Showing posts with label Mystery Suspense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mystery Suspense. Show all posts

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hilcia's Minis: YA Wallflowers & Dark Horses + LGBT Mysteries: Porcelain Dogs, Cambridge Fellows & Think of England

In August I craved mysteries and urban fantasy. Today, however, I begin my minis with the young adult fiction book chosen by my Internet Book Club. All of the books below are either highly recommended or recommended reads, and four out of the five are old releases with only one 2014 release in the bunch.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent YA fiction read written in epistolary style. First published in 1999, this short coming-of-age novel is as pertinent today as it was during that time. Chbosky's narrator and main character is young fifteen-year-old Charlie whose personal isolation and awkward social skills are only rivaled by his brilliant mind. The story begins when Charlie is about to start high school and finishes at the end of his freshman year. During that one year, within 213 pages, Charlie undergoes quite a few changes, (character growth) and makes some good as well as some pretty disturbing discoveries about himself. Along the way, he makes some great friends like Patrick, Sam and a few others, but Charlie's family (parents and siblings) are also there in a meaningful way.

This is a smart read, not just a quick one. Chbosky packs in key young adult and family issues, some quite serious, in very few pages while keeping his characters young and fresh as they "discover" and process issues and ideas in their own unique way. While Charlie is the narrator through the letters he writes to "Dear Friend," all the main characters involved in Charlie's life are very well rendered. I was touched by a few them: Charlie, of course, Sam, Patrick and Brad, Charlie's teacher Bill (I wish all teachers were like that!), Charlie's sister and his parents. This is a highly recommended YA fiction read. If you've read it, then you know why. If you haven't, give it try. (1999, Pocket Books)
"In the hallways, I see the girls wearing the guys' jackets, and I think about the idea of property. And I wonder if they are happy. I hope they are. I really hope they are."

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

"[e]ven if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them."
I read this book for my Internet Book Club. Thanks to Mariana, Lili, Maria, Christine, and Yinx for the recommendation and discussion.
The Dark Horse (Walt Longmire #5) by Craig Johnson

I decided to go back and read books #5 through #7 of the Walt Longmire mystery series so I can catch up with some of the past installments I'm missing. The Dark Horse was first published in 2009. In this one a woman admits to shooting her husband six times after he burned down the barn while all her quarter horses were inside. Alive. But even with proof, a witness, and her confession, Walt doesn't believe she is guilty and sets out to prove it. The Dark Horse is my favorite book of the series so far. The mystery is fantastic and the action is even better. Good ole Walt just keeps surprising me with what he is willing to do to solve a mystery as well as for other people. What a fabulous character and what a great series. I'm picking up the other two books ASAP, and then I will be up to date. Highly recommended. (2009, Viking Adult - Kindle Ed.)

***By the way, the end of the third season for the A&E Longmire television program was fantastic! I'm still breathless.
The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog is the first book in a mystery duology by Jess Faraday that I picked up from the "books recommended" list in Goodreads. It is not a romance, it contains sexual involvements that lead to the mystery and action. Set in the crime-riddled streets of 1889 London, the main character Ira Adler is an orphan and former pickpocket, thief, and male prostitute from the mean East End streets, presently living in luxury under the patronage of powerful crime lord Cain Goddard as payment for an exclusive sexual relationship. Ira has become selfishly spoiled with luxury, but that begins to change after Cain asks him to steal the statue of a porcelain dog containing evidence that under the sodomy laws may send him and others, including Ira, to prison. Ira retrieves the porcelain dog only to loose it to another pickpocket, and the hunt begins in earnest leading to a friend's death, opium traders and more dangerous discoveries.

The setting, characters, atmosphere, action and plotting all come together to create an excellent historical mystery. I appreciate that the sodomy laws in place during that time are not taken lightly or dismissed by Faraday, instead they play a crucial role in the mystery, drive how the characters' conduct their lives and the actions they take in order to survive. I could not stop reading this book and will pick up Turnbull House, Book #2, to find out what happens to Ira, his detecting partner and ex-client Dr. Tim Lazarus, and Cain. Highly recommended. (2011, Bold Strokes Books-Digital Format) 

Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows #1) by Charlie Cochrane

First published in 2008, this is the first book in an 8 book mystery/romance series by Charlie Cochrane. There is a great mystery in this introductory book to the series and addictive characters that I want to know better. Set in St. Bridges College, Cambridge in 1905, it all begins when the outgoing, good looking Jonty Stewart joins the teaching staff at the college and catches the attention of stodgy, but brilliant, Orlando Coppersmith. A man whose whole life is wrapped up in the school and mathematics. Their relationship slowly changes to intimacy and a forbidden romance. But the murders of young students interrupt their small world of personal discovery, and soon they are caught up in a dangerous position acting as the police's eyes and ears within the college where any one of their students could be the murderer.

