Monthly Archives: February 2012

In My Mailbox #1

In My Mailbox is a weekly event hosted by The Story Siren.  This is my first time participating, and I’m quite excited! It’s a fun way to share books that you have received recently.  In the past week I have received and am looking forward to reading and reviewing:

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington. Release date: 3/6/12. Received an ARC from the publisher.  Jessica Shirvington is Australian and I believe this is the first book she has had published in America. It looks pretty good.  Here is the description from Goodreads:

It starts with a whisper: “It’s time for you to know who you are…”

Violet Eden dreads her seventeenth birthday. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, disturbing dreams haunt her sleep and leave her with very real injuries. There’s a dark tattoo weaving its way up her arms that wasn’t there before.

Violet is determined to get some answers, but nothing could have prepared her for the truth. The guy she thought she could fall in love with has been keeping his identity a secret: he’s only half-human—oh, and same goes for her.

A centuries-old battle between fallen angels and the protectors of humanity has chosen its new warrior. It’s a fight Violet doesn’t want, but she lives her life by two rules: don’t run and don’t quit. When angels seek vengeance and humans are the warriors, you could do a lot worse than betting on Violet Eden…

The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry. Release date: Now available.  Received an e-book review copy from the author.  Mary wrote me a very nice email and asked me to review her book. She has also written a book called The Gods of Fire based her experiences as a firefighter, which has been optioned for film by Bill Mechanic.  I’m really looking forward to this one. Here’s the description from Goodreads:

The Earthquake Machine tells the story of 14 year-old Rhonda. On the outside, everything looks perfect in Rhonda’s world but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manipulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda’s life is her family’s Mexican yardman, Jesús. But when the INS deports Jesús back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation. Determined to find her friend Jesús, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Boquillas, Mexico. There a peyote-addled bartender convinces her she won’t be safe traveling alone into the country’s interior. So with the bartender’s help, Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jesús. Thus begins a wild adventure that explores the borders between the United States and Mexico, adolescence and adulthood, male and female, English and Spanish, and adult coming-of-age and Young Adult novels.

The Day of First Sun by Sheryl Steines.  Release date: Now available.  Received a paperback review copy from the author. This book looks like a lot of fun! I got a very nice email from Sheryl’s publicist, Donna Brown, asking if I’d like to read and review Sheryl’s book. Then Sheryl herself mailed me a copy of the paperback with another very nice note it in.  Here’s what the book’s about:

When Princess Amelie of Amborix is murdered by magical means, Annie Pearce and Bobby “Cham” Chamsky of the Wizard’s Guard are called in by the FBI. Their job is to help solve the crime while keeping the non-magical world from discovering the existence of the Wizard Council.

During their investigation, Annie and Cham discover that Princess Amelie’s death is connected to a series of other crimes in the Chicago area. A larger plot involving, a vampire, a rogue wizard and an army of soul-less zombies is revealed, but can Annie and Cham discover who is responsible before The Day of First Sun?

Street Creds by Zach Fortier.  Release date: Now available.  Received a paperback review copy from the author.  I reviewed another book of Zach’s recently, Curbchek, and even though I considered my review to be on the harsh side, Zach wanted me to read and review Street Creds as well.  How could I say no?  Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Street Creds is a look inside the world of street gangs and the cops that work them. I worked the street for many years before I entered the Gang Task Force, joining it with the idea that I could rise to the level of violence of any banger I encountered – a really stupid idea. I wanted to “earn back” the respect of the citizens for the police; I grew up in this city, and I worked its streets the best way I knew how, feeling that I had a firsthand understanding of what the citizens were experiencing. The increasing frustration at gang crimes, drive bys, robberies, never feeling safe with your kids in your own neighborhood – I wanted to do what I could to make that fear go away.

Once I was inside the task force, though, the reality was a rude awakening for me. The task force was poorly managed and staffed by detectives mostly out for themselves, and the internal politics made success incredibly difficult and almost impossible – almost, but not quite.
Street Creds is my story. Against the odds, outnumbered by gang members, and with very few allies in the department and only the bare minimum of support. Having witnessed bad cops, brutal crimes, and realizing the department had been compromised, the cost was much higher for me personally than I anticipated; however, while on the task force, I achieved a 100% conviction rate of every case on which I made an arrest.

