Alabaster by Caitlin R. Kiernan

An albino girl wanders the sun-scorched backroads of a south Georgia summer, following the bidding of an angel – or perhaps only voices in her head – searching out and slaying ancient monsters who have hidden themselves away in the lonely places of the world.

First introduced in Caitlin R. Kiernan’s second novel, Threshold, Dancy has gone on to be the unlikely heroine in several short stories and even a novella. Each story is a small piece of a larger fantasy narrative and in Alabaster they are finally gathered together in to a single volume.

I admit, dear reader, I wasn’t quite sure what I was picking up when I picked Alabaster up off the shelf in my local library. In truth I had been looking for another book by the same author and ended up getting this one instead. From what I understood (or thought I understood), Dancy was a minor character in one of Kiernan’s novels and this collection of short stories expand upon her background.

Having not read Threshold, I don’t know if I’m correct or not. I do know, however, that these stories presume that the reader has at least a passing knowledge of Dancy. And having no prior knowledge of the character, I found myself a bit lost.

Kiernan is an excellent author, that much I do know from reading these short stories. She is able to spin a believable yarn; to give the reader information while still leaving something to the imagination. She does have the occasional penchant for run on sentences, but I have yet to read an author who doesn’t.

Readers who have read Threshold and are familiar with Dancy will likely enjoy this collection. It gives glimpses in to her character and takes the reader on brief adventures. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read the first book in the series, but all in all I found it a nice read.

 

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The Devil’s Bible (Bohemian Gospel #2) by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

The Codex Gigas, also known as The Devil’s Bible, is an ancient book shrouded in mystery. Once considered one of the wonders of the world, the truth behind who wrote it and where has been lost to time. Yet there are those who continue to whisper about the strange book – about how it calls to the power-hungry and eventually drives them mad.

There is no one alive who knows the truth – no one except Mouse.

Going by the name Emma Nicholas, Mouse has been running from the truth behind the Devil’s Bible for centuries. Using a normal name and trying to live a normal life, Mouse only wants the one thing she can never have. Yet her life of a lie has caught up with her and when she finds herself facing exposure, Mouse has little choice to run.

Believing herself beyond help, a stranger’s kind act gives Mouse the first glimmer of hope she has felt in years. This flicker will need to be fanned to a full force flame however if Mouse wants to win this game of souls that began a very, very long time ago.

The Devil’s Bible is a real book, and like it is portrayed in this book with the same name, it is shrouded in mystery. No one truly knows the truth behind this book – who wrote it and where – though many theories abound. Chamblee-Carpenter offers one version, mixing reality and fantasy in this edge of your seat story.

I really enjoyed reading The Devil’s Bible. It wasn’t until I was adding this book to my Goodreads queue that I realized it is the second book in a series. Fortunately, one does not have to read the first book to enjoy the second. The first book seems to be solely about Mouse’s early life up to the point where she penned the Devil’s Bible. The second book is more modern day and touches briefly on Mouse’s past enough that the reader is able to follow along.

There are some who might compare The Devil’s Bible with The DaVinci Code with its combination of speculation and truth. And while there are some similarities, I enjoyed The Devil’s Bible more. While rich in religious imagery, it also doesn’t bash you over the head with it.

The one drawback I found was what was supposed to be the “final” battle between Mouse and her father. Looking back I can see why it was written that way as it left things open for a sequel. However, as I was in the process of reading the book, I felt let down. Like so many things, the ending makes sense in hindsight.

On the whole, I greatly enjoyed The Devil’s Bible. There are numerous people on Goodreads who say you should read the first book, The Bohemian Gospel, first; yet there are just as many who were like me and read the second book without reading the first and liking it just as much. Whichever way you decide to tackle this tome, I recommend it to all of my readers.

Zombie Island (Shakespeare Undead #2) by Lori Handeland

The course of true love never did run smooth…

Having defeated the zombie horde that had invaded London, vampire and playwright William Shakespeare is on to his next plot. Wishing to rid his true love, Katherine Dymond, of her overbearing husband, the two concoct a plan where she will fake her own death via a potion he acquires. Once she is “dead” all he need to is wait, break in to the crypt where she is to be entombed and the two can live happily ever after.

