Second Year Anniversary And Best of the First Half of 2020 in Books

Hello, to all my fellow readers it is past the half of the year and my 2 year anniversary of starting my WordPress blog. I’m very grateful for all my followers and shared connections and correspondence or comments. I love to do my best of book read this year so far and compare it to my final list of the year, which book stayed and occupied my thoughts? I have two categories books published this year and books not published this year.  I have read a total of 50 books so far with 13 being books published this year. Cannot wait to read all of your’s and see what I missed. There is still a lot of books on my upcoming list the new Riley Sager book Home Before Dark, Martha Wells new Murderbot novel Network Effect, The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry, The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk and The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton.

Top Five Books Published this year:

1. What Lies Between Us By John Marrs this one of the craziest books I’ve read period. You cannot predict what will happen or put this book down! Characters flip from being good to bad so fast, as the reader learns more secrets. There is some of the most cringe worthy scenes, not because of gore or anything horrid, but because you are reading about a character that keeps digging themselves into holes. This is family dysfunction at its finest. What would it take for you to chain your mother in her room? The answers come quickly but the reasons behind them stay buried in lies. This is the second novel that I have read from John Marrs, last years The Passengers was also very good.

2. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James is a nonstop thriller that mixes elements of a ghost story with a mystery. The pace was nonstop from the beginning, and did not let up as it reached the climax. The story is really fun, I enjoyed finding out more about the ghost and why they haunted the Sun Down Motel. I was not expecting this book to be so good.  I’ve seen it gaining hype but the level of fun is through the roof.  Riley Sager does the blurb on the cover, which fits because the writing style is so similar.

3. The Holdout By Graham Moore is as good as a legal thriller can get, it is one very entertaining and will keep you guessing, and two makes a statement about how our current legal system is broken and can be manipulated. The Holdout is two mysteries in one, as we get two different mysteries one is a did they or didn’t they murder? And the other is a who done it? The book is separated by a ten year span having a jury trial and then ten years later doing a retrospective documentary of what happened during the trial. This book was part 12 Angry Men combined with an Agatha Christie murder mystery (there’s one I’m thinking about but the plot could be a hint to where it goes, and would hate to spoil anything) with a dash of John Grisham. This book makes me want to check out other works by Graham Moore.

4. The Book Of Koli by M.R. Carey this book is all heart, you can’t help but fall for Koli as he wants something more in this world, and he manages to get a piece in the most unlikeliest of ways. He is the unlikeliest of hero with a weapon to match. The Book of Koli is science fiction book after an apocalyptic battle where we tried to fix the environment but the world created trees that can walk and kill for nourishment. This book is the first book in the proposed Rampart Trilogy. The novel has a couple of good twists and turns and went in a direction I didn’t see it going. I have been approved for the second book and cannot wait to see the direction the Rampart Trilogy heads in.

5. You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is a great thriller about power and manipulation of a young woman who doesn’t want to fell so alone. This novel did not let down, it had the twist I was looking for, great main characters, compelling reason behind the crimes, and it was a fun unpredictable ride. You Are Not Alone is the third book collaboration between Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Anonymous Girl was in my top five of new novels from last year.

Top Five books not Published this year:

1. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow is Scarface and the Godfather rolled into one. You live as the good guys the bad guys and the people in between that are casualties of the drug war. This looks at both sides like I have never read before, it shows the good guys having to cross lines they never thought they could cross and the bad guys crossing those lines to keep what they have. There’s a scene that will leave you floored as a bad guy does the unthinkable to take down a rival, think Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. This book goes through 3 decades of drug traffic starting in the 1970’s to the 2000’s, from Mexico, Columbia and the United States. The Cartel the second book is just as good and gets a little but more fan fare, but the book I like The Power of the Dog more.

2. Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman is the second book in the Arc of the Scythe series. Thunderhead ramps up the action, expands on the already great world building, it has one hell of a climax, and maintains the high quality writing, that will make you think long after the book is finished. I love this series so much; it is going places I could not imagine. This book has a lot of callbacks to the first novel that are really big payoffs with a couple of characters that end up coming back.  The first book is Scythe, and is 5 stars as well, but this book expands on the first book and ideas.

