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.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Li Lan is the only daughter of a genteel yet bankrupt family. With few marriage prospects available, she is surprised when her father comes to her with a strange proposal. The only son of the powerful and wealthy Lim family has recently died under questionable circumstances. The Lim family wants Li Lan to become a ghost bride; a rarely practiced but very real ceremony used to placate a restless spirit. Were Li Lan to agree to the union, she would have a secure place in the Lim household for the rest of her days.

After a single visit to the Lim mansion, Li Lan finds haunted by her ghostly suitor in her dreams and by thoughts of the new heir to the Lim family during her waking hours. After an unfortunate accident, she is drawn in to the strange parallel world of the Chinese afterlife. With its ghost cities, vengeful spirits, and ghostly bureaucracy, Li Lan struggles to find her way home before it is too late and she is trapped forever.

The Ghost Bride is a stunningly beautiful book. With its descriptions of this world and the next, Choo evokes so many emotions with her words. In one chapter we are riding beside Li Lan across the Plains of the Dead, the fear churning in our guts as well as in hers. In another chapter we watch and feel the same fear as Li Lan sees the man she believes she loves wooed by another.

In many ways The Ghost Bride reminds me of the animated movie Spirited Away. In both the supernatural and the mundane walk side by side, sometimes overlapping but almost always separated by a thin barrier. In both a young woman crosses from one to the other and must find her way back to the place she knows. And in both, the main heroine is helped by another character wearing a human face.

The Ghost Bride is a tale that can be enjoyed by many. As Li Lan is only 17 in the beginning of the book, it can hold an appeal to younger and older readers alike. Readers who enjoy fantasy and excitement on every page will likely enjoy this one as well. I highly recommend it to all.