This is the first in a series where I talk about some of the best books that I’ve discovered and read in 2014.
Earlier this year, one of my favorite authors, Linda Welch, did a post on her blog about a book by John L Monk called Kick. John Monk was a delightful interviewee with a sense of humor and I know Linda has great taste in books, so I bought the book.
Well! I devoured the book, tracked Mr. Monk down on Twitter and basically said, “Please, sir, may I have some more?” In fact, I have to confess, several times, I have actually tried to sit down and write a review. But, every time I would start to skim over the book for talking points for a review, I’d find myself re-reading the whole book all over again. Yeah, it is that good. So this time, I am just going to jump in from memory and not tempt fate.
The book is about a dead guy by the name of Dan Jenkins who takes over and “rides” the bodies of serial killers. There are a few rules: he has to stop the killers from hurting anyone and at some point, Dan gets kicked out of the killer’s body. In exchange, Dan gets to live for a bit in the body he is riding. Who Dan is and how the rules get changed in the middle of the game are part of the mystery (and the fun) of this book.
Understandably, Dexter and Quantum Leap seem to come up a lot when people review this book. But that doesn’t mean that you can oversimplify this book and sum it up as Sam leaps into Dexter. John L Monk is an exceptional writer and there is a lot of subtlety and nuance in this story.
Several things made this book totally amazing. Dan Jenkins’ character was so solid, so interesting and very easy to relate to. He had a moral center but he wasn’t always a nice guy. Sometimes he was whiny and sometimes he was an ass. Sometimes, he tried so hard to do the right thing that my heart ached. Tight writing kept Dan Jenkins’ voice strong, clear throughout the entire book. No matter where Dan was, or whatever body he was in, we never allowed to lose sight of his character. And because of the nature of Jenkins’ circumstances, the conflicts that arose were really believable. That made it impossible to predict where the plot was going, which of course, made this book a lot of fun to read.
And did I mention that this was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award manuscript ? This is definitely a book worth reading!
Breeds is a really tough book to write about with no spoilers! This was also one of those books: at times I found myself unable to put it down. At several points I was sobbing. I have been hesitant to start reading another book because thoughts about this one keep popping into my head. In short, this book was pretty amazing.
When you open the book, the first thing you see is a warning from the author that if you are a dog lover, do not read the book. I am an animal lover, but I decided to ignore the warning. And actually, I was glad that I did because what I expected to happen when I saw that warning was not what the book was about at all. I really would have hated to have missed this story because of what might have been.
I love stories that surprise me, and this one did! This is not your typical werewolf story that starts off with the protagonist camping out in the woods, gets bitten by a wolf and things get crazy from there. This is one of the most original werewolf stories I have ever read, totally unique. I would rate this one right up there with Stephen King’s Silver Bullet and Whitney Strieber’s The Wolven.
Inherent in the werewolf genre is the exploration of man’s animal nature and the conflict between the higher and lower selves. Keith Blackmore’s approach to this is both unique and multi-faceted. It is not as simple as just tossing around some anthropomorphic themes. This book forces us to look at questions of identity and community, and challenges assumptions about fitting in. It makes us ask which part of ourselves is the animal and which part the human…. and I am still not sure how I feel about the answer.
And, just for the record, I really would like to see a sequel to this. There is a some great back story here that would lend itself to more exploration. I’d love to hear more from and about some of the characters in this book. And filmmakers, if you are listening, this would make a GREAT movie!
Keith C Blackmore is probably doing for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland what Stephen King did for Maine — not sure I am up for a visit to the area, LOL! He writes horror, sci-fi and heroic fantasy. He is the author of the excellent Mountain Man zombie series and currently working on Mountain Man 4. You can check out his Amazon Author Page here for more of his books. You can also visit his website at keithcblackmore.com.
Disclosure: A copy of this book was given to me by the author with no expectation of a review.
March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) in the United States. The day is dedicated to raising awareness about the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls. Currently, 27% of new AIDS cases diagnosed are women and 66% of those women are African-American.
To help call attention to this problem, talk about it. Tweet and post on social networks with the hashtag #RocktheRedPump. Put on a pair of red pumps and show your support! And , if you can post those pix on Instagram, that would be totally awesome!
