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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Small Hand by Susan Hill




On his way back from a client on the coast, Andrew Snow, a rare book dealer, cuts through the Downs and has an odd experience. After leaving the main road, he gets lost and finds himself inexplicably stopping at a dilapidated mansion. On The White House grounds, he feels the presence of a small hand gripping his own but yet there's no visible child. Is this a ghost or is he going mad like his brother, Hugo? Why do the gardens and pool fascinate him? Why does it all seem so achingly familiar?

Susan Hill (The Woman in Black) does a masterful job of creating tension and suspense in the marvelous ghost story. Hill is particularly good and creating psychological portraits that ring true. Infused with the supernatural, this novelette also revels how skillfully we deceive ourselves as adults. Grown-ups falsely believe their past is past--that their childhood fears and offenses are long buried. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Review of Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi


Don't miss Donato Carrisi's novel, Lost Girls of Rome.

 Forensic photographer Sandra Vega is still coping with her husband's accidental death. There’s something real and recognizable in Sandra’s grief. Sometimes she forgets he is dead and says, ‘I have to tell David.’

David's bags are in the storeroom at Headquarters. Vega found them too painful to look at. After she gets a call from an Interpol agent, however, she becomes alarmed.


Martyrdom of St Matthew Source: Wikipedia
Searching through his bags, at last, she finds his diary, a two-way radio, and photographs on his favorite camera, a Leica. The camera has photographs of the construction site (where David died) a detail from a Caravaggio painting, and a picture of a man with a scar on his temple. 

Vega finds more items at the construction site, including a recording device, which convinces her that her beloved David was murdered.

Did the man with the scar murder her husband?

The scar is the result of a gunshot wound to the head and it has left the mysterious man, Marcus, with amnesia. Clemente, head of a secret investigative unit, wants him to solve a case, the disappearance of architecture student Lara.  (continued)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Some Kind of Fairy tale by Graham Joyce

Two versions of the cover art from Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Joyce returns with another captivating fantasy. In Some Kind of Fairy Tale, a sixteen-year-old girl, Tara, creates havoc when she goes missing. Many suspect the teen-anger's boyfriend, Ritchie, including Tara's brother, Peter. 

She and her boyfriend, Ritchie, have just fought after taking a walk in the Outwoods near Leicestershire. She runs off and he leave her there which is why many suspect him.

Tara returns twenty years later at Christmas time. She is ostensibly unharmed but relates a wild tale about being kidnapped by fairies.

 Tara knows however that the beings are must more dangerous than storybook fairies. She believes one of them, Hiero, has even followed her from that other world.

Though no one believes her story about the bluebells, the crossing, and the other realm, she clings to this belief. Her psychiatrist and family members believe Tara has suffered trauma or else is an imposter. The only one who does believe her is the "mad" old lady whom everyone believe is a witch.

Joyce wonderfully mixes the plausible and the implausible in this fantasy. The theories presented by Vivian (Tara's psychiatrist) seem completely reasonable. One problem. Though Tara has been missing for twenty years, she has not aged a day. 

Some of the scenes are empowering. In a wonderful scene, Tara gets the upper hand over her psychiatrist who has been patronizing her. 

Though some threads of the plot are resolved nicely, the ending is problematic. As a reader, I was hoping Tara would become a true heroine instead of self-sacrificing one.  




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel

David Finkel takes a dark topic, soldiers returning from duty with PSTD and other injuries, and turns it into something starkly beautiful. The book is filled with haunting stories.

For instance, James Doster makes a fateful decision. Doster gives Adam Schumann his chance to Skype his family because he feels Schumann needs the time more than he does.

Because he earned Doster's spot, Schumann misses a mission that blows up Doster's Humvee. Adam feels horribly guilty. He was the one, after all, who was best at spotting bombs.

Michael Emory, shot in the head, is paralyzed down the left the side. Adam rescued him by carrying him down a flight of stairs. Emory keeps his helmet and uses it as a Halloween candy bowl.

Then there's Tausolo Aietti who sees the soldier he didn't save every night in his nightmares.


Written in a frank, engaging style, Thank You For Your Service is incredibly moving.

Film rights were purchased by DreamWorks so its possible this will be a book-to-movie title soon.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Endless by Amanda Gray

Written by two authors who write under one pen name, this young adult novel will resonate with teens.

 Outsiders, Jenny and Ben, become unlikely friends when strange circumstances push them together. Jenny has always been able to feel and envision the past with her hands. She hides this condition behind gloves, but a Ouija board session forces her to confront her gift. Someone "out of time" is looking for her. Will she be able to protect her soul mate from the Order?

Endless was an enjoyable novel from start to finish. Readers will find the love triangle, and Ben, in particular, intriguing. Ben comes across as even more alluring than Jenny' out-of-time soul mate, Nikolai.

Brief Encounters With Che Guevara by Ben Fountain

In his astonishing short story collection, Fountain gives readers humorous, politically-aware stories. Several stories are set in Haiti where political tensions run high but others are set in South America and Asia.  

In "Asian Tiger," an American golf pro finds himself in over his head in Myanmar where he is hailed as hero. He's paid well to be an instructor, but, in exchange, he is expected to participate in illegal deals.

Inevitably, heroes face betrayal by those they trust the most. In "Near Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera," an idealistic graduate student is kidnapped by revolutionaries.

He feels betrayed, however, by the Americans who airlift him out danger. Being rescued ensures the destruction of the near extinct parrot he is studying.

Like the hero in "Asian Tiger" and "Near Extinct Birds," most of Fountain's stories heroes find themselves facing absurd, self-serving bureaucrats.  

For instance, in "Bouki and the Cocaine," two brothers who try to do the right thing are targeted by unscrupulous officials. 

In Fountain's stories, criminality is normal while honorable actions (returning the cocaine, in this case) is crazy:

"I"m just looking for a little justice in this life."
"See what I mean?" said Alcide, rolling his eyes. "Totally nuts."

A UN observer in "Reve Haitien" finds himself drawn into the counter-movement's desire to free Haiti from an oppressive regime. The UN observer agrees to smuggle art work for the cause with unexpected results. 

The best story, "Into the Lion's Mouth," is about a jaded peace corp worker who nearly crosses over to the dark side--becoming a diamond smuggler's accomplice. That she can go from that to the courageous heroine in the end is testament to Fountain's writing abilities.