Friday, November 18, 2016

The Woman in the Mirror, by Cathryn Grant

The Woman in the Mirror
By: Cathryn Grant
Published July 01, 2016 by D2C Perspectives

The Blurb:
A fabulous and very dark exploration of the twisted and neurotic minds of the residents of a cliff-top bungalow.
A gripping, page-turning journey, peeling back more and more layers through tantalizing revelations of the past.
Noreen Palmer describes herself as sweet and responsible, but she can't stop lying about the things that happened in her bungalow perched on a cliff above the ocean.
When Alexandra Mallory and Jared Brady rent rooms in Noreen's precariously situated home, the danger of falling over the cliff is the least of their fears.
Noreen's escalating threats force Alex to uncover Noreen's secrets and right a terrible wrong.
Quote: “Alexandra Mallory is a hypnotic sociopath, using her elusive appeal to get what she wants, and to kill those who deserve to die.”

My Review:
I chose this book on a whim, which turned out to be a good choice. A dark, contemporary tale, the twists and turns make what could be a rant on misogyny and abuse into a many-layered mystery you never quite get to the bottom of. Set on the foggy central coast of California, the house perched precariously on the edge of the crumbling cliff is almost an allegory for Alex’s character: looks beautiful and feels dangerous.
The storyline is compelling, doled out in bits and pieces. Each time you have the pieces to one puzzle, another has reared its head. Every character is a riddle you finally begin to understand as the novel progresses, even “sweet, responsible” Noreen. Behind that facade is a scary woman.
Alex is honest to the reader about her secrets, although she doles them out over the course of the novel. She is a risk-taker, and from the outset, she doesn’t hide that she thrives on the more dangerous side of life. I also felt that Jared had more secrets than he was telling.
There is no sharply defined line between good and evil in this tale. There is no black or white; you are definitely on the darker side of gray. Obsession, power, twisted logic, and retribution all play large roles in this story. Each character has a skewed sense of morality they are willing to stretch to achieve their goals.
The author’s voice is unique and the narrative flows smoothly, although the switching of POV between Alexandra and Jared is occasionally jarring. But overall, it works. I had a hard time putting the book down, reading it straight through, and staying up late to finish it.
The ending is surprising, but when you look back, it fits perfectly. I highly recommend this book to readers of dark, contemporary fiction.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty

Re-blogged from Best in Fantasy, originally published Aug. 16, 2015

Today we talk about The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty. This is not fantasy by any means, but it is an excellent read, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Released in 2013 by Berkley, and Penguin in the US, this book is currently a #1 bestseller at Amazon, and Moriarty is listed in the top 100 authors there. 

First the Blurb:
At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My review: This book is about loss and grief in Sydney, Australia--but it could easily have been set in Seattle or London and it would still feel true. These women are people you feel you know, and while they are not always likable, they are always true to who they are.

Several characters in the book have secrets they hold on to that they eventually reveal. The concepts of guilt and betrayal loom large in this tale, driving it to the shocking conclusion. Ethics and morality shift and bend under the stress, and three good women do things they consider heinous, and each finds ways to justify it.

The Berlin Wall is referred to throughout the novel as Cecelia’s daughter, Esther, works on her school project. And in fact, we learn that Cecilia met John-Paul on the day the Wall finally came down. The Wall is symbolic of many things in this tale, as Tess also has a connection to it.

Rachel is pinched and afraid to love anyone but her grandson. Her son is devastated by the loss of his sister and hurt by his mother’s distance. No matter how he tries, he can’t get close to her.

These are complicated women, faced with an unbearable situation. The actions and the final resolution is completely true to the characters. This is a slow-moving tale action-wise, but it literally tears through the emotional gamut. I give The Husband's Secret four and half stars.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heart Search - Lost by Carlie Cullen

Heart Search is a first novel for UK author Carlie M.A. CullenThis is most unashamedly a paranormal romance novel. I usually don't read romance novels, but occasionally I do like a good paranormal romance. The plot, as depicted in the blurb for this book, intrigued me. I was most certainly NOT disappointed!

