The Mall (Downside #1) by S.L. Grey

Dan is your typical angsty emo kid working in a bookstore inside a dull shopping mall.

Rhoda is your typical junkie, always looking for her next score; her next hit.

When the kid Rhoda is supposed to be looking after runs off while she’s scoring some cocaine, she bullies the hapless Dan in to helping her look for the child. Dan is less than eager to help but as they search more of the closed mall, they both begin receiving strange text messages that draw them in to the lower levels of the building. Where old mannequins are stored in grave like piles and raw sewage drips from the ceiling…and where the only way out is down.

Taking the only elevator, they enter a gruesome underworld where their worst fears are brought to life. Making it to the other side, the two find themselves back in the mall but things are not quite right. And soon they both realize their nightmare has only just begun.

The Mall is very much your typical survival horror type of story; and yet it isn’t. Readers familiar with the Silent Hill video games – specifically the third one – will recognize the descent of the characters from a normal looking mall to a darker, flip-side type of mall. They will recognize the puzzles the characters must solve in order to move on as well as the horrifying obstacles they must face.

Certainly not a book for the squeamish, I found The Mall to be a quick and entertaining read. It’s obvious this is the first of a series as it leaves a good deal of questions unanswered. Horror fans should definitely give this one a read and I’ll be looking for the next book in the series.

Hello new followers

Greetings to all my followers, both old and new.

Today, I received a message that I’ve hit a milestone – I now have 50 followers!

Thank you so much for following my little book blog – you have no idea how much I appreciate it. Thank you to those who have followed me from the start and to those who have joined me along the way. Reading and writing for this blog has certainly been a learning experience and one I hope to continue for a long time.

 

The Countess by Rebecca Johns

In 1611, Countess Erzsébet Báthory, stands helpless as masons walled her inside her castle tower. She is to spend her final years in solitary confinement for her crime – the gruesome murders of dozens of female servants. She claims she was only disciplining them but her opponents paint her as a bloodthirsty witch.

Her only recourse is to tell her story in her own words; a feat she does by writing to her young son. She recounts her childhood and her love for her parents, her arranged marriage and a husband she would eventually come to care deeply for. She describes how she embraces her new role of wife and mother and how she does all she can to secure a future for her precious children.

Yet as she strives for these things, a darker side of the Countess surfaces. The Countess is a strict mistress; demanding respect, virtue, and above all, obedience. It is when she does not receive what she feels is her due that events take a more sinister turn.

Erzsébet Báthory is one of those individuals where the truth is just as disturbing as the fiction. Described as a bloodthirsty sadist, it was believed she killed countless young women and bathed in their blood. The truth, while no less disturbing, is only slightly less gruesome. And it is a truth that Johns expounds on in The Countess.

The Countess is the fictionalized biography of the very real Countess Erzsébet Báthory. Her story is told through her own hand as she writes to her son from her prison cell. She tells him of her life before his birth and after, all the while in the hope that he understands that she did only what she believed was right. For her and for her children.

The Countess is a heavy read at times. Women, even noble born, were treated as little more than commodities. Marriages were made to strengthen political ties; to join families and fortunes. In this day and age of feminism, it can be difficult to read about a time when this wasn’t true.

Jones does an admirable job of bringing the world of 16th century Hungary to life. It is a cruel world and Jones doesn’t pretty things up at all. She gives us a glimpse in to the life of one of the most infamous women to date and gives us a bit of insight in to her character. Bathory isn’t painted as a sympathetic character but as a women doing what she believed to be correct in a time where there were few choices.

A heavy read and a bit gruesome at times, overall I enjoyed The Countess. I recommend this one to my readers.

A Prisoner in Malta (Christopher Marlowe Mystery #1) by Phillip Depoy

In 1583, nineteen year old Christopher Marlowe is visited by a man claiming to represent his benefactors. The man comes with an offer from Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster. Rumors abound of a plot to overthrow the Queen and Walsingham wants Marlowe to uncover the truth.

