch of noir will show up. If I am really lucky a novel like Night Life by David C. Taylor finds its way into my happy hands. This is one of those rare books that is the very epitome of big and brawling, is soaked to the bone with hard-boiled attitude, yet is as smart as a whip at the same time.
Night Life is Michael Cassidy’s story, from beginning to end. A detective for the NYPD, he is an enigmatic jazz-loving existential loner who seems wed to the time, 1953. Just to give you an example, he throws a vice cop out a three-story window for roughing up a hooker in the first few pages. The real story takes off a bit later, when Cassidy and his partner Orso chase down a robbery suspect. In the process of cuffing the perp they bounce him like a pinball off of the car of an annoyed Roy Cohn, who was the hired gun and hatchet man for Senator Joe McCarthy. After that he finds some clues that lead him to a convoluted case of murder and blackmail involving the CIA and FBI. At the same time, a vengeful Cohn decides to make Mike’s life hell by denouncing his father and rail-roading him all the way back to Russia.
Needless to say, as an excellent noir, there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and, of course, some great dames. The best is a semi-bohemian welder named Dylan, who is as well-crafted as Michael, and is also to die for. The prose is sharp, a bit flashy, but tonally perfect. Mr. Taylor hit all the right atmospheric touches, and the background and locals seem just right, without drawing too much attention to themselves.
Michael takes a fair amount of beatings of course, and is double-crossed and stabbed in the back. He drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney and even his connections have connections, but it all goes down like a bourbon on the rocks. The sideline characters are all good, and the sub-plots blend into the main storyline with a smoothness that seems effortless, but is really a display of bravura storytelling by Mr. Taylor. By the time the end-game starts the whole story is half-tragic, and half Kafka-esque farce. It’s a tricky balance, but the author pulls it off, giving us a slap-bang ending where there are no real winners or losers, but only survivors. Even they are bloody, but unbowed. A knock-out.
Review by: Mark Palm
I was recently re-reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and was once again struck but his startlingly original take on the nature of gods and legends. It seems as if characters like Frankenstein, Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes have passed into legend and authors like to use them the way that Native American storytellers used Coyote. All of them are interesting, and I could go on for hours, but I really brought it up because it pertains to The Monster’s Wife, an excellent novel by Kate Horsley. Ms. Horsley’s novel is a take on Frankenstein, but it is told with such originality and force that it takes on a life of its own, and I would have enjoyed it even if I had never read, or even heard of Mary Shelly’s tale.
Set on a tiny island in the Scottish Orkney’s the story centers on two women, May and Oona, who are best friends. They are wonderful characters, beautifully drawn; May carefree and wild, Oona more introspective, perhaps because of a heart ailment that constantly reminds her that she is living on borrowed time. One thing that they have in common is the constant discrimination that single women were subject to in that time and place. The prose is poetic and every page seems to have at least one sentence that aches to be read aloud, but a cauldron of anger, fully justified, simmers underneath, and kept me constantly on edge.
The plot is simple; Victor Frankenstein shows up on the island and in secret, continues his experiments on the dead in an effort to find a wife for the un-named monster that has trailed him across the world. May and Oona both end up working as maid for him. What gives the book such tension is the constant friction that exists between the islanders, and the foreign doctor. The ever-present torch-carrying mob is always a threat, lingering just beneath the placid surface. When evidence of unsavory experiments begins to surface Ms. Horsley ratchets the tension up even higher. The fact that Oona is literally a heartbeat away from death gives the narrative a poignancy that permeates every facet of the book. There are some terrific lyrical passages where Oona seems to simply be bursting with her love of the physical world, and Ms. Horsley nails what could be sentimental twaddle in lesser hands.
In this take on the tale, the element of the supernatural is small. In an age when the line between science and magic was constantly blurred I thought that a light touch worked best. The menace, however, and sense of physical danger, are both very present in the book. In a rather ironic way the biggest sense of danger comes not from the unknown, but the known; several men in the book seem far more dangerous to Oona and May than some hypothetical monster.
A pile of sub-plots crisscrosses the book, but I am loath to speak of most of them because I hate spoilers, and there are plenty here. The insularity of the small island, and its isolation works wonders in this story. Even surrounded by the limitless ocean everything seems compressed and up close, creating a suspense that Ms. Horsley uses to her advantage. The twists and turns that make up the latter half of the book are particularly tense, and well executed, except for a few scenes where I was a bit lost about whose point-of view we were seeing events through, but that is a tiny complaint. By the end of this book I wanted to stand up and cheer, which probably gives you an idea of how much I liked it.