The Blurb:
One bite starts it all . . . When Joshua Grant vanishes days before his wedding his fiancée Remy is left with only bruises, scratch marks and a hastily written note. Heartbroken, she sets off alone to find him and begins a long journey where strange things begin to happen. As Joshua descends into his new immortal life he indulges his thirst for blood and explores his superhuman strength and amazing new talents while becoming embroiled in coven politics which threaten to destroy him. But Remy discovers a strength of her own on her quest to bring Joshua home. Fate toys with mortals and immortals alike, as two hearts torn apart by darkness face ordeals which test them to their limits.

My Review:
Two weeks before their wedding, Remy’s fiancé, Joshua, hurts her physically. Although he doesn't know why, he is changing and not for the better, Joshua hates himself for what he’s done. As he changes, so do both his state of mind and his perceptions. He disappears a few days before the wedding.
After a brief descent into an emotional breakdown, Remy heeds advice from her identical twin, Becky, to fight for Joshua. She finds a diary which leads her to believe something strange happened to her fiancé and suspects it was something he had no say in. She resolves to find him, and sets off on a long, lonely journey around the country. As the days turn into weeks, then months, she has to fight through emotional turmoil and find an inner strength just to keep going. Strange things begin to happen to Remy and she questions her sanity.

Cullen takes you into the minds and the eyes of her characters. Her descriptions are thick with visuals and layered with emotion. Joshua is sexy and compelling even though he is not always likeable, but he is a vampire so there you go. His coven is the same way. Samir, his maker is loving and caring for his ‘children’ and they in turn adore him. As individuals they are inherently selfish and uncaring of anyone but their own society, and Cullen portrays this well.

This story is as much about Remy coming to terms with the way her life has been changed and learning who she is as much as it is her search for Joshua. It is also a story about Joshua learning how to live his new life, which is well drawn and drew me in.

She portrays Joshua’s society very clearly, introducing the various factions and power struggles well, and shows how Remy becomes a central element in the vampires’ internecine battles. The unforeseen changes which occur in Remy's life are also depicted well.

I admit I found the author's style of heavy descriptions a bit daunting at first, but I quickly got into the swing of things. I really enjoyed the story and cared about the characters; so much so I couldn't put the book down until I'd finished it. Cullen tells this story in two parallel threads, which I most definitely liked. You get a good view of both Joshua and Remy as they experience their lives through this crisis and other crises which loom.

This book has an original plot, interesting characters and a unique delivery! The book is clearly a set up for a second book, which I am looking forward to and will definitely buy.  I recommend it for those who read and enjoy a good paranormal romance novel. Carlie M.A. Cullen is an author to watch!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Dream Land, Stephen Swartz


I have long been a fan of Stephen Swartz's writing. In The Dream Land, Long Distance Voyager he has ventured into the realm of science-fiction and fantasy, and done it with his own inimitable style.
High school nerds Sebastian and Gina discover a doorway to a new world. Adventure-loving Gina falls in love with the world of Ghoupallesz and wants to stay, but studious Sebastian fears losing touch with Earth, so he returns alone. Nevertheless, he sneaks back time and time again for his own adventures before finally giving it up after too many lost loves, betrayals, and war.

Years later, working night shift at the IRS, Sebastian feels the cosmic pull once more. Gina is in trouble. Again. Of course he must return and save her! Perhaps this time, he hopes, they can remain together. Returning through the inter-dimensional doorway, Sebastian must first gather his old comrades from the war, cross the towering Zet mountains, and free Gina from the evil Zetin warlord’s castle.

Unfortunately, Sebastian finds there are more questions needing answers. Is his adventure on the other side real? Or is it just the dream of a psychotic killer? That’s what the police want to know when his friends and co-workers go missing.