3. Speaks the Nightbird by Robert R. McCammon is one of my favorite stories by one of my favorites authors. This is my second reading of this epic tail that combines Historical Fiction with Murder Mystery, and adding a dash of Horror. We get a tale about witchcraft only 7 years after the Salem Witch Trials in 1699. Where witchcraft was in murky waters of being real or not.

4. The Shining by Stephen King is a truly horrific book. Alcohol and ghosts do not mix! King gets into true fear, having someone you love, a father and husband, say, “I’m going to bash your brains”, then attempt to do it. The Shining is a ghost story but the scariest monster in the book is addictions and how it changes your rational choices, to choices that jeopardize your family. 

5. Full Throttle by Joe Hill is comprised of 13 short stories, two are written with his dad Stephen King. Some stories are bone chilling tales of fright, while others give whimsical insight of the the unknown. All tales draw you in in some way, some let you go easily, while other try to hold you in a death grip and not let go. A couple of the the short stories are odes to his favorite authors like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Lawerence Block, David Mitchell, and Stephen King. Over half of the stories have a five star rating.

Book Review: The Border by Don Winslow

The Border By Don Winslow takes the epic tale of DEA agent Art Keller and his war on drugs to a worthy conclusion. The Border is book three in the Power of the Dog series. This series starts in 1975 and takes us all the way up to 2019. The Border mirrors events that happened in real life and tweek them to fit the narrative, making it feel very real and current. The previous books in the series have remained in Mexico, but this book looks at the drug war going on in America. This book reminded me of J. R. Tolkien’s Return of the King when they destroyed the ring, they go back the shire is under siege (that happens in the book not the movie). Art Keller spent so many years trying to destroy drug kingpins in Mexico, that he returns to see that drugs are all around and didn’t stop anything. I did not like The Border as much as The Power of the Dog and The Cartel which were both 5 stars, but this delivered a pretty could conclusion wrapping up the series really well. This book brought back a couple of characters from the first book, that I was curious about what happened to their characters, since they were missing from the first. This is my fourth Don Winslow book, and I plan to read a lot more.

The Plot: In 2012 Art Keller took out Adan Barrera, it was unsanctioned, and he denied to everyone even the woman he loved. This created rumors a sighting of the drug kingpin. The extended Barrera family still ran the drugs, but they all wondered where Adan is? and if he is dead, who takes over? Art Keller who retired is lured back to DEA, by a senator who he has helped in the past, he not coming back as an agent, but as the director. His new job is to stop drugs in America. Adan’s body is found which causes split in the family and breaks out in a turf war. Crazy Eddie just wanted to do his four years and retire after he helped Art Kellar take down Adan by snitching. Prison his hard for him, and he has to make deals to survive putting him right back in the drug game. Art Keller thought he killed the kingpin, the killings and drugs would slow down, but he was wrong.

What I Liked: This series is still hardcore look at drug and their effect. The conclusion wrapped up everything, every dirty little secret was exposed and it was quite something to read. Art Kellar got to keep the girl, Marisol is his soul mate it was nice to see him not destroy one relationship. I liked all of Crazy Eddie’s rise and falls, he’s a fun character that is like a cat always landing on his feet. I liked the war to be the new boss. I liked Ric’s last night out, that’s how you go out. I liked all the double and triple crosses, and some still keeping loyalty that was formed years ago. I loved seeing Sean and Nora come back into the series.

What I Disliked: The Nico storyline, it was interesting at times, but for such a long book, it was an easy cut for me. I felt the storyline barely dipped into drugs, and was more about illegal immigrants. What was done with Chuy’s storyline, since he was in the epilogue, with Art Kellar. He was dispatched too soon, and Art never really found out what happened. Chuy was basically his son for two years, and when he runs away he makes a search party but doesn’t seem to give it another thought after that.

Recommendations: The Border is a hard core narrative that is very hard hitting. The Power of the Dog series has way too many trigger warnings to list, it is for a mature reader. That being said the writing is really good and will keep you very entertained, you will live the lives of drug dealers, cartel enforcers, DEA agents, undercover cops, teenage immigrants, gang members, reporters, and hitmen. I rated The Border 4 out of 5 stars. I rated the full Power of the Dog series 5 out of 5. The Power of the Dog, which was my favorite 5 out of 5, The Cartel a worthy sequel 4 out of 5 and finally this book The Border 4 out of 5 stars. I started reading Don Winslow books 3 years and he is quickly becoming my favorite new author in Crime Fiction.