The atmosphere in this book is just fantastic, and I fell in love with both Jonty and Orlando. Much tenderness goes into Orlando's seduction, and there is much more to Jonty's character than his outward outgoing, jolly personality. The gay themed mystery is well integrated with the developing relationship between the main characters. I already picked up Lessons in Desire, Book #2. Recommended. (2009, Samhain - Digital Format)

Think of England by K.J. Charles

"Lie back and think of England…"

This is another turn of the century mystery/romance. Set in England, 1904, the majority of the story takes place at a house party in a country home. Captain Archie Curtis lost fingers and friends to a military accident that he believes was the result of sabotage. The only reason he is at this country home is to find proof that the wealthy owner is responsible. He meets the guests and immediately dislikes foreigner Daniel da Silva, an obviously queer poet with the kind of effete mannerisms and sophisticated wit Archie always despised. But as Archie begins to investigate, he finds that Daniel is conducting his own investigation and they join forces. As the danger grows so does the sexual tension, particularly after Archie and Daniel find themselves in a compromising situation with blackmail and murder becoming a real possibility.

This book was recommended to me by Li from Me and My Books, and she was right. I really enjoyed this story for its turn of the century English atmosphere. Particularly Archie's stiff-upper-lip British attitude juxtaposed with the entertaining, tongue in cheek moments provided by Daniel. Oh, the horror! These great characters make a wonderful romantic couple, -- "Can I call on you?" *snort* -- and the mystery and action are a plus. The sodomy laws are taken into consideration, and Charles works through that in the building relationship as well as the mystery plot. I would want to see how she works with an established romance and the complications presented by those laws in a sequel. I would definitely read it. Recommended. (2014, Samhain - Digital Format) 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas

Butcher's Road is an atmospheric mystery thriller with supernatural elements, set in the violent 1932 gangster-ruled streets of Chicago and the spiritual world of a rainy New Orleans.

The story revolves around Butch Cardinal whose lifetime decisions led him from success on the wrestling mats to working as enforcer and errand boy for a Chicago Irish mobster. Unfortunately for Butch, he is sent to pick up a package from an Impellitari henchman and ends up smack in the middle of a hit. Butch escapes with the package and is framed for the murder, becoming a haunted man and the target of Italian Chicago mob-boss Marco Impellitari, dirty Chicago cops, a psychopath hit man, and the Alchemi, a secret organization of powerful magicians who collect, utilize, and protect arcane artifacts composed of "thinking" steel. With help from friend and ex-coach Rory Sullivan, Butch flees to New Orleans where he discovers that the ugly necklace in the package is an old mythical relic, and unexpectedly finds refuge in the arms of ex-wrestler and club owner Hollis Rossington.

Butcher's Road has been described as a "blend of gangster noir and supernatural horror." I agree. The story is dark. Lee Thomas incorporates the deep sense of hopelessness permeating the 1930's into plot, characterization, and atmosphere. His Chicago gangsters are unsophisticated, non-charismatic and resort to bloody violence without a second thought, and neither gangsters nor cops are glamorized in this novel. This is best exemplified by Thomas's characterization of Detective Curt Conrad whose portrayal as a physically and personally repulsive self-serving man without an iota of scruples symbolizes the police department's corruption in all its glory. Contrasting heavily is Thomas’s subtle characterization of Detective Lennon as an ambivalent man whose bouts of conscience make him a no-less self-serving or corrupt cop.

The supernatural aspects of the story are well established. Serving as an introduction to this theme, Thomas utilizes Butch's search for the truth surrounding the object he unwittingly possesses, leading to the discovery of magical objects and personal mystical powers, while further expanding on this theme with more explicit, if somewhat obscure, revelations through the Alchemi's hot pursuit and eventual contact with Butch.

While the occult plays a key, central role throughout and to end of this thriller, for me, it is Thomas' masterful portrayal of the incremental escalation and eventual loss of control of psychopathic killer Paul Rabin that provides the real horror. Rabin's role begins with a whisper in what seems like an innocuous scene, slowly progressing with coldly executed blood-letting, and escalating until all that is left are the amped-up internal screams of an out-of-control killer and the horror-filled vicious scenes he leaves behind.

Thomas portrays Butch as an honest man who never learns to play the "game" and whose harsh life lessons, beginning with an abusive father and ending with a fixed match that led to his present situation, taught him not to expect a fair fight. The odds are against Butch's survival and he becomes resigned to losing, but what I love most about him is his refusal to go down without a fight. His relationship with Hollis is unexpected, specifically because Butch is initially shocked by proof of Hollis's sexuality and tells him so with frankness. However while hiding at Hollis's home, Butch remembers past experiences that trigger a growing sexual attraction for Hollis, a giving man he already likes and respects. Eventually Butch makes the first move, beginning what becomes a peaceful, joyful period for both men.

Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas has a relentless quick-pace with the few moments of allowed reprieve filled with relevant information used to drive the story forward. It is an exciting thriller -- darkly violent and bloody -- that offers highly effective contrasts between warm and horrifyingly chilling moments and a surprising twist at the end. Highly recommended.