Stephen Swartz has once again created a unique and believable world—both the world we live in and the world of Ghoupallesz. As always, his characters are deep and not always possessed of good intentions. Sebastian is both naïve and worldly, and he is both young and old. Gina was never naïve, with her own agenda and is not exactly straight with Sebastian (or indeed with anyone).

This is most definitely NOT a simple tale of boy rescues girl and they live happily ever after. It is instead a complex, richly layered tale of lives and deaths experienced, and also of dreams versus realities and the blurred line between. It’s a tale of discovery and coming to terms with one’s choices. I found it to be intriguing and not surprisingly, I found myself unable to put this book down once I began reading it.

I am definitely looking forward to Book II, Dreams of Future’s Past.

This review is reposted from Best in Fantasy, and was first published on Dec. 7, 2012.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Voices in the Field, by J. Allen Fielder

Many things have conspired to keep me too busy to read more than one book in the last two weeks, and that book was an epic fantasy, which I don't review here.  But I've some good news! At times, I go on binges of reading short story compilations.  In 2011 I came across one written by indie author +J. Allen Fielder, and reviewed it on my fantasy review blog, Best in Fantasy, because I loved the book and only had the one venue for reviewing books. In fact, this was why we created The Dark Side Book Review and began reviewing the many fine books NOT in the fantasy genre here.
I met the author in January 2011 through ABNA and was immediately struck by his wry wit and crazy sense of humor. Based on my impressions of him I bought his book as soon as he published it. 
I loved  'Voices in the Field' because Fielder went back to the roots of science-fiction.  I felt then and I still feel that this book is a thinking-person's sort of book. There are morality tales, and tales that are simply meant to make you go "hmm...."
The Blurb:
"Voices in the Field" is a collection of short stories by J. Allen Fielder. Titles include previously published and unpublished short stories, from the eponymous "Voices in the Field," to the humorously creepy "Mom's Eye View," these stories were written to thrill, chill, and make the reader wonder "What the hell is wrong with this guy?" Other titles include "Liquid," "Truck Stop Love," and "Homemade Pie." Stories range from horror, to mystery, to children's . . . and various points in between

I must say, Fielder delivered on his promises!
My Review:

In the first tale, which the book takes its title from, Fielder introduces us to a man whose car has broken down along a rural stretch of highway. This tale is both homey, and frightening, with a sort of Stephen King intensity. Harold is a 71 year old academic who has taken a less traveled route from Kansas State college on his back home to Corinthian College. Alas, this road is exceedingly less well traveled, and Harold's car breaks down. Being a naturally cheerful sort, he settles in to wait for a passing car to get help. To while away the time, he records his thoughts on the machine that he uses to record his notes on. He is a bit old fashioned, and doesn't have a mobile phone. He soon regrets having taken the back road. This is an unsettling story and it sets the tone for the rest of the book very well.

For those of us who are fans of horror, the fourth tale, 'Liquid' is one of the creepiest tales I have ever read. A doctor at the top of his craft is the victim of an attack that completely changes his life. It is a terrible case of 'There but for the grace of God go I', taken to an appalling extreme.

I must say, that I may never eat a pot pie again, having read 'Homemade Pie'. The twist at the end of this tale is a real surprise, and gruesome though the tale is, it is one of my favorites.

'Cowboy Up' is the tale of an urban cowboy with an identity crisis, and a marriage proposal gone awry.

'The Party Pooper' is an extremely graphic tale of two buddies who make porn films in their spare time. These are men whom I wouldn't want to know, but hey - it's all in good fun. (NOT!)

The book ends with 'Weight' a tale of a young man who has suffered a lifetime of abuse for being obese. It is not a long tale, but it is the sort of tale that would have found its way onto 'The Twilight Zone' back in the heyday of morality tales.

I could practically hear Rod Serling 's voice introducing each of these well crafted and deliciously thought-provoking tales!