Book Review: The Cartel by Don Winslow

The Cartel by Don Winslow is one epic book, the story takes place over 9 years and feels like it. You live the lives of heroes and villains in a drug war gone bad. The book in fiction but is heavily researched with real events added to the story to give it an authentic feel. The Cartel is the second book in the Power of the Dog series. This is the second time I have read this book, the first time I read it out of series order, but this book does a great job of recapping everything that happened in Power of the Dog ( the first book), that I wasn’t lost. Power of the Dog starts in the 70′ and leads up to the 2000’s and The Cartel takes it from the 2000’s and goes up to 2010’s. The main characters  from Power of the Dog Art Kellar and Adan Barrera continue their blood feud going to an amazing climax. This is a great gangster tale, with lots of action. The Godfather the film is mentioned a lot, and you can see parallels but this novel is definitely it’s own thing. For a 616 pages this novel has an amazing pay off that rewards the reader for all the pages.

The Plot: After Art Kellar had Adan Barrera arrested in the US. Art retired and joined silent monks to maintain seek mercy for all that he has done. Adan Barrera cuts a deal to rat on one of his ex-partners in exchange to be extradited to Mexico to serve the rest of prison sentence and attend the funeral of his daughter. Once in Mexico he has all the prison officials bought and lives like a king, he has female prisoners brought in to parties and falls for one Magda. Adan Blames Kellar for his daughter’s death and puts a two million dollar bounty on him, which draws his old agency the DEA to warn him. Kellar fearing retaliation goes on the move and takes down bounty hunters on the way all not wanting to be apart of the DEA, until he reads a report about Adan escaping prison. In Adan’s 3 year absence a new gang the Zeta’s have grown into power. Adan was ruthless with in reason but the Zeta’s just want chaos. Kellar want to take sides down as they target people that are close to him. Kellar may have to work with Adan to take them down.

What I Liked:The characters are interesting and each is given a background, so you know where there choices come from and they feel very real. Crazy Eddie my favorite side character. He is funny and ruthless. I loved Crazy Eddie trying to make a movie of his life. The Climax is action packed and really fulfilling ending. The shoot out at the Don’s house was a great one, where the 70 year old hunter won’t be bossed around and destroy his home. I liked the Mexico prison scenes, which reminded me of the Goodfellas prison scenes. I loved the seamless blending of facts and fiction.

What I Disliked: the only time I found this book challenging is keeping up with what side everyone was on, and sometimes if they were in Mexico or America. The Character of Chuy was so underutilized, his character disappears for almost 300 pages, that I almost forgot about him, when he returns at the end of the book. There were too many scenes with the Juarez news, I liked were the scene ultimately went too but it took way too long to get there.

Recommendations: Pick up The Power of the Dog series, it is so hard hitting. I you want to read a gritting hard hinting novel that does not stop, the this is the book for you. This book is all about gangsters and drugs. I rated The Cartel by Don Winslow 5 out of 5 stars, the novel had a few hiccups but delivered on a lot. I liked The Power of the Dog slightly more. I have just received a copy of The Border by Don Winslow which is the 3rd book in the Power of the Dog series and plan on reading that soon.

Book Review: The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow is Scarface and The Godfather rolled into one. You live as the good guys the bad guys and the people in between that are casualties of the drug war. This looks at both sides like I have never read before, it shows the good guys having to cross lines they never thought they could cross and the bad guys crossing those lines to keep what they have. There’s a scene that will leave you floored as a bad guy does the unthinkable to take down a rival, think Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. This book goes through 3 decades of drug traffic starting in the 1970’s to the 2000’s, from Mexico, Columbia and the United States, through the mob, the cartel and the narcos. This is the first book in the Power of the Dog Series, it continues in The Cartel, and in The Border. I have read the Cartel and it is just as excellent as The Power of the Dog. Winslow has this writing style that feels so real, he can take you to the past in a blink of an eye while wrapping up the current narrative. His writing style reminds me of Mario Puzo meets James Ellroy. The fiction blends perfectly with real events, making the novel feel so real. This is My third Don Winslow novel, and I have been blown away each time. It was just announced that the novel The Force will star Matt Damon and be directed by James Mangold, who just directed Damon in Ford v Ferrari. Winslow has previously had the Secret Life of Bobby Z and The Savages who both starred John Travolta.