This has been on my TBR list for a long time. I used to love reading vampire books. Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and Robert McCammon’s They Thirst are my two favorite vampire tales ever. (Don’t judge me, but I like dark, gritty vampires, so I totally skipped the Twilight books!) I stopped reading for a while, simply because the overwhelming numbers of vampire stories out there put me off the genre for a bit.But the premise of this one sounded really interesting. And co-written by Guillermo del Toro? Who could resist?
I moved this up on my list because I found out that they are making this into a TV series on FX, scheduled for the summer of 2014. I wanted to read the books and give it time to settle before the series came out.
The Strain (Strain Trilogy): Five stars. I really enjoyed this novel. The characters were interesting to me. I loved the approach to vampirism as a virus and the CDC team involvement was a nice touch that really sold the story for me. The story was exciting and fast paced and I found it hard to put down.
There were a couple of minor problems. There were a few typos. One was the repeated use of the word agonal. It is an unusual word to use repeatedly in a book. I also noted that sometimes the descriptions were a little stilted and didn’t flow. But since the story was so interesting, these were minor and I was really looking forward to the next book in the series.
The Fall: Book Two of the Strain Trilogy: 3.5 to 4 stars. I liked this book much less than the first. The authors spent way too much time rehashing material from the previous book. Much of the rest of it was spent in backstory. It drug the pacing of the narrative down and made some parts extremely boring. And that repeated work use and stilted language I was saying was minor in the first book? There was a lot more in this one.
The Night Eternal (The Strain Trilogy): Three stars, tops, if I am being kind. By the last book, I was ready for this series to end. In fact, I think the only reason I finished this one was that I had invested all the time reading the first two books. But by the time I got to this last book, I did not like who some of these characters had become. And, without giving anything away, I absolutely hated the ending.
The weakest parts of the books were the plot and the exposition. From a reader’s perspective, the overuse of words in the novels really bothered me. Seriously, how many times can you use the word “agonal” in a series? It came up in each and every book. I found myself asking, “What was the editor of this series thinking?” Poorly written phrases. Typos. And here’s one for the bad writing textbooks: the author referred to the sky as “the troposphere over Manhattan.” Technically correct, but… ugh. For a book from a major publisher (Harper Collins), the errors in this book were, IMHO, pretty amateur.
So, do I still want to watch the TV series based on these books? Yes, actually I do. I honestly think that the storyline for this would be much better suited for a movie or an ongoing TV series than it was for a book series. Done correctly and with the right casting, this could be a visually stunning post-apocalyptic TV show.
FX is hoping that fans’ recent interest in zombies will translate into viewers for The Strain. Here’s the teaser that ran during an episode of The Walking Dead:
Cannibalism is one of those subjects that is a little touchy to talk about, at least in real life. As a culture, we have a dark fascination with real life stories involving it, whether it is the historical account of the Donner Party or the the real life events of the famous 1972 Andes Plane crash. Yet it is a subject that we seem to be more comfortable discussing in fiction rather than in fact…. In mainstream films, the topic is rare: One of the few films on the subject is the 1989 film Parents, a creepy, detached, understated piece set in 1950s suburbia, where a young boy begins to suspect that his parents are cannibals.
Fiction seems to do a little better at tackling the subject. And, in science fiction particularly, cannibalism is not new at all. In fact, it is such a common trope in the genre, it has its own mention on the Cannibalism in Popular Culture Wiki page.
We see the trope in its traditional sense in the Time Machine, H.G. Wells’ classic novel which was published back in 1895. Wells describes two groups, the Eloi and the Morlocks. In the novel, the Eloi are presented as almost angelic lotus eaters and the Morlocks, who practice cannibalism, are portrayed as evil monsters.
Science fiction master Robert Heinlein used the concept in his Hugo award-winning novel, Stranger in a Strange Land(1961). This book was particularly noteworthy because he challenged the usual stereotype and the moral view that cannibals are bad by having his hero, Valentine Michael Smith, practice cannibalism. He also mocked traditional religion by comparing the ritual of the Eucharist to cannibalism in the same book.