Seven Ways to Die by William Diehl. Release date: Now available.  Received an e-book from the publisher for review.  William Diehl passed away in 2006, and this is the book he was working on at the time.  It was finished by Ken Atchity and is now being released exclusively as an e-book from Barnes & Noble. I don’t read a lot of mystery, and I’ve never read Diehl before, but I’ve heard great things about him. Here’s what the book is about:

From the Nez Perce Indian reservation in Idaho to New York’s Central Park is a straight line right through Bill Diehl’s last and most intriguing lead character, Micah Cody.

There are seven basic ways to die. In 1969 Dr. John C. Cavanaugh catalogued them all in his Primer of Forensic Pathology-Cast Studies for the Novice M.E.

Micah Cody is a 30-something NYPD captain of homicide, who’s founded a special unit known as TAZ with city-wide license to take over any investigation at all, with special focus on serial killers. Now its ultimate challenge is on the loose in Manhattan, with three victims already whose causes of death seem like intentional defiance of TAZ’s existence—and four to go in four deadly days leading up to Halloween. Chronicling it all with great amusement is the Capote-like award-winning crime writer Ward Hamilton who, egged on by his sexually voracious socialite bedmate, is determined to bring TAZ to its knees journalistically.

Captain Micah Cody’s Nez Perce name is “Youngest Wolf” from his ability to communicate with the animals and read nature’s signs. As all hell is breaking loose in Manhattan, the wolves in Central Park howl, the peregrine falcons shriek their warnings—and Micah is listening.

Seven Ways to Die is a non-stop, sexy read with Diehl doing to the end what he did best throughout his bestselling career.

And how will I find the time to read all these, you ask? Good question! I have even more books in line ahead of these, so off I go to read…

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Yes, I Have a Button!

OK, no one cares about this but other book bloggers, but I now have my very own, shiny new Blog Button!  I don’t know exactly why I need it, but other book bloggers all have them, and they look really cool.  I guess my hope is that someone, somewhere will want my button on their website, and now that someone can easily grab the code and make it happen.  I have three people to thank for this amazing event: my friend Lucy at The Reading Date, who has a fantastic book blog and gave me the idea, The Book Blog Experience, where I found step by step instructions, and this amazing website that creates the code for your button, Grab My Button Code Generator. I actually tried to type the code myself but failed miserably. *sigh*   That’s OK, I figured it out in the end.

And now my life is complete.

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Tammy’s Top Ten Books I’d Save if My House Were Abducted By Aliens

It’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and today’s very frustrating theme is the Top Ten Books you’d save if (insert calamity here).  I say frustrating because I do love all my books, and since I’m not the kind of book collector who spends loads of money on first edition The Catcher In the Ryes and Moby Dicks, I don’t have ten obvious choices.  So my list this week is mostly based on feelings of nostalgia, and leans heavily on the side of horror, which is really my first love, and the very first kind of books I started buying when I was able to afford them.  So here they are, pretty much in the order I acquired them:

1. The Stand by Stephen King (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978). As I’ve mentioned before in my other Stephen King-centric post, The Stand was my very first hardcover purchase.  I bought it when I was sixteen from my small home town’s one and only book store (I think it was actually called The Book Store!) for $12.95, a brand new hardcover.  Today it’s worth a few hundred dollars, but for me the price is irrelevant.  It’s still the best thing I own.

2. Swan Song by Robert McCammon (Dark Harvest, 1989). Dark Harvest published beautiful editions of horror novels back in the 80s, and it was during that time that I began voraciously stocking up on every Dark Harvest title I could find.  Swan Song is one of those books, and mine just happens to be signed by the wonderful Robert McCammon, whom I’ve met several times.  It is a grand, terrifying and magical tale of good versus evil, and it is still one of my favorite McCammons to this day.

3. Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (Dark Harvest, 1989).  Another beautiful example of my Dark Harvest collection, Carrion Comfort is another stellar horror story by another master of the genre. These Dark Harvest books are over-sized and have beautiful dust jackets (Swan Song is illustrated by Charles Lang, and Carrion Comfort is illustrated by Kathleen McNeil Sherman and Dan Simmons.) These tiny thumbnail photos just don’t do them justice. Carrion Comfort is also signed by the author, and I am proud to be the owner of this beautiful edition.