True love, however, has other plans for the two. Knowing his wife is being cuckolded by a lowly playwright, Katherine’s husband instead takes her body with him when he leaves for America. When their ship is wrecked and all hands believed lost, William immediately goes after them only to find himself wrecked on the same mysterious island.

It is an island that is on no known map and is ruled by a mad wizard. Zombies run rampant and there is more afoot than simply survival.

Zombie Island picks up almost immediately where Shakespeare Undead leaves off.  However, while Shakespeare Undead was a wholly original story with only brief mentions of Shakespeare’s plays, Zombie Island is the opposite. It is based heavily on the play The Tempest, even featuring quotes from the play at the beginning of each chapter.

There were numerous issues I had with Zombie Island, but I believe the most profound one came because of the dialogue. At times it felt clunky and awkward. Also, while the addition of actual Shakespearean quotes as dialogue was nice, because the characters didn’t speak like that constantly it only served to pull one out of the story.

I must admit, dear reader, that I didn’t enjoy Zombie Island as much as I enjoyed Shakespeare Undead. There seemed to be something missing and it just did not hold my attention as well as the first one. Sadly, I can’t recommend this one for every reader.

 

The Dying Game by Åsa Avdic

In the not too distant future, seven people have been selected to participate in a 48 hour competition. Placed together on a tiny isolated island, the winner of this competition will receive a coveted position in the top secret Union of Friendship. Among those being tested are a top ranked CEO, a well known TV personality, and Anna Francis; a workaholic bureaucrat with a young daughter she hardly sees and a haunting secret.

Unbeknownst to the other competitors, Anna is not taking part in the test – she is the test. After staging her own death, she must watch the other competitors and judge their reactions as they learn a murderer walks among them. Who will lead? Who will take control? Who will crack under the pressure?

At first, all goes according to plan until a storm rolls in and the power goes out. Then the real game begins…

I’m not sure what I was expecting, dear reader, when I started The Dying Game. Going by the blurb on the back of the book, I was led to believe this was a kind of locked room mystery. Where the protagonist is led to believe they are the one in control but at the narrative goes on, they learn there is someone else pulling the strings.

And while that last bit is somewhat true, it is how we (and Anna) get to that realization that is somewhat of a let down.

The set up to the actual “game” itself takes far too long, in my opinion. Then once everything begins, it becomes less a study of the other characters and more a study of Anna herself. While she is the only one who “dies”, the other characters also begin to disappear one by one, leading Anne to wonder if perhaps she isn’t going mad.

It is only with the resolution of the story – that it was Anna herself being tested – that we are given some kind of closure. Yet it isn’t terribly satisfactory. It left me questioning who was the real protagonist here and who was the real antagonist? Just as I am sure the characters were questioning the events that transpired.

I can’t really recommend The Dying Game because what I thought I was going to read and what I read in actuality were two different things. With writing that could be a bit blocky and staid at times and a confusing resolution, I have to say – skip this one.

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire

For years, children have always disappeared under the right conditions. By slipping through shadows beneath the bed, or perhaps tumbling down a random rabbit hole, they end up somewhere…else.

And sometimes…just sometimes…they make their way back.

That is where Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children comes in.

Nancy was one such girl. The things she saw and experience can change a person. The other children at Ms. West’s understand what Nancy is going through all too well. Like her, they each tumbled in to a magical world and they are all trying to find their way back.

Yet with Nancy’s arrival, another change occurs. A darkness has settled in at Ms. West’s, a darkness that brings tragedy to the young people who call the place home.

Every Heart a Doorway was yet another of the books that Goodreads recommended to me. That site is definitely getting better at recommending books for me to read and review here, for while I am somewhat familiar with Seanan McGuire and her work I was surprised to see she is also the author Mira Grant whose work I have written about in a past review.

In this particular novel, we are taken to Ms. West’s Home for Wayward Children. On the outside it looks like most any home for “troubled youths” but like most things it is more than meets the eye. This home is for young women (and a few young men) who have gone off on strange adventures and come back again.