The Plot: Art Kellar a soldier in Vietnam War takes a job at a newly formed organization the DEA. His job is to stop the flow of heroin from Mexico to the US. Art makes friends with the Tio Barrera a local cop with a lot of influence and his nephews Adan and Raul. Adan and Kellar are fast friends and the reason he now has the influence he has in the organization. Kellar and the Barrera’s take down the drug kingpin of heroin in Mexico. Which the DEA calls job well done. Only the Barrera’s had an ulterior motive to take up the distribution and use it for a cheaper new drug cocaine. Art Kellar has to convince his superiors of the new drug and new power players, Kellar feels responsible for giving power. Kellar dedicates his life to stopping his former friends the Barrera’s. It will take a Priest, a prostitute, and a member of the Irish mob to all play a part.

What I Liked: The history in intertwined in the novel elevates it to the next level. The way the CIA plays both sides and the motive that is given. The ups and downs of good guys to bad guys. This side characters that are explored and make sense when you see the whole puzzle in how they fit into it. The way people are described really sets them apart. There’s easily over fifty characters and I was never once confused on who they were and who’s side they were on. The twist and turns of people flipping, of plans not working out, of people having hidden agendas, and of how connected they really are, is what makes this novel so great. The story flows so seamlessly despite how complex the storyline is. Nora and Callan’s arcs are my favorites to good supporting character’s that are more than they seem. The bridge scene is, the scene that will stick with me for a while, it’s tension filled, it’s a do or die moment for one character, and it was so horrific, so shocking, that it made me cry with grief. This is the Red Wedding moment in Game of Thrones.

What I Disliked: Understanding of Columbian politics, I feel like I need a whole book to understand Columbian politics, and the book takes a shot at it and I still came away confused. I feel like it is more of the complexity of the situation than the explaining of it, it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the book, and I still took a lot a way from it.

Recommendation: The Power of the Dog is a book that feels like a great gangster movie as your reading it. There’s too many trigger warning’s too list, If you enjoy gangster movies or Game of Thrones the series or the books then you can handle the brutality of this. This is my third novel by Don Winslow and it will not be my last. I read the Cartel first before knowing it was a series and was blown away and not too lost, I now plan on rereading it, to get the impact of everything that happened before, and eventually read the Border the newest entry in the series. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow gets the same score as the Cartel 5 out of 5 stars. Do yourself a favor and check out Don Winslow’s work, if you can handle it.

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is a love story at its heart, that I found very beautiful, it dips into the science fiction by way of magic, and the time period of early 1900’s makes it historical fiction as well. I liked the idea of doorways to another world, where some people want to explore them, while other’s want them destroyed. The story is told as a book with in a book, which took a little getting used to, once I got used to it I liked the storytelling more, and there’s a few surprises in this way of storytelling that really work for the narrative. When there is action it is fast and well described. The book has a lot of little twist and turns that keep the story interesting until the very end.

The Plot: January is 7 years old when she finds her first door way, is it a child’s imagination that she found a doorway to another place or not. When she tells her caretaker, Mr. Locke, this, he scolds her about growing up and not living in a fantasy world. He also burns the door down. January’s father Julian works for Mr. Locke procuring rare items and in exchange allows his daughter to live with the wealthy Mr. Locke. January likes Mr. Locke despite his strictness and sees him as a surrogate father. January learns to grow up in class and still thinks about the doorway that she went through when a child, and has a token a gold coin she found that day, that she still keeps. January finds a book on doorways to other worlds, and it tells of a girl that is about her age that is obsessed with doors. Julian is reported missing, January wants to go find him, but Mr. Locke wont let her, and locks her up. She remembers that time when she wanted the door from her childhood to open, she wrote it down and that is what she does, hoping for some way out, and the door is unlocked. She tries to escape but is found by Mr. Locke and some of his society members. She is questioned about how she got out, and in her anger she shouts at an aggressive society member, “I hope you get locked behind a door to another world.” Which they turn to Mr. Locke and say you told her, everything about doors is a reality.