Category: LGBT - Spec Fic/Mystery Thriller
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/May 1, 2014 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: A-

Other recommended reads by Lee Thomas:
The German

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong

Omens is the first book in Kelley Armstrong's brand new, urban fantasy series, Cainsville. I am not familiar with Kelley Armstrong's works, so I have no base of comparison when it comes to her writing style or other series. In this case, I'm glad that I'm beginning with a clean slate and reviewing this book on its own merit instead of comparing it to Ms. Armstrong's previous successes. So lets get this out of the way right now, Ms. Armstrong writes in a clear, concise, crisp style that I absolutely loved. I'm so glad I finally decided to pick up one of her books.

Omens begins with a hook. The prologue is uncommon in that it is narrated from the point of view of a 2 1/2 year old little girl. It begins in such a way that the reader doesn't know whether she is in danger or not. Then the reader is pulled into a beautiful happy moment only to be yanked into a terrifying moment of loss and pain. That short beginning is a roller-coaster and a little taste of what is to come.

Moving forward, the story shifts to Olivia Taylor-Jones, a 30 year-old wealthy heiress whose life consists of volunteering at the family's sponsored charity, writing speeches for her politically ambitious fiancée James Morgan, and taking care of her self-centered widowed mother. Olivia's life is turned upside down when out of the blue she finds out that she is adopted and that her biological parents are the most notorious serial killers known in Chicago's recent history, Todd and Pamela Larsen, making her real name Eden Larsen. The story begins to take a dark turn when overwhelmed by the paparazzi, feeling emotionally and physically rejected by her loved ones, angry and reeling from the news, Olivia takes off on her own only to find herself unable to find a job or a place to stay. After doing a good deed, she finally finds affordable housing and a job at the diner in a weird little town called Cainsville.

The above is very important to the story, particularly the feelings of rejection from her adoptive mother and fiancée, because it sets up the reasons behind Olivia's reactions throughout the rest of this story and I'm sure for what is to come later on in the series. But frankly for me, the story really takes off once Olivia arrives in the weird little town of Cainsville, with its elderly population and hundreds of stone gargoyles seemingly guarding the place. This is where Olivia meets Gabriel Walsh, nephew to the local psychic and coincidentally the unscrupulous attorney who represented Pamela Larsen during her appeal. Olivia also meets the other peculiar residents of Cainsville. People who don't seem to be surprised or taken aback when Olivia sees omens and predicts possible events based on them.

I am quite impressed with Omens. In fact, I read it twice before writing this review because it left me with such an unsettled feeling and sense of foreboding that I had to get back to it to find out exactly what it was about it that generated that feeling. See, Omens reads like a mystery suspense with Olivia hiring Gabriel to help her investigate the events that lead to the gruesome murders supposedly committed by her parents. There are paranormal elements introduced in this first book, but it is a subtle introduction that is really well integrated with the mystery suspense plot. There is, however, a suppressed sense of foreboding throughout the whole story that makes for a heavy atmosphere. It a kind of... waiting. The stepping stones are there to build the fantasy side of this series as Armstrong combines the strong ties found to Fae Welsh mythology in Cainsville with science and a slight edge of horror and violence found in Chicago as the urban setting.

Olivia/Liv/Eden has a marvelous narrative voice that gets better as the story progresses -- particularly when she's engaged in dialog with Gabriel. There is a case of nurture vs. nature going on with her personality. There is character growth for Olivia within this story alone. I can only imagine how much more growing there will be for her in the future and cannot wait to see how far Armstrong takes this woman who is just discovering who she really is, and what she may be capable of doing. I'm particularly curious about her fledgling omen-interpreting powers and how far she can go with them. You'll have to read the book to find out how omens work and how Olivia is connected to them.

Most of the story is told from Olivia's point of view, but there are single, short chapters peppered throughout the book narrated from different characters' points of view, including Gabriel. I like that. In some instances these chapters give the reader insight into how Olivia is viewed by others, in others they give clues as to events that are going on, but also important is the fact that through them, the reader gains an insight into Gabriel's personality. He is a key character. Gabriel is a frustrating, acquisitive asshole protective of himself first and always, but he is also mysterious, fascinating, and a man worth knowing. He is not a seductive man though... in fact, he seems awkward when it comes to that. A bit of a contradiction all around, and one with good potential primarily because the man has vulnerabilities even if at this point they seem to be few. Olivia, thank goodness, has his number, knows just how to deal with the man, and called him on his bullshit too. I am pretty sure that is the one reason Gabriel and Olivia's relationship worked for me.

The plot in Omens gains momentum as it progresses. There are violent deaths, ominous moments that lead to that sense of foreboding I mentioned above, and a tad of horror borrowed here and there that give the plot an edgy feel, all balanced by the light humor provided by Olivia's excellent narrative voice. Armstrong begins the series with a subtle construction of her world, but weaves in so many complex threads in this first book that by the end there are questions upon questions that need answers. There is a satisfying conclusion to Omens, but there is so much more to come that it left me panting for more. More Olivia, more Gabriel, more Cainsville, more suspense.

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Cainsville #1
Publisher/Release Date: Dutton Adult/August 20, 2013
Grade: B+

Visit Kelley Armstrong here.