Reading Every Heart a Doorway put me in mind of the novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecular Children. It too featured a home for young people and a head mistress who had her own set of secrets. Both introduce an individual encountering the house for the first time, though in the former they are coming to live there and in the latter they stumble upon the place by accident.

While Every Heart a Doorway is certainly well written and the characters are intriguing, it is far far too short. At barely over 160 pages, there just isn’t enough time to properly introduce the different characters and situations. Especially before getting to the meat of the story and its resolution. We barely get to know these people before tragedy begins to befall some of them. While I am sure we are meant to be saddened, it is difficult to feel such an emotion over a person we have only just met.

Originally, dear reader, I was going to lament that so far there was only one book in this series. However, Goodreads has once again shown me my error and I am pleased to see that there is already a second book with a third soon on the way. Should you decide to read this book – and I truly recommend you do – try and get the second book when you pick up the first. Like me, the moment you finish the first one you will be looking for the second.

 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

One Folgate Street is a very unique property. Built to be almost an exploration of the human psyche, to even be considered to rent it one must go through a long series of questions and interviews.

For Jane, this offers the perfect opportunity to start new. Moving in to One Folgate Street means leaving almost all of her old personal effects behind. It means living with a clean slate, both literally and figuratively.

Yet as soon as she has moved in, Jane learns of the apartment’s previous tenant; a young woman named Emma. Emma, who like Jane, was hoping to start anew but was instead met with tragedy.

The Girl Before is yet another of the psychological thrillers featuring women that seems the be popular recently. Playing with the trope of ‘walking in another’s footsteps’, it takes us through the lives of both Emma and Jane; two different women who have come to live at One Folgate Street.

On the surface, both Emma and Jane are alike. Both have had personal tragedies that they are trying to get through and are hoping by moving they have the ability to start over. And while there are several similarities, there are also a number of differences.

At first, I found myself sympathizing with both Emma and Jane. Both women had gone through a very trying event and were trying to return back to what they thought was normal. Yet, as the story went on, I found myself sympathizing less and less with Emma. She was no longer a sympathetic character and while what happened to her was unfortunate, I can’t say it wasn’t exactly unwarranted either.

To go much further would be to give spoilers about what happens and I have tried my best to not give those in my reviews.

With all that said, I found The Girl Before to be enjoyable. There is subject matter that some readers might find triggering, so more sensitive readers might want to skip this one. Otherwise, Delaney has given us a well written thriller. Decent pacing and interesting characters kept me entertained up to the last page. For those who are in to this kind of story, I recommend it.

Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson

Deep in the heart of the Siberian wilderness lies an underground Russian research station. It is a place so secret that officially it doesn’t exist, and once there the scientists recruited are forbidden to leave and must remain for the rest of their natural lives.

Yet there is one scientist who is desperate to share his secret with the outside world. So desperate he sends out a set of secret coded messages in the hopes that they will eventually get in to the right hands. And that these hands will belong to the one man who can actually make it there and back alive.

Kolymsky Heights feels very much like your standard Cold War era thriller, however it takes place closer to the mid to late 1990’s. In it, an aging Oxford professor receives a strange message from an unknown sender. The message is encoded and only after decoding it does the professor realize who sent it and what he wants. In an eventual somewhat convoluted series of events, the message makes its way to Johnny Porter – our eventual hero.

If, dear reader, you are the kind of person who watches any spy thriller or James Bond movie and wonders ‘Well, how did he get that vehicle?’ or some such, then this is certainly the book for you. Kolmysky Heights goes in to GREAT detail – quite literally over half of the book – following Porter as he makes his way from the United States to Japan an eventually in to Russia. There is so much detail given, that quite honestly I found it boring and tedious.

The beginning of the book, with its set up and introduction of characters was interesting; and the last 100 or so pages of the book with Porter trying to make his escape was quite thrilling. It was the entire middle section, around 250 pages I believe, that I could easily have done without. This is a decent sized book at almost 500 pages, and to me it could have been handled just as well in half the number.

I know there are readers who enjoy this kind of ‘slow burn’ type of book. While I generally enjoy them too, at times I found Kolmysky Heights to be so slow burning as to be at a near stand still.

