Review by: Mark Palm
If you think that your family is screwed I up I encourage you to read One of Us by Tawni O'Dell. Inside is a family as twisted as a rope. If your family doesn’t seem better by the time you are done, you have my sympathy. I also would encourage you to read this book because it's an exceptionally good thriller; taut, tense, and chock-full of well-drawn characters.
The protagonist is Dr. Sheridan Doyle, fastidious and rather famous forensic psychologist whose specialty is twisted killers. His unusual choice of career isn't surprising when you get a look at his background, raised in a run-down mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania by an abusive father and a mother who spent most of his life in an insane asylum after being accused of killing Danny's sister.
The story starts when Dr. Doyle returns to his hometown to visit his aging grandfather, Tommy, who was really the only good influence in Danny's early life. Even he, though, seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time telling Danny horrifying tales about the Nellie O Neills, a rebellious group of early union miners reminiscent of the Molly McGuires, who ended up dancing at the end of a rope. Danny finds a dead body at the Lost Creek Gallows, a bizarre historical monument to the aforementioned miners. Danny's interest piques when it turns out that the body is connected to the wealthy family of the robber baron responsible for the miner's death. With the help of the idiosyncratic veteran detective Rafe, a father figure for Danny, he begins to pursue the killer, certain that he is dealing with someone who has all the hallmarks of a serial murderer.
This is a gripping tale, and Ms. O’Dell does an exceptional job of melding the past and the present, but the book really hits its stride when the story starts to begin to become dangerously close to revealing startling truths about Danny, his past, and his family.
All of this makes for an exciting thriller, but there's more to this book than just chills. Ms. O’Dell's invocation of Danny's grimy hometown-not unlike my own hometown, with steel-mills taking the place of coal mines, is spot-on. Danny is a wonderful character, complicated compelling, and vivid, and all of the supporting character are nearly as good. Ms. O'Dell's prose, told through Danny's first person narration is evocative yet lean enough not to get in the way of the plot.
I really haven't mentioned the plot too much, and I am not going to, because it has as many twists and curves as the Thunderbolt, a wooden rollercoaster from the amusement park near my old home town, and did I tell you about that family? You would have to go back to The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccarilli to find such a demented crew. So read this book, and the Tom Piccarilli too while you are at it, two for the price of one.
Review by: Mark Palm
Now and then you come across a writer with a talent that is so unique, and so idiosyncranatic that they can ignore most of the "rules" that apply to a good work of fiction and still turn out a work that is worth reading. Sister Wolf is that kind of book, and Ann Arensberg is that kind of author. It's a short novel, full of contradictions and shifts of mood and pace, but still manages to have a coherent narrative, and a consistent compelling voice.
It's the story of Merit Deym, an heiress of Hungarian aristocracy who lives on a thousand miles of Berkshire Hills wilderness. Bright and attractive, but uncomfortable around most people Merit feels most at ease with the wild animals, bears and wolves included, that she allows to live on her unofficial preserve. She has one real friend, Lola Brevard, a breezy socialite who juggles her open social calendar with a secret life as a lesbian with a taste for coltish tomboys. There is also one man in her life, Gabriel Frankman, hot-tempered as a youth who has since wrapped himself in a blanket of asceticism and become a teacher of blind children at an exclusive academy not far from the Deym estate. It would not be too far off of the mark to say that the rest of the story is just watching these three characters interact for a month or so, until a series of misunderstandings escalate into tragedy. It would also be a bit simplistic.
What Ms. Arensberg does that is so original that I alluded to in the first paragraph is that the majority of the narrative in this book could be called back-story. She shows and tells us these, and several other well-drawn minor characters, stories until the present day, and then with about twenty percent of the book left, the rest of the tale unfolds. Admittedly the stuff that does happen is amongst the most sensational in a novel filled with byzantine twists and strange, complex individuals. The reason that this works in this case is that Ms. Arensberg is a writer that knows how to make prose sing, so that while basically filling us in on the past lives of these people it is never less than fascinating.
The only thing that keeps me from labeling this a five-star book is that most of the characters in this book are particularly difficult to like or empathize with, and while that is not a prerequisite, it certainly does help the medicine go down a bit smoother. The only one I felt and degree of sympathy with, until near the end, was Lola, who was a ray of sunshine amidst a group of gloomy Guses caught up in the middle of a Gothic nightmare. Yet for the majority of this book I was held in thrall, and that says quite a bit for the talent of Ms. Arensberg, and quite a bit for this special novel.
Review by: Brennan Palm
First of all, I am a member of the myriad legion of Star Trek fans who call themselves THE #1 STAR TREK FAN even though I know I'm not, so when I heard that there was a Star Trek comic book up for review I pounced upon the opportunity to review it like a famished jungle cat jumps a particularly lazy, fat rabbit.
When I finished with the first page I could tell that this comic book was at least going to be a three star book, you could tell just by the basic design and arrangement of the panels and their layout. To put as simply as I can without spoiling much, the book is about the trial of Kahn after he is captured in Star Trek: Into Darkness although 90% of the book is Khan telling us about his experiences prior to the motion picture. Most notably it tells of his history as dictator of most of the world. The only problems being that with his glittering red jumpsuit and slicked back hair the Maharaja of all the Indes looks like a bad Michael Jackson impersonator, and some 70's nerd manages to give Kahn a Miracle Grow limb.
Aside from these small distractions the book is rather good. The story and design is top notch, the art common, but great none the less. All in all this book made this old Star Trek fans day.