4. – 10. The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (Donald M. Grant Publishers, 1982-2004).  I won’t repeat myself too much, since I’ve done a whole post on these books, but the truth is, they are an important part of my library and they would definitely be part of my Top Ten rescued books. I feel lucky that I was able to purchase all these books for the original list price when they were released, and not pay inflated collectors prices.

OK, I guess that wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. As long as I don’t keep thinking about the rest of my library and everything I’ve left off this list…

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THE AWAKENING OF LEEOWYN BLAKE by Mary Parker – Review

The first in a series, The Awakening of Leeowyn Blake is a young adult fantasy that tells the magical tale of a teenage girl who is not only trying to find her place in the world, but literally trying to find out which world she belongs in.  Leeowyn lives in sunny Florida with her mother, until the fateful day of her fourteenth birthday, when a man claiming to be her uncle knocks on the door. The man has yellow eyes and red hair, just like Leeowyn, which convinces her that he must be related to her.  After explaining that her father is dead, he tells Leeowyn he has come to take her back home, the home her mother took her from long ago. For the next four years, she splits her time between living with her mother in Florida during the summer and her uncle the rest of the year. Exactly where her uncle Cyle lives, however, is a mystery throughout most of the story.  Cyle picks her up every September and during the drive to the family estate, Leeowyn always falls asleep and is never actually able to track her journey.

During the winter months she lives with her Grandmother and uncle and studies in the vast library. She befriends a girl named Peach and meets a boy named Alex, a potential romantic interest, but interspersed with the sameness of daily life, Leeowyn has nightmares about a dead girl holding a raven, and she’s convinced the girl is trying to tell her something important.  It is only on her eighteenth birthday that she discovers why everyone in her uncle’s house has been so secretive:  Leeowyn is actually a Guardian and she is about to “awaken,” or come into her powers.  And her duty as a Guardian is to save the world, actually worlds, from the evil Ruok.  This startling news and what follows makes for a truly fast-paced, page-turning read, as Lee realizes that she faces a truly difficult decision.

Although the story feels familiar, I found the characters to be engaging and likeable. Leeowyn feels like a real teen with real teen problems, not the least of which is how to handle her growing attraction to Alex. Her uncle Cyle and tutor Rodrick add a sinister air to the story, as the chapters alternate between Lee’s first person voice and the other characters’ third person point of view.  There is clearly something going on that Lee is unaware of, although her recurring nightmares and her friends’ odd behavior should be enough to tip her off that everyone is keeping secrets from her. My only complaint with the story is Leeowyn’s use of pop culture references, which for some reason pulled me out of the fantasy world I wanted to stay in (although I understand why she did it.)

The book is short and the ending abrupt, and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who got to the last page only to cry “What? That’s the end?”  I immediately wanted to start the second book, which I hope Ms. Parker is hard at work on.

Many thanks to the publisher, WordCrafts Press, for supplying a review copy.

You can purchase The Awakening of Leeowyn Blake here.

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Read Me! THE WOLF GIFT by Anne Rice

I have been a fan of Anne Rice since I discovered Interview With the Vampire back in 1976.  In fact I still have the original paperback copy, torn and dog-eared and practically in tatters from many readings.  If you have also read this wonderful book, try to remember how it felt to read it before your mind automatically inserted Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt into the starring roles.  Interview was the first of many happy Anne Rice reading experiences I’ve had over the years, and although her more recent books were not really my cup of tea, I am really looking forward to The Wolf Gift, which harkens back to those early Rice books with a Gothic tale of werewolves.  Here is Goodread’s description:

The time is the present.

The place, the rugged coast of northern California. A bluff high above the Pacific. A grand mansion full of beauty and tantalizing history set against a towering redwood forest.

A young reporter on assignment from the San Francisco Observer. . . an older woman, welcoming him into her magnificent, historic family home that he has been sent to write about and that she must sell with some urgency . . . A chance encounter between two unlikely people . . . an idyllic night—shattered by horrific unimaginable violence. . .The young man inexplicably attacked—bitten—by a beast he cannot see in the rural darkness . . . A violent episode that sets in motion a terrifying yet seductive transformation as the young man, caught between ecstasy and horror, between embracing who he is evolving into and fearing who—what—he will become, soon experiences the thrill of the wolf gift.