What I Liked: January the main character is really fun, I love her voice the first 5 or six pages really hooked me as she tries to introduce herself to the audience. I loved that there is a pay off to who the book is to in both books since this is a book with in a book. Jane is a great supporting character, I loved her backstory. Actually this book nails every backstory, Mr. Locke’s, Jane, Julian, and January’s mother. The world created and the door worlds were really cool a couple of them I wanted to see explored. The bad guys have a pretty good well thought out motive for what they do. I loved how many twist and turns this book had.

What I Disliked: When the book within a book is first introduced it is really jarring, especially since it starts with a preface and has a funky date that threw me off ( it is explained later). The narrator of the book tells his story in third person which was off putting, at least it is addressed but later in the story. This is all in the first hundred pages then the book gets really good, and I had no problems with it.

Recommendations: I enjoyed this book the beginning took a little strain with getting used to the book with in a book, but after that this book is amazing, I was captivated, and couldn’t wait to see what happened. This book reminded me a little of The Long Earth by Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter mixed with The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. If you like your science fiction and historical fiction mixed then this book is for you. I rated The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Queen of Bedlam by Robert R. McCammon

The Queen of Bedlam by Robert R. McCammon is a haunting historical fiction that takes place in 1702. This is the second novel in the Matthew Corbett series. The series follow Matthew Corbett a young idealist full of honor and virtue living in the time of America’s beginning. Matthew a young lawyer’s clerk loves and respects the law, and wants to see those who break it properly punished. He has a knack for getting in trouble and having adventures. In Speaks the Nightbird Matthew defends a woman accused of witchcraft in the Carolina’s Colony that the town and his own magistrate believe to be true, but Matthew sees the makings of a deep conspiracy. This time Matthew is in New York and chasing a “Jack the Ripper” like murderer the Masker. This series is fun and the character of Matthew keeps evolving, he’s only a clerk for a little while as a greater calling suits him, that of a detective. This book manages to fit in nicely with the first novel, and has a decent amount of call backs. The tone is the same blending Historical Fiction with Mystery with a dash of Horror. This is my second time reading the Queen of Bedlam.

The Plot: After the events in Speaks the Nightbird, three years later Matthew Corbett is with a new magistrate, Magistrate Powers in New York. New York is Matthew’s old home, where he was selected to be a clerk from the orphanage. Matthew now stalks his old and current orphanage headmaster Ausley, speaking to those he abused trying to get them to testify in open court. Matthew while out and about wandering the streets to watch Ausley hoping he commits a crime, stumbles on a murder by the Masker. The Masker is a serial killer known for cutting the victims face like a mask. Matthew’s current magistrate sees potential in him not as a magistrate but for a new organization that help solve mysteries. He gets a trial run on the queen of bedlam case. A woman with no identity is in a catatonic state in a mental institution, she is referred to as the Queen because the only thing she will ask about is if, the king’s reply has returned, but recently she reacted to the death of one of the Masker’s victims. Matthew is tasked with finding out who she is in hopes of awaking her. What Matthew finds out is maybe this woman’s identity is the key to discovering who the Masker is.

What I Liked: The Character of Matthew Corbett keeps getting better and better, as he evolves. The history all fits nothing seems out of ordinary, the descriptions are very detailed and create a perfect visual of the mind. My Favorite new character is Hudson Greathouse the lead detective to Matthew. he’s all brawn and is often surprised how far Matthew’s intellect gets him. I loved the fencing scenes the most. This novel is very well written with lots of little details that add in the end. The climax to this novel was so exciting, I couldn’t remember what happened or who lived or died, which made it even more exciting, like reading it for the first time. The bull through the glass shop was amazing, easily one of my favorite scenes. The tease of the next villain M.r Slaughter was done where you get just enough, and crave his return in the next book.

What I Disliked: Though this plot and climax are better in story and in mystery. This novel misses a very important the first book had, and that is immediacy. The plot moves a long fine but there’s no immediacy in it’s action. In Speaks the Nightbird, Matthew had to solve and disprove the witchcraft, or she was burned at the stake. I this book the murders from the Masker stop for a good while slowing the book down.

