Saturday, August 9, 2014

Song of Kali, by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons has written a horror story that chills the reader to the very core. The protagonist has been invited to Calcutta to pick up a new manuscript of an established poet.  The problem is that the poet's death had been reported some years ago, and the editors at Harper's magazine want journalist/poet Robert Luczak to go pick it up personally so that he can determine if the poet M. Das is indeed still living, or if the Writers Union in India is perpetrating a hoax. 

Robert takes his wife, who knows several of the Indian languages. Having been born in India, he feels she can help him translate not only language but cultural differences. Their 7 month old baby daughter goes along as well. 

Problems begin almost immediately.  The plane is late; the person expected to meet them is not at the airport but another man is.  He is socially awkward to say the least but convinces them he was sent to meet them.  He does finally get them to the hotel but Bobby has an almost visceral dislike for the man and for the city of Calcutta.  Once he gets to the hotel he relaxes a little and decides his anger is likely due to jet lag.

But every time he leaves the hotel, he meets with obstacles, changed plans, and the uncertainty of whether he will get back to the safety of the hotel or not.  When he insists that he must meet M. Das personally, he is gradually introduced into a perverse cult of the Hindi goddess Kali. He begins to see her evil influence everywhere.  Perhaps the evil is not just the religious cult but the culture of the city itself.  His departure is delayed over and over.  He tries to get his family out of town but the flights are so unreliable...will they ever be safe and secure again?

First published in 1985, this book has won the World Fantasy Award and is recognized as a classic in the horror genre.  If you haven't read it, give it a try.

The Silver Rings, by Samuel Valentino

The Silver Rings is a delightful conglomeration of fairy tales that should delight very young readers and their parents, as well as the older children who read for themselves.  It is fun to pick up on the similarities to the Cinderella story, and characters such as The Fairy Godmother, the Three Little Pigs, the Sly Fox, a magic mirror, giants, noble princes, etc., etc.

Samuel Valentino has written and illustrated a story featuring identical twins Alice and Celia.  They are patient and hard working girls who are bossed around mercilessly by their step-mother.  StepMom has two daughters, Tara(ntula) and Ana(conda), who are as mean as they can be, not to mention ugly and obnoxious.

Celia and Alice take advantage of an opportunity to escape from their home into the Enchanted Forest.  With only a few missteps, they make their way to their fairy godmother Mozzarella's house.  She gives the girls each a disguise for protection and a magic ring, so that they can separate, but the ring will turn colors if one sister is in trouble and needs the help of her sister.  The girls love each other but like different  environments so they set out in different directions.  Celia loves the outdoors; Alice wants four walls and the comforts of home.

They find what they want in the short run, but troubles come...there are lots of fairy tales to allude to...but the girls find first, adventure, then obstacles, then an awareness that they are quite capable of saving themselves.  And oh, yeah, some handsome princes, eventually (who they help to save) come, making their lives just that much more interesting!

A delightful tale with appealing illustrations and plenty of humor and wit, the book is available as of July 1, 2014, so be on the look out for this delightful fairy tale!

I read the eversion of the book courtesy of NetGalley.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bad Magic, by Pseudonymous Bosch


Pseudonymous Bosch has authored a witty mystery for middle schoolers in the vein of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events.  Bosch writes from a personal perspective but does not reveal the narrator's relationship to the featured characters right away.

Bosch uses wry humor and a comfortable story telling style to introduce protagonist Clay, a 12 year old familiar with magic since his preschool days. But since his older brother with whom he shared the pursuit of magic mysteriously left home, he has left the hobby behind. Clay and his brother have attached some meanings to words they use to describe magic, so that Bad Magic really means good, or impressive, or even awesome, magic. But now Clay feels like bad magic means cheesy and fake.

He has recently performed in a school play, The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, which also involves magic. Before the reader even realizes it, Bosch is sharing/teaching about the play in a most entertaining way which moves the plot of the book right along. Bosch uses footnotes (super easy in the e-version) to define words or add details in his witty style, making one not want to miss a single footnote!

But Clay's life hits a downward spiral when  graffiti appears on a wall at school and everyone believes he did it. He knows he didn't, but neither the school administrators nor his parents believe him. The school insists that the parents see that he faces "consequences" for the action, and that's how he gets sent to a summer camp for wayward kids.

And THAT'S where the magic and the mystery both kick in! Entertaining and likeable characters with clever dialog make this an enjoyable read from cover to cover...not to mention that one just might learn how to's on some magic tricks along the way, or even give Shakespeare a chance!

I received a pre-publication e-book from NetGalley. The book should be available where books are sold in September 2014, so be looking for it.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Jack Strong, A Story of Life After Life, by Walter Mosley

Jack Strong comes slowly to awareness in a Las Vegas hotel room.  His vivid dreams are seemingly coming from different personalities at home within his mind. But when he awakens, becoming aware of his physical body, he sees that he is patched together...predominantly in appearance a white male, but when he examines his hand, he sees that one finger of his left hand seems to be that of a black man and one on the right is from a woman.  The voices in his head remain, but he can control, with some effort, which personality will dominate at a given time.

Author Mosley has stepped away from the urban detective genre that he does so well, but his skills make him at home in any genre.  This short story incorporates some sci-fi elements with enough of a criminal action element to keep it exciting.

We are not told how Jack came into being, but there is a hint that he has been "created" by some organization or out of this world power.  All these personalities within Jack are beings who have previously died, but have some unresolved issues to deal with.  This may be their opportunity for redemption. When they pool their capabilities some can help others by providing physical strength or specific knowledge to help right a wrong or gain an edge against the bad guys.