As he resists the paradoxical pleasure and enthrallment of his wolfen savagery and delights in the power and (surprising) capacity for good, he is caught up in a strange and dangerous rescue and is desperately hunted as “the Man Wolf,” by authorities, the media and scientists (evidence of DNA threaten to reveal his dual existence). . . As a new and profound love enfolds him, questions emerge that propel him deeper into his mysterious new world: questions of why and how he has been given this gift; of its true nature and the curious but satisfying pull towards goodness; of the profound realization that there are others like him who may be watching—guardian creatures who have existed throughout time and may possess ancient secrets and alchemical knowledge and throughout it all, the search for salvation for a soul tormented by a new realm of temptations, and the fraught, exhilarating journey, still to come, of being and becoming, fully, both wolf and man.

The Wolf Gift is just out today. Enjoy!

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Read Me! THE MIRAGE by Matt Ruff

Hitting bookshelves and digital reading devices today is Matt Ruff’s latest, The Mirage, a mind-bending alternate history tale of “what if:”  What if the events of 9/11 were reversed, and America attacked Iraq instead of the other way around?  Here’s the description from Amazon:

11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers.

The United Arab States declares a War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C. . . .

Summer, 2009: Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world they are living in is a mirage—in the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of “backward third-world countries.” A search of the bomber’s apartment turns up a copy of The New York Times, dated September 12, 2001, that appears to support his claim. Other captured terrorists have been telling the same story. The president wants answers, but Mustafa soon discovers he’s not the only interested party.

The gangster Saddam Hussein is conducting his own investigation. And the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee—a war hero named Osama bin Laden—will stop at nothing to hide the truth. As Mustafa and his colleagues venture deeper into the unsettling world of terrorism, politics, and espionage, they are confronted with questions without any rational answers, and the terrifying possibility that their world is not what it seems.

Acclaimed novelist Matt Ruff has created a shadow world that is eerily recognizable but, at the same time, almost unimaginable. Gripping, subversive, and unexpectedly moving, The Mirage probes our deepest convictions and most arresting fears.

I love Matt Ruff!  He’s a quirky writer and his style is hard to pin down, but if you love strange and creative stories, this is your guy.  His books Sewer, Gas & Electric and Set This House in Order are favorites of mine.  The Mirage has great reviews so far, and although the subject matter may be controversial, it’s one of those books that will probably get lots of attention for that reason alone.  You can purchase The Mirage here and visit Matt’s website here.

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CURBCHEK by Zach Fortier – Review

I received a review copy of Curbchek from the author, and was immediately struck by the intriguing cover.  Curbchek describes the gritty, day-to-day working life of a cop on the city streets, and that cop’s name is Zach Fortier, just like the author.  Now, I’ve actually read quite a few books where the author decides to give the main character their own name, and to be honest, I’ve never really understood why writers do this.  Nonetheless, I started reading, knowing that Fortier based his book on his personal experiences as a police officer.

The book is a series of short chapters, each focusing on a different street incident that takes place in an unnamed city.  Some of these stories are fairly banal and even humorous, but most are truly horrific and sometimes shocking. Fortier definitely has a gift for lurid description, and he and his trash-talking fellow cops come across as authentic, if disturbing.  But while the crimes themselves are hard to stomach, I found the most disturbing part of Curbchek was the “character” of Zach Fortier.  I honestly don’t know how much of the book is autobiographical, but if this is the real Fortier, I don’t think I want to meet him. In the Preface, he actually describes himself as “damaged,” and he’s not wrong. Fortier was in the military police before coming over to the civilian side, and his training instilled in him a loathing for authority of any kind.  When he started working the streets, he realized he could finally make his own decisions, and many of those decisions come across as downright reckless.

We’ve all heard about police brutality, and seen it in action on TV, but most of us probably don’t think much about it on a daily basis. So when I started reading Curbchek I was not prepared for Fortier’s casual descriptions of the treatment of some of the perpetrators.  Although I acknowledge that police work is dangerous and officers have to be alert and ready for violence at all times, I felt a lot of the bad treatment of criminals went above and beyond what was necessary to keep them in check. Instead of cheering on the cops for protecting society, I was horrified by what I interpreted as sadistic cops who take out their aggressions on the job.