Recommendations: I whole heartedly recommend this book, it’s a great mystery set in time that does not get written all that much. The horror element are quick by really good. On my second rereading of Queen of Bedlam my rating went up a point, really liking how much pay off of the little details there is to the main and side plots. I rated Queen of Bedlam 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau is a novel that is insightful when dealing with class warfare and structure, but when it is not, the novel is a fairly obvious mystery that is easily solvable. The novel is called Dreamland after the Brooklyn Amusement park on Coney Island, it is most infamous for having a ride called Hell Gate. A horror boat ride at the time that was full of fire and live actor’s. Dreamland in the novel is more of an after thought since less than a fourth of it takes place there. I love reading about the amusement parks of yesteryear, and was eagerly anticipating this one since I had just read Curious Toys which was about Hell Gate a couple of years later in 1915. Maybe my review was tainted where the text in that book was way more descriptive and captured the atmosphere, Dreamland was really vague in details. That being said the one part this book nails is the class warfare and thoughts on immigrants. Bilyeau made comparisons to the muslim people of today and the struggles to break with people being lumped in as a group instead of being an individual. That was my favorite part, too bad the mystery took up the majority of the book. Thanks to Netgalley and Endeavor Media for giving me a copy. This book was published on January 16 2020.

The Plot: Peggy a New York shopgirl who at the Moonrise Bookstore, she is not you ordinary shopgirl, Peggy it part of the elite class and bucking the system as she craves for independence in 1911. Peggy’s Family owns mines and is making good money off them she has a huge trust that she gets when she turns 21. Her family was in a bit of turmoil and worry about their elite status as her father has passed away. He younger sister Lydia is set to marry Henry a very rich man who used to court Peggy. Lydia and Peggy are a bit estranged but thanks to Henry’s demands of the family, he moves them all to the Oriental Hotel in Brooklyn, not to far from Coney Island. When they arrive woman is found dead in the ocean. The death has everyone on there’s toes and the police protecting the rich from the amusement park patrons and workers. Peggy goes with some of her family and can’t stand the way they talk about the poor and splits off to go on her own adventure. Where she meets a foreign painter who doesn’t know that she’s rich. They end up falling for each other, but a women is murdered on the very spot where they kiss, and Stefan the painter is the only suspect the police want for the crime. Peggy is determined to find the real killer.

What I Liked: The class warfare was really good, and how you can see similarities today was really well done. Same with how immigrants are treated in America and judged on a group of people instead of an individual. I liked the character of Peggy and her feminist ideals that women in this country are still fighting. I hated the character of Lydia, Peggy’s Sister, at the beginning, but at the end of the book she was my favorite. The cover art is beautiful.

What I Disliked: The descriptions in this novel are so weak, it was hard to imagine what 1911 New York looked like. There’s a scene where Peggy is blown away by Stefan’s art, and she must buy two pieces, yet the reader gets only the briefest description of this incredible art. Hell Gate the attraction is so visually stunning I would have been lost if I had not read the book about it previously. The killer was way to easy there was no other suspects, and it was telegraphed so early on, you almost think, okay there’s got to be a twist, but there is not. Did really not like Stefan as a love interest, didn’t think they would get a long. The plot is slow a lot of start and stops so far as pace goes.

Recommendations: This is one that I can not recommend, there’s some nice little bits about class warfare and structure, but with this novel as a whole there’s not enough there to enjoy. I found the mystery incredibly weak, the novel does try to make it more exciting in the end but was still so so easy to solve. I love a great historical fiction but they need the descriptions to put me in that certain time period, and I felt them lacking, (note: I did read an advanced copy so these descriptions have hopefully improved). I hate to give books a low rate but I have to give Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau 2 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Speaks the Nightbird by Robert R. McCammon

Speaks the Nightbird by Robert R. McCammon is one of my favorite stories by one of my favorites authors. This is my second reading of this epic tale that combines Historical Fiction with Murder Mystery, and adding a dash of Horror. We get a tale about witchcraft only 7 years after the Salem Witch Trials in 1699. Where witchcraft was in murky waters of being real or not. This book introduces Matthew Corbett and is the first book in a proposed 9 book series that has two more book to be released. Speaks The Nightbird is in development at FX with Blumhouse producing and each book will be a season. I have read up to the third book before but have wanted to read the series again when it was ending, or close. This book is so good and exceeded my expectations, I remembered snippets here and there, this book is a murder mystery with a lot of plot twist, even though I was pretty sure I remembered who the mastermind was this reread gave me doubts about my memory. I original memory was right, but I had great doubts if it was right or not. When I read this 10 years ago I gave it five stars and it remains in that fie star category today.