And, don’t forget about Soylent Green, the film based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room! Make Room! While the focus of the book is overpopulation, not cannibalism, the movie gave birth to a pop culture catchphrase with that unforgettable scene in the film where Charlton Heston shouts: “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!”
Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of cannibalism in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, in both the Young Adult and Adult fiction categories. I must note that for the purposes of this discussion, like the expert in George A. Romero’s 1978 film, Dawn of the Dead, I do not consider zombies themselves cannibals (cannibalism is an intraspecies activity; zombies do not eat each other…).
Max Brooks deals briefly with the issue and its aftermath in one section of his book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. In the book, the absence of food and a harsh North American winter forces a group of survivors into cannibalism. It is a very emotional and memorable section of the book.
In one of the most culturally significant of these recent books, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a man must protect his child from being eaten by cannibals. The film adaptation caused a controversy of its own by showing a human baby being roasted on a spit, a scene that was later cut from the film but survived in some of the trailers.
A disclaimer here: Due to descriptions of its totally depressing nature, I have not personally read The Road. As a parent, the idea of trying to protect my child against cannibals is more than I can bear to think about and is certainly more than I can handle as entertainment. I prefer a dash of hope with my apocalypse….
I recently talked to two of my favorite authors who have used cannibalism (quite effectively) in recent novels. Mike Mullin is the author of Ashfall. This award winning novel shows what happens when society falls apart after the eruption of the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park. In the sequel, Ashen Winter, groups of cannibals known as flenser gangs endanger survivors .
As they talked about their approach to using cannibalism in their novels, I noticed that there were some striking points of similarity and differences.
According to Mike Mullin, “Cannibals crept into Ashfall without much planning on my part. I wrote the scene in which Alex encounters an escaped convict, Target, roasting a chunk of mystery meat and realized that many would assume he was eating human flesh. That seemed cool in a slightly disgusting way, so I purposefully left that scene open-so that the reader can interpret it however she wishes. But writing that scene did spur me to do more research on cannibalism, and, ultimately, to include more explicit cannibalism in Ashen Winter. ”
Keith Blackmore, on the other hand, deliberately chose these characters for their villainy.
“Well, cannibals,” according to Keith, “that is to say, folks who kill other folks solely for pleasure and then devour them–represent an evil, a base savagery, which I find terrifying. Killing a person and eating them is fucked up (can I say that here?) er… screwed up and a person’s instinctive reaction is to be horrified by the act or even the willingness to carry out such an act. It triggers a primeval revulsion, of something gone way too far. It’s not a wild animal, but a person willing to devour another person for sustenance, and at the very worse, you probably won’t realize it until it’s too late. In a zombie story, it fairly easy to spot a zombie and avoid it. Not so with a living, breathing, honest-to-gawd person who’s reverted to cannibalism. Having a character in a story who is capable of such an act is damned frightening, so having several characters should be terrifying… or so I hoped.”
The two authors differed in their approach to researching the flesh-eaters as well:
Blackmore admitted that since he chose them for the fear factor, he really didn’t do a lot a research into his cannibals at all. “I’ve read some articles on Jeffery Dahmer and the guy who actually posted an ad online seeking out a person to kill and then eat, and there was a more recent Russian (Ukrainian?) who was executed for it. It’s the stuff of nightmares.”
The process was different for Mullin: “After I wrote the scene with Target, I read epidemiological research on the Donner party and the book Alive by Piers Paul Reid. But the book that was most influential to my portrayal of cannibalism in Ashen Winter was Collapse, by Jared Diamond. It examines what happens when whole societies break down, rather than localized, temporary disasters like the Donner party or the Andean plane crash. That case-ecological disasters that ended whole societies like the Mayans or Easter Islanders-is a better analogue to the aftermath of a supervolcano.”
Both Mullin and Blackmore agree that there is a tremendous difference between eating those who have died for survival purposes (such as the Donner Party and Andes plane crash scenarios) and overtly attacking people for the purpose of eating them.
According to Mullin, “Yes, there’s a huge ethical difference. If you eat my carcass after I’m dead and it helps you to survive, I’m totally fine with that. If I’m still kicking as you try to carve off a flank steak, then you and I are going to have a problem.”