Most perplexing to me is how many people really loved this book.  I checked the reviews for Curbchek on Amazon and Goodreads before I started writing this review, just to see if I was on the same page as other readers, and I found that I am notCurbchek is getting glowing five-star reviews from most people, which is great for Fortier, but confuses the heck out of me.  I have to conclude that those who have read and reviewed this book are reacting to its shock value, and not the fact that it is a poorly constructed “novel.”  If Fortier had actually created a fictional character and a story arc that provided the reader with a beginning, middle and end, it would have been much more successful.  Even throwing out the idea of a novel and calling it “non-fiction” would have made it better.  In any case, when I evaluate a book there is one thing that has to be present in order for me to give it any kind of “thumbs up.”  If the characters, even the bad guys, do not have any redeeming human qualities, the story just doesn’t work.

I’ll leave you with this definition of “curbchek” from the introduction, which sums up very nicely how I felt after finishing the book:

“Curbchek: Placing an unconscious or immobile individual’s head against a curb with their mouth open, then stomping on or kicking them in the head.”

Mission accomplished.

You can purchase Curbchek here (and read some of those glowing reviews I was talking about) and visit Fortier’s website here.

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SCARS ON THE FACE OF GOD: THE DEVIL’S BIBLE by C. G. Bauer – Review

This week I would like to introduce C. G. Bauer, author of Scars on the Face of God: The Devil’s Bible, which was originally published by the now-defunct Drollerie Press in 2008. It has recently been reissued as an e-book, which is lucky for us, because hopefully more people will have the chance to read this well-crafted, atmospheric and completely engaging horror story.

Scars takes place in 1964 when Wump, our feisty main character, is 65 years old and living a fairly quiet life as a church handy-man in the small town of Three Bridges, PA.  Quiet that is, until an accident at a construction site reveals the skeletons of babies at the bottom of a sink hole, and Wump’s past comes rushing back. Wump, you see, has seen one of these skeletons before, back in 1909 when he was a ten-year-old orphan living at St. Jerome’s Home for Foundlings.  Bauer gleefully details this gruesome encounter in his prologue, and the stage is set for the horrors to come.

Wump is surrounded by interesting characters that are crucial to the outcome of the story, and two of my favorites are Leo and Raymond, orphaned boys that live in the same St. Jerome’s that Wump lived in as a child.  Leo is a happy, but slow, boy whose greatest joys are running errands for Wump and pushing his best friend Raymond around in his wheelchair.  Raymond is not only unable to walk, but is blind and mute as well.  As damaged as Leo and Raymond appear, though, we soon learn that they are eerily aware of just what is happening in Three Bridges, and both can communicate in unusual ways.

Wump befriends the new Parish priest Father Duncan, a former pro baseball player, and together they uncover a strange book in the convent library during a visit to see one of the orphans.  The Codex Gigas, or the Devil’s Bible as it is also known, was reputedly written by a monk in one night with the help of the devil, and inside the book Wump and Father Duncan discover the ghastly meaning behind the remains of the babies in the sink hole, involving the birth of the antichrist.  Pitted against the archaic beliefs of the Catholic Church, Wump sets out to stop the evil that seems to be rising in Three Bridges.

Creepiness abounds in Scars on the Face of God, and it’s not all supernatural.  One of these elements is the Volkheimer Tannery, which has been operating in Three Bridges since Wump was a boy. Many years of poisonous chemicals seeping into the ground and air have made Three Bridges a dangerous place to live, evident in the number of deformed and handicapped children that live there. Many families in the town have been affected in one way or another by its poisonous presence, including Wump, whose son has died from leukemia. The malignant pall of the tannery lurks beneath the surface throughout the story, and indeed it plays an important part by the end of the book.

As Good Friday approaches and the church prepares to reenact the Way of the Cross, the forces of good and evil are about to clash head-on.  Wump, Father Duncan, Leo and Raymond, after discovering that there is indeed an antichrist among them, must fight for their lives and diffuse the evil before it takes over.  There are some surprising transformations of several characters, a terrible choice involving Wump’s wife Viola, and Wump’s discovery of his birth mother, not to mention the final showdown that is as good as anything written by Stephen King. The book’s pacing is immaculate, and the dreaded feeling that the devil is about to appear make this a truly scary and unsettling read.

Many thanks to the author for supplying a free review copy.

You can purchase Scars on the Face of God here and visit Chris’ blog here.

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