The Plot: Magistrate Woodward and his young cleric Matthew Corbett are sent to Fount Royal a fairly new settlement in the Carolina Colony, to investigate witchcraft and murders. The road there is filled with danger as the colony is 40 miles away from any other settlement, and they have to worry about Indians and cut throats. Matthew and Woodward hear of the tale of witchcraft and murder with each man forming his own initial assessment, Matthew the skeptic believes there must be some more rational explanation and Woodward who is older has seen evil like this before read up on the Salem Witch trials. They meet the Witch, Rachel, both men are taken away by her bewitching beauty especially Matthew, but her mouth is bold and blasphemous. The trial starts with witnesses saying she was seen cavorting with the devil. Each testimony more condemning, but Matthew sees something in the testimony that he can’t explain, and has to pursue. This dark road leads to death and a conspiracy that the town is keeping hidden. There truly is a devil in Fount Royal.

What I Liked: The Characters are great and each one different. There’s about 60 characters and almost every one is a suspect in the conspiracy of witchcraft and murder. Matthew Corbett is that great character who won’t quit even if all the odds are against him. This story pays off on the little details, there’s a lot of little side stories that are tied up in conspiracy it wraps them all up as the story still drives towards the mastermind. The villains all have great have great motives, they have reasons for the terrible things they do, also some manage to keep their humanity, which I found really touching. The written dialects all work and sound natural, since this is the birth of a America 1699 there’s people coming from all over and McCammon has found a way to give each voice its unique flavor. The mystery is really great with so many layers that have to get pulled back until you see the whole thing. This novel has one of the greatest red herrings where you know a character is hiding something, but when you experience what it is prepare to laugh yourself silly.

What I Disliked: The mastermind’s lament goes on a little too long, he kind of tells everything and rambles for a few pages. After the main climax there is a slight lag as we go into the big reveal. For a 900 page novel there is very little lag.

Recommendations: Robert R. McCammon is one of my favorite writers he is criminally under the radar in writing. He mainly writes horror but with this series he can do Historical Fiction as well. Stephen King lead me to Robert R. McCammon books when he said he is in awe of his horror writing. This book nails the history of 1699 America. It shows off the frightening use of blood letting and blister cups for medical practice of the time. It highlights what a melting pot of people early America was. For mystery lovers this books ending will keep you guessing, while giving you all the facts. I rated this book 5 out of 5 stars and will keep reading the series.

Book Review: Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean is a bleak tale of survival involving eight kids and three adults stuck on an island made of black rock in the Wales. The story is based on a true story, with a lot of fictional license taken. The novel can’t help but remind me of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, as young boy’s are thrust in to adulthood but still have the pressures of fitting in. Where the World Ends is almost 200 years before Lord of the Flies, where religious superstition is high and omens mean life or death. The language used took me a bit to get into with the old words and the accent. This novel is marked as Young Adult, and the younger audience can enjoy it like the Lord of the Flies but as an adult you will get meaning behind gestures, and will better understand the power struggle. Despite this novel being bleak there’s is life to it and hidden joys as characters make choices for the betterment of others to survive. Thanks to Netgalley and Flatiron for sending me an Advanced Readers Copy this book was published on December 3 2019.

The Plot: The town of St. Kilda is a small town living on the Wales in the summer of 1727. The town has horrendous winters and must prepare in the summer. There’s an island 4 miles out to sea that is full of birds before they fly south for the winter. The island has been a sort of rite of passage for the boys of the village, to spend three weeks gathering eggs and bird meat. Quill is one of the older boys and the novels narrator, it doesn’t give an age but if had to guess 14, he has just found love for the first time, and doesn’t really want to leave for that matter. But he does and on his first outing on the island is named the leader of boys he finds and almost grabs the king bird. Everthing is going great they have more than enough supplies, but the boat is late picking them up. They continue a month over when doubt sets in and they believe this must be the end of the world, for they’re parents not to save them.