The great thing is that this open ended tale can go so many directions, depending on which personality steps up to the "podium" to take control for awhile.  In this sequence a professional in the gambling world, Lance Richards, was killed by his partner after they were discovered skimming from the casino profits that their boss was skimming from the big boss.  The partner had assumed that Lance's safety deposit key would be on him when he died, but the knowledge of it's whereabouts died with him.  After Jack/Lance has creatively  dealt with this situation, he decides to hitch hike out of town...Jack's not sure why until he realizes that the personality taking over is a hitch hiking serial killer...don't you want to know what happens next?!

Received an early digital copy courtesy of NetGalley, and hope that this intriguing story has a sequel in the works.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion, by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith has turned to the childhood of his delightful protagonist, Precious Ramotswe, to create a new children's book, Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion.  This delightful children's story recalls the exciting week when eight year old Precious gets to go stay with her aunt, who works at a safari camp on the river. The illustrations are classic woodcuts with splashes of color which help visualize the story on  every page.

Precious is already good at paying attention to details, and it pays off when a tame lion goes missing. The lion is actually an animal actor who comes along with a film crew, and Precious and her new friend Khumo actually get to help with some of the filming.  Precious and Khumo are nearly as upset as the film crew when they wake up one morning to realize Timmy the lion has escaped!

After the grown ups give up looking, Precious and Khumo offer to take the canoe down the river in search of Timmy.  Aunt Bee warns them about the dangers of the river and the children promise to be very careful.

Will they be able to find Timmy? Does Timmy want to be found? Even as an eight year old Precious is showing signs of the wisdom and cleverness that will stand her in good stead as owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana.

This book will be fun to read to young children, and the older children will love reading it themselves.  The suggested age range is 7-12 years.

Rose Gold, An Easy Rawlins Mystery, by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley has written another terrific Easy Rawlins mystery.  This one is set in the turbulent 60's era:  Black Power, hippies, getting high, and the rebellion of youth against The Man.  As for the title, Rose Gold is the nickname used for Rosemary Goldsmith, the daughter of a wealthy arms manufacturer.

Easy Rawlins, a black detective already well known to the LAPD, is who they go to help find Rose.  Maybe she has been kidnapped by a Black Power anarchist, or just maybe she is in on the plot and is trying to extort money from her dad and his company.  The Special Assistant to the Police Chief, Roger Frisk, a little shady himself, comes to Easy's house on a Sunday afternoon.  It is pretty clear that Easy does not have much of a choice on whether or not he'll take the case.  This case needs to stay out of the news and Easy is instructed to talk to no one except Tout Manning, Frisk's assistant.

Lots to ponder on that case, including the real story on the Black Power anarchist...Easy remembers him when he was trying to make it in professional boxing.  And several of Easy's friends and acquaintances need his help in resolving the complications in their lives.  One is being black-mailed, another  has a white woman friend whose mixed race pre-school age son has been kidnapped.  Her black husband has recently died and he was estranged from his family. 

The only police officer Easy trusts is on leave and in trouble with the higher ups, according to Special Assistant Frisk. Easy needs his help but Suggs is wallowing in his misery, missing the girl friend who has gone missing.  That would be the girl he arrested for passing counterfeit money before he started dating her, thus his troubles with the bosses.  Easy promises to find the girl if Suggs will sober up and help him with resolving the other cases.

Mosley's prose is a pleasure to read. He weaves a many stranded mystery and brings it all to an exciting and satisfactory conclusion. Easy Rawlins is one clever and capable detective, and it is pretty easy to imagine Denzel Washington as the confident detective in the movie version...it's a role he has played before in the film version of Mosley's earlier, The Devil In the Blue Dress.

I read a pre-publication digital copy courtesy of edelweiss.  Thanks for the pleasurable opportunity!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Anthem's Fall, by S.L. Dunn

Anthem's Fall begins as a science fiction thriller-type story featuring Kristen Jordan, a grad student at a New York university.  She is one of those smart kids who skipped every couple of grades, graduated high school and college very early and is recruited to work on a ground-breaking cell research project by a prestigious scientist at Columbia, based on her senior thesis on the DNA double helix.   Three years into the project, she is more of a colleague to Dr.Vatruvia than a research assistant.

But as the story opens, she is sensing that Dr.Vatruvia is not sharing all that he has learned about the synthetic cell the team has produced. The researchers are careful to emphasize that the cells they have produced are synthetic; not living, as categorizing them as living would mean dealing with regulatory governance and oversight. Kristen's ethical sensibilities are raised as she considers what consequences might result from further experimentation.  Her fears are confirmed when Vatruvia insists that she sign a non-disclosure form before he tells her of the progress that has been made with the synthetic cells.

Tension mounts in the Research Center, but unexpectedly the author introduces a new set of characters and a seemingly different plot line, taking place on another planet in a galaxy far, far away, one might say.  This is the planet Anthem, and be prepared because it's civilization is about to fall.  This society is built on the assumption of the supremacy of raw power and strength. Battles and all out war are a way of life for these beings, who are similar to humans (except that they are able to fly and have super powers that make them virtually invincible). 

Will these two stories ever come together?   As a matter of fact they do.  Genetic manipulation has contributed to their downfall, but can it be that their redemption might be found on Planet Earth? That is what the last survivors think, as they board a space ship headed there.  They have no idea that one of their own has come to Earth several years earlier, but with a plan to assimilate and help, not conquer and subdue.  Expect some mighty stunning battles in the skies filled with the skyscrapers of New York.

Surely there will be movie talks before long!  Lots of action; lots of buildings destroyed and planes crashing, not to mention the battle of world views:  Whose morality will prevail? Is it too late to save Earth?  Too late to rebuild Anthem?

Look for a sequel to answer some of these questions.

I received my copy from LibraryThing, and am glad I got a chance to review it.