Readers who enjoy these kinds of stories will likely enjoy this one. I wish I could say I did.

The Bone Mother by David Demchuk

On the Ukrainian/Romanian border lie three tiny neighboring villages. They are the final refuge for the mythical creatures that walk among us. With war on the horizon and the Night Police coming, these individuals have gathered for possibly the last time. They have come to tell their stories and to face their destinies.

The Bone Mother is a collection of short stories that puts me in to mind of the kinds of tales that one might hear told around the campfire. They are stories that set ones hair on end and make one look a little closer at the shadows. These are stories that are wonderfully creepy and speak to the scared child in all of us.

Demchuk has done an excellent job in creating a series of stories that are both creepy and captivating. Readers will recognize fairy tale characters such as the selkie and Baba Yaga, but will also meet new characters such as the Bone Mother.

The only quibble I had was the lack of an overall plot line. While the blurb on the back of the book makes mention of one, I could not recognize one while reading the book. Yes, a handful of the stories make mention of the Night Police but it only in passing and without great detail. Who are the Night Police and what do they want with these people? Where are they from? Who do they answer to? Answering, or at least expounding on the ideas surrounding the Night Police would have greatly helped, in my opinion.

Overall, I enjoyed The Bone Mother. While it is not for the faint of heart, readers who like a good campfire tale will likely enjoy this book. I cannot recommend to every reader, but I can recommend it to most. I hope to see more from Demchuk in the future as he shows a great deal of promise.

Shakespeare Undead (Shakespeare Undead #1) by Lori Handeland

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of history’s greatest writers. For years his work has been studied by scholars, yet for as much that is known about him there is just as much that is unknown. Just who was the mysterious Dark Lady mentioned in his sonnets? Where did inspiration for the myriad of characters he created come from?

Perhaps, as many have speculated, Shakespeare had help with his writings. Or perhaps, the answer is a bit more… unusual.

Shakespeare Undead is a tale loosely (and I mean loosely) based on a point in William Shakespeare’s life. The story is centered around the time he writes “Two Gentlemen of Verona” as that particular play is referenced during the narrative. Plague is constantly a worry of the denizens of London, but William himself isn’t particularly worried. This is because William is a vampire and has been for a very, very long time.

Shakespeare Undead is rife with tips of the hat and tongue in cheek nods to many of Shakespeare’s works. There are also brief mentions of other’s works such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Star Wars’, which might seem strange but oddly enough fit with the narrative.

Historical purists are going to want to stay far, FAR away from this one. Like I said before, while it is based on a real person and a real point in time, it is more fantasy than anything else. Vampires, zombies, and ghosts abound.

If, however, you are looking for an amusing, horror based romp, you might enjoy Shakespeare Undead. It left me chuckling numerous times and caused more than one eye roll at the humor. I recommend it.

City by Clifford D. Simak

Countless millennia have passed since humankind abandoned the city – leaving first for the countryside and then for the stars. Left behind are their most loyal companions, dogs who have been granted the power of speech. Given this special gift centuries earlier, the dogs have become the keepers of human history; raising their pups on stories of what once was and waiting patiently for the day of the humans’ return.

Assisted by an ageless service robot by the name of Jenkins, the dogs live a life of peace and harmony with all of the animals around them. Yet while everything seems calm on the surface, danger is never far behind.

City by Clifford D. Simak is a series of stories that tell about man’s final years on Earth. Interspersed between each story is a kind of interlude or prelude, that gives small details about the next story and what current ‘scholars’ believe of it. The ‘scholars’ are of course the dogs that man had left behind and as so many years have passed, the knowledge of man has passed in to myth.

The stories themselves have a delightedly 50’s feel with mention of toggles, switches, and atomic power. This makes sense as the stories were originally written in the late 40’s to mid 50’s; the era of the space race and the beginning of the atomic age. There is also a nostalgic feel to several of the stories as both man and dog reminisce of an earlier age.

Readers who are fans of older sci-fi are bound to enjoy City. Written and published at a time when man had yet to even make it to the moon, the tales are a reminder that man has always been looking towards the stars.