All in all, J. Allen Fielder has written a wonderfully creepy series of short stories. This book is firmly on my list of keepers, and you can find it at for the reasonable price of .99.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, John A. Aragon and Mary W. Walters

Today I am reviewing a book that is unique in it's approach to telling the story. Let me begin by saying  The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid is NOT your daddy's western! I've long been a fan of both the authors, John A. Aragon and Mary W. Walters, and I did expect big things from this collaboration.  I was not disappointed!
The Blurb:
The West will never be the same . . . .

New Mexico, 1922.

The orphaned eighteen-year-old stablehand Rosalind Grundy is seduced by a married woman, and faces a lynching after the pair is surprised in flagrante delicto. But she manages to escape with the aid of a strange and aristocratic old man who calls himself Don Valiente.

Don Valiente, having read too many dime westerns, has come to believe that he is a famous gunfighter. He thinks Roz is a young man named Ross, and he takes her under his wing, intending to teach her and to revive "The Code Of The Caballeros."

Don Valiente and Roz embark on a series of comic adventures. But when they come upon a grisly murder scene and the trail of three escaped-convict killers, Roz realizes that her only chance to survive the imminent showdown and to reunite with her true love lies in her ability to separate Don Valiente's madness from the eternal truths in his teaching.
The Review:
Let me just say I fell in love with Don Valiente the moment he began speaking!  He is wild, wise and completely committed to living The Code of the Caballeros.  In one very moving scene, after Roz has been forced to kill a man in self defense, she sheds tears for her vanquished foe, wondering why he had to go and put himself in the position where she had to shoot him in self-defense. Don Valiente tells her that the path of the Caballero is full of compassion for the misguided souls he must usher into the next world. "Do you not think that the executioner does not recognise that even those who must pay for their bad deeds with their lives are also human beings, like him, who live, love, and know the beauty of creation?"
The wisdom Don Valiente imparts to Roz over the course of the tale is beautiful and moving. His spirituality is deep and is such a part of him that he has an enormous influence on his young apprentice. I myself have taken much of it to heart! His truths are universal, and as she begins to understand what he is trying to teach her, Roz begins to know who she is, and to be comfortable in her own skin.
Roz is young, beautifully human and is just a girl who is caught up in something that is so much larger than she is. Her motives are simple and honest. In reading this book, I felt every one of of Roz's trials and sorrows as if they were my own.  She's an unlikely hero, but she is the sort of hero that made the legends of the old west come to life.
The bad-guys in this tale are awesome, in part because they aren't all men.  Leta, Kruger and the Beast have few redeeming qualities, and they are quite frightening.  I never knew what they would do next. They are as nasty and evil as any villains I've ever met. 
If you are looking for a real adventure, a book that will widen your horizons and will keep you turning the pages into the wee hours of the night, this is definitely the book for you.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

(sic) by Scott Kelly

I love the cover; it's simple and complex at the same time.
It's difficult to find a really well-written book that has a driving concept behind it. Some start with a great idea and others have beautiful prose, but to have both interwoven in one book is a rare, lovely thing. The Age of Miracles is one - the idea that the planet's revolution is gradually slowing sings out with lush phrases.

[sic] is another. The book is about a group of kids who play a game called Eureka, invented by David, the ringleader (more about him later.) In the game, if someone gets tagged "It," they must do something in the next fifteen minutes to completely change his life. Or her life. 

At first the game is simple - a damaged, gorgeous girl gets tagged and kisses a nerdy guy in front of everyone in the school, David switches paperwork between two McMansions. But as things progress, the game and the changes inflicted by the kids themselves become more and more trippy.

That's the concept, and it's a good one. A lesser writer would have created a decent manuscript that tells the story of the kids and the game as a compelling enough read. But this is Scott Kelly, who is a real wordsmith. Look at how he describes Kent's father, the landlord of the trailer park where the Eureka players all live:
Scott Kelly, the author

Kent's dad slept under an awning. Rolls of fat spilled out from the sides of the larn chair. Dad once warned me to stay away from Mr. Gimble - fairly easy advice to follow, because the landlord seemed violent and pissed off at all times.
A sweaty thatch of faded blondhair gave way to fat cheeks and thick jowls. What struck me most was how sad Kent's dad looked. Not mad at all. Just a defeated frown, like he was about to start bawling in his sleep. Like dreaming was torment. Like it hurt to be.
I could guess the cause of his nightmares: the landlord hated being alone with himself.