What I Liked: The island setting I thought would get boring but I did not as a couple different caves were explored. The elements as the enemy really worked. It showed how religion can lead to hope but also be manipulated for power. Storytelling as a tool to motivate other from staying positive was used the best. I loved the character of John and the secret he hides, and how it can change everything for desperate men. quill was a good narrator that you follow in highs, lows, and madness. The cover was absolutely beautiful. The story as a whole was really good, there were a couple of lulls in pacing but they did not last long. The reason that the boat does not return was really good and made sense at the end.

What I Disliked: At first it was really hard keeping up with who was an adult who was a kid and the ages. The characters, physical descriptions were barely there, which was one of the reasons that age was so hard to determine. You got to differentiate the people through personality rather then physical traits. The birds were described better then the people.

Recommendations: I you love tales of survival, the obvious story to compare is Lord of the Flies but I saw a lot of 127 Hours in it as well. If you like historical fiction then this is a time a setting that I have never read before, the history aspect felt very real. I feel the Reading age should be 13 due to death, disease, and survival I rated Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand

Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand is an atmospheric Historical Fiction surrounded in a world mystery by a deadly serial killer of young girls. The story takes place in 1915 fair grounds in Chicago about twenty years after the World’s Fire fire and the serial killer H.H. Holmes, with it’s own serial killer to deal with. The history is a big part I was constantly reminded of the nonfiction work The Devil in the White City which covered the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair. The history and the rides at the time were really neat, The book only covers one in detail Hellsgate ride I could almost imagine it. The book is LGTBG friendly with it’s lead character Pin who is a girl who lives as a boy and struggles with her feelings about girls and one girl in particular Glory. I have not read a great amount of LGTBQ books but I found this one really nailed the questioning of ones self. A special thanks to Netgalley and Mulholland Books for giving me a copy, Curious Toys was published on October 15 2019.

The Plot: Pin is a 14 year old girl who lives as a boy, it started for safety but she likes it and prefers it, her mother is a fortune teller at the fair. The both live on a shack on the fair grounds. Two years’s ago Pin’s sister was lost, she had a form of down syndrome, and has never been found. Pin runs drugs for Max, a he/she act where one side is a man and the other a woman. Pin is always curious and noticing things adults don’t she is sensitive to young girls and strangers. She watches a young girl in a yellow dress get into a ride with a man and never get out, the man she doesn’t get a good look but is sure what she’s seen. She sneaks into ride and discovers a body. Pin is the only one who cares as the body brings even more people to check out the ride and the fair, Pin is willing to risk her life but she might have to risk something more important to her identity.

What I Liked: Pin as a character was fascinating, wish we spent more time with her, and her crisis. I liked the little twist with Glory and who she turned out to be. I liked the Charlie Chaplin bit especially the bit about the cops questioning him being ashamed at the way they are portrayed in his movies. I liked the climax it was pretty exciting. The killer was good the reader was left to fill in a lot of their reasons for the crimes. I did like the flashback of the killer, even at the time reading it you didn’t know who’s flashback it was. I did like the Fatty Bacon cop character and the date scene he had. I love, loved, the part about Pin wanting to expose the killer put to do it in a way she could keep her identity as being a boy, I found that really powerful. I liked the language and found it fitting of the time period. This was one of the coolest covers with all the images about the book is has, it was one of the reasons I selected to request this novel form Netgalley.

What I Disliked: The character of Henry Darger I didn’t care for a hospital janitor that isn’t all there, slightly crazy, that looks out for young girls and has a club protecting them. His character was not needed and it kept the reader away from Pin. I would have liked his character a little more if his slight bio was at the beginning instead of at the end. I didn’t like that the story jumped around having 7 different character’s narratives. Pin, the killer and maybe one more character was all you needed, though I did like being in Charlie Chaplin’s head briefly it didn’t serve a narrative purpose and could been in the newspaper. I figured out who the killer was early, I saw where the novel was pulling me and saw through the misdirection. There was not that many possible suspects, so I found it easy to make the leap. I wanted better descriptions of all the people and things it keeps talking about boater hats, which I had to look up to know what they looked look then see it in the words on the page.

Recommendation: I would mildly recommend this to a reader searching for a LGTBQ character in the early 1900’s and the questioning of one’s self and identity was really good. If you like historical fiction of the early 1900’s, I love Charlie Chaplin and found that part fascinating, as the description of the Hellsgate amusement park ride. I rated this novel 3 out of 3 stars. I found there were some really great moment and some not so great moments that it balanced out.