However, he goes on to say, “I attempted in Ashfall and Ashen Winter to portray the full range of ethical behavior that would follow a collapse of our society-from groups who won’t even cannibalize the dead (a couple of the people in the Andean plane crash died for their ethics in exactly that way) to groups who are totally self-interested and will do absolutely anything to survive.”
While Blackmore agrees that there is “a huge difference” between the two extremes, he says that he really didn’t factor those ethical considerations into Hellifax. He does note, however, that “in those survival stories I imagine there was a huge amount of reflection upon a person’s spirituality, not to mention the reluctance of actually going through with the deed in order to survive, followed by the self-revulsion/loathing (or so I expect there would be some self-loathing) and having to live with that knowledge thereafter.”
In both authors’ books, certain people seem to turn almost gleefully to cannibalism as a source of food. So, I asked both authors how realistic they thought that scenario is, given our cultural taboos against it. Surprisingly, their answers were very different.
Blackmore replied, “To gleefully turn to cannibalism? Realistically, no, I don’t think such a scenario would happen. It’s a work of fiction, meant only to entertain, if not frighten (just a little). Real cases of gleeful cannibals freak me out like old Cronenberg movies.”
Mullin, on the other hand, had a less optimistic view. “People (a tiny minority) gleefully turn to cannibalism even now, despite our cultural taboos and laws. If you have a particularly strong stomach, check out this link or this one. The flensers in Ashen Winter are a minority-but a particularly vicious and (temporarily) successful minority.’
Not having a strong stomach, I will have to trust him on that one.
I was trying to decide if cannibals in fiction are an up-and-coming trend, like vampires and zombies in fiction, or if it is just a brief, temporary interest. Then, I found this story on CNN that tells of a police officer accused in a plot to abduct and cook women. I think I may need to think about this a little more seriously…. How about you?
Many thanks to Keith C. Blackmore and Mike Mullin for stopping by and chatting with me!
Keith C. Blackmore writes heroic fantasy and horror and is currently teasing his fans with the possibility of a Mountain Man 4. You can find out more about him at his website, KeithCBlackmore.com, and follow him on Twitter at @KeithCB1 and on GoodReads.
So. I have been having all these discussions online recently that involve tea. Since I am supposed to limit my caffeine intake, I have not been actually drinking much tea lately–just talking about it. Then a friend suggested rooibos as a caffeine-free alternative that I might like. (Thanks, Kate!)
Well, yesterday, the tea fairy visited my house and left an interesting selection of teas for me to try (including some rooibos). So, I have to take stock of my tea-making paraphernalia so that I can try one of these scrumptious sounding brews.
The first stop was the kitchen gadget drawer to look for my old tea infuser (commonly known as a tea ball). However, much to my chagrin, somewhere between the re-lining of the kitchen drawers, kitchen remodels and general gadget pruning, my tea infuser seems to have disappeared. It may be in a box in the basement somewhere, but since that’s roughly the equivalent of residing in an alternate dimension, that meant it was time to shop for a new one.
That’s when I found out that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore….
A few of the items I found were unsurprising. You can still get an ordinary mesh tea ball: classic, simple and functional. If you say tea infuser to me, this metal ball (or a close variant) is the thing that comes to mind.
Years ago, I remember seeing an electric set called a Mrs. Tea (similar to a Mr. Coffee electric drip pot, but designed for brewing tea). I actually still found some of these for sale on Amazon and eBay. Back in the day, these were all the rage for people who were die-hard tea drinkers, LOL! Now, they have them that make iced tea as well.
Now for the unusual and the kitsch – the selection here was really widely varied and really interesting:
According to the NWI Times, on Friday, February 8, 2013, there will be a court hearing about whether to grant a restraining order to keep the child support department of the Juvenile Court in Gary, Indiana. The judge would like to consolidate her court in Crown point. I think this is a move that disproportionately and adversely affects the poor, minorities and women!
This move will inconvenience thousands of people, many of whom do not have transportation. And just exactly how do supporters of the move suggest that people get to court with no county-wide transportation? Are these the same people who have repeatedly shot down a food and beverage tax in Lake County that would pay for a county bus service?