The narrator is Jacob. He frames the story as he speaks to police, to a youth psychologist, and also to us. [sic] begins with David's death, and throughout the book, Jacob is trying to describe what happened. I dare you to read that first paragraph and not want to find out what happens:

My personal savior is named David Bloom, and presently he's falling about ten stories from the top of a water tower. And my stupid stunned mind; all I can think is that he looks great doing it. Arms spread, fingertips extended, face serene - homicide by stage dive. His body returns to the earth below, the ten-story drop reducing him to a streak of white and blue cloth, brown hair blown back from closed eyes. Maybe he's smiling. Maybe I just like to think so.

By the way - the story is told in the past tense, a big plus for me. I'm not a present tense fan at all. After that first paragraph, the tense switches smoothly to the past, and Kelly makes it work. And the added concept of David's fall (or flight) is extended throughout the book, as Jacob seeks the blame for David's death: "I blame the death of David Bloom on the fact that after the math, David always won. His solar system spun, and we were trapped in its orbit."

David himself is the catalyst, although his influence extends through the other kids. He is attractive: 

David's skin shone against low-hanging sun, wisps of curled brown hair a halo charged by the dawn's light. Never got a haircut his mom didn't give, so it was shoulder-length, in calm curls. 
Angry almond eyes.

The other kids are vivid characters as well. There is Kent, the son of the landlord, who could have been a simple, static character but reveals layers of personality as the story unfolds. Cameron is the damaged beauty, molested by Kent's dad, who kisses Steven, the dweeby guy. There's Emily, the girl who is "all dyed black hair and army boots." She might be one of my favorite characters, even though she is dangerous - perhaps because she is dangerous - she refuses to put up with things as they are. Perhaps it is the reason that she embraces Eureka. The kids are the players : they are called the Six.

And then there is an outsider, Nora - an overweight girl that Jacob falls for. The description of her and the growing relationship between Jacob and the girl who refuses to play the game that takes over the lives of the Six. 

That creates a great tension between her and Jacob, although the other relationships (between Cameron and Kent, Emily and Jacob, and Jacob and David himself) are also explored deeply. 

It's as if Kelly stretches things, so we can see the thoughts and feelings behind the mumbled conversations and making out sessions between the members of the Six and Nora. He finds the "liminal spaces" (read the book to find out what that is) hiding in their interactions.

There were some sections that made me pause. For example, in the second half of the book, when David talks to the Six about his philosophy, he doesn't sound like a teen but a professor. I get that he is supremely intelligent (he paints impressions of music so you can almost hear it) but would a teen kid really say, "Change is the only constant, and so we must constantly change"?

I was also disappointed that Nora became a thin girl. Over the course of the book, she loses weight and shows off her mile-longlegs and her "athletic ponytail." I would have loved the originality if Jacob had continued to fall for her, pounds and all.

However, I must say that these flaws (along with one POV change and one over-compression of events) stood out BECAUSE the book is so good. If that lesser writer had offered the book, these would have been lost, as trash inside a messy trailer gets kicked to one side. In the glowing symphony of Kelly's book, I noticed them because of the beauty of everything else.

And let me mention here, before I forget, the soaring beauty of the grackle image - those birds that pick trash near the trailerpark. They occur throughout the book, and it is a lovely, sustained metaphor.

I would still highly recommend [sic] because of the concept, the writing, the characters - and the amazing ending. The book accomplished that rare thing - it entertained me and made me think, at the same time. 

You can purchase [sic] on Amazon or add it to your Goodreads list.

As well, read more about Scott Kelly's book on Facebook or his author website.

(This review was previously published on Fresh Pot of Tea.)