Remember, generally you are required to appear in court; it is not like an invitation to tea that you can easily reschedule. This will only add more stress to an already stressful situation. And, missed court dates due to transportation issues will be more costly for everyone concerned.
This is a move that would seriously hurt those who can least afford it. The cost in lost work time, gasoline and stress on poor families far outweighs any personal convenience efficiency gained by the judge and her staff. Leave the services where the people who need it are at. I am sure the judge and her staff have cars….
And, ironically, I have actually had it on my Kindle since it first came out. Why did I wait for so long to read it? I am still kicking myself over that one….
Truth is, I am much more of a straight sci-fi fan and I have to confess that Dark Fantasy is not exactly my favorite genre. It is generally…. well, dark and then there’s all that evil. And usually, lots of swords and hard to pronounce names, too. So, generally, I have to be in just the right mood to read it.
But I realized that this book might be more than I thought it was when I read this review on GoodReads and the review’s opening lines had me totally enthralled:
From the start, I went into this expecting it to be a fantasy novel. I mean, the cover? Fantasy! The name? Fantasy! The blurb? Fantasy! So I was a bit shocked when, after a gripping and very fantasy-esque intro, we are plopped right down into a conversation between some teenagers leaving a ballet class and walking home. Wha…? Color me intrigued, and excited, and totally, totally hooked!
So, I read the book. It was sooooo good, I immediately started over and read the whole book again, this time slowly savoring. And I came to the conclusion that the cover and the blub for this book simply don’t do it justice. Seriously, that is the only reason I can think of for why this book is not a runaway best seller! The description only covers maybe the first chapter anyway….
So what can I say about this book? As a writer, Teresa Frohock has a lovely voice; the beauty of some of her prose is just stunning. Doubly amazing for a debut author! The characters? Rich, fully developed, interesting. Lindsay’s character is so real, I can see why some people (erroneously) tried to classify this as young adult. I wanted to meet her. I felt protective of her. I want to read more about her. (That’s code for she better be in the next book, LOL!)
Despite what the blurb might suggest, this isn’t a romance in the usual stereotypical or genre sense of the word. It does have an element of the feeling of a medieval romance: In the Middle Ages, a romance meant an adventure, a quest, one with themes of honor and/or redemption. This one fits the bill perfectly!
The exploration of Christian religious myth in this book fascinated me. The book never proselytizes. But, as you might expect from a reality that exists to keep the fallen angels from taking over earth, the religious themes permeate both the world-building and the world view. It adds an additional delightfully authentic “touch of medieval” flavor to the book.
This book should be definitely be made into a movie – the story (and Teresa’s writing) really lends itself to a visual interpretation.
Okay, enough fan gushing! You: Read this book! Tell everybody you know about it! As for me, I want to read the sequel… now is good…. I’m waiting….
I was cleaning out a box in my office and found this recipe for these yummy bread rolls my mother used to make when I was growing up. I have seen various versions of this recipe floating around the Internet and it supposedly dates back to the early 1950s. The name comes from the fact that you refrigerate the dough before you bake the rolls. The recipe uses leftover mashed potatoes and the bread has a really unique taste because of it.
The recipe is supposed to make 36 rolls. But my mother always made them bigger. When baked, they were the size of a big hamburger bun. Hot out of the oven and slathered with margarine, the taste was just to die for. This is one of the strongest flavor memories of my childhood.
Ice Box Rolls
¾ cup shortening
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (luke warm)
½ cup water (luke warm)
1 package dry yeast (fast acting)
6 cups flour
1 cup mashed potatoes
Dissolve yeast in luke warm water and milk. Cream together sugar, shortening, and eggs. Add to yeast mixture. Add mashed potatoes. Mix well. Add flour and salt. Knead well. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down, and place in refrigerator (overnight or for about eight hours). Take dough from refrigerator and roll into shape for individual rolls. Let rise until double in size. Bake in 425 degree oven until brown.
Remaining dough can be covered and stored in refrigerator for up to 48 hours, but, honestly, it never lasts that long around here….