Marlowe has always been known as a brawler and womanizer, but he is also a genius. He’ll need all of his skills if he’s to try and solve the mystery Walsingham has handed him. For failure would mean death – not only for Marlowe but for Queen Elizabeth herself.

Christopher Marlowe is an interesting individual in that for as much as we know about him there is just as much that is unknown. Was he really a spy for Walsingham and the Privy Council? Did he write Shakespeare’s plays? Did he fake his own death?

In A Prisoner in Malta, Depoy attempts to answer at least one of those questions. In it, he has a young Marlowe “invited” to help uncover a plot to overthrow the Queen.

Historical purists are likely going to take issue with this novel. The way the characters speak is more akin to modern speech patterns than to how they likely spoke during that time. Also, there were times where it seemed Marlowe was almost too smart. In a few places he took intuitive leaps with minimal evidence that didn’t quite make sense.

Minor quibbles aside, A Prisoner in Malta was a good book. Readers who are looking for an entertaining read will likely enjoy it. It is a nice start to a series that has a good deal of promise.

A Fever of the Blood (Frey and McGray #2) by Oscar de Muriel

New Years’ Day – 1889.

In Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum, a patient escapes and a nurse lays dying. Before his escape he was supposedly heard speaking with a fellow patient – a young woman who hasn’t uttered a word in years. Why she spoke and what she said are only two small parts of a greater mystery.

Leading the investigation are local officer Detective ‘Nine Nails’ McGray and Inspector Ian Frey. From Edinburgh, the two track a devious madman far beyond their jurisdiction. While the worst storm in history swirls around them, it brings more than snow and cold – it brings danger neither man could dare imagine.

Coming in to the middle of a series – regardless of the format – can often be a bit difficult. Characters have already been introduced and set up, their motives already established. Mentions of previous adventures, previous conversations, can be made and will either make perfect sense or be utterly confusing.

This is unfortunately true with A Fever of the Blood. It is the second book of a series that looks to be promising but really should be read from the first book. Numerous references are made to events in the first book and at times I found it a bit confusing.

On the whole, A Fever of the Blood was quite enjoyable. While it was a little slow in the beginning, once the action picked up it continued at a fast and furious speed. Despite my occasional confusion I still found myself entranced and held rapt by the story.

Readers should likely seek out the first book The Strings of Murder before trying to read A Fever of the Blood. While on its own it is enjoyable, knowing more about the characters and the backstory will likely make it more so.

Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez

Emperor Mollusk – Mad genius. Conqueror and Destroyer of worlds. Intergalactic menace. And Ex-warlord of Earth.

Not too bad for a guy without a spine…or any bones.

But what is a super villain to do when he’s already done everything?

With no new ambitions – no new planets to conquer – Emperor Mollusk finds himself in a bit of a quandry. Retirement isn’t as simple as he thought it would be. While he would certainly prefer to be left alone to explore the boundaries of science, even that becomes boring after a while. So when the assassins of a legendary death cult come calling, Mollusk is eager for the challenge. Someone has their eye on Earth and Mollusk isn’t about to let the planet go so easily, especially in to the clutches of someone less capable of ruling than him!

Dear reader, in reading a book have you ever that should said book be made in to a movie (or even audio book) that a particular actor would be perfect for a particular role?

I found myself having just those thoughts while reading Emperor Mollusk. The great Emperor himself reminded me so much of Iron Man’s Tony Stark that should this anything be done with this book, if Robert Downey, Jr. isn’t cast as Emperor Mollusk, it would be a great shame.

In the character of Emperor Mollusk, Martinez has captured the dry wit and genius of Tony Stark and put it in the body of a spineless blob from Neptune. In the story itself, he takes the numerous tropes that peppered 50’s B-movies and combines them in a fast and funny tale. If there is one drawback, it is that the prose sometimes gets a bit bogged down with techno-babble. This especially happens towards the end however I didn’t find it too detracting from the story overall.

Fans of 50’s B-movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and wonderfully bad sci-fi in general should absolutely read this book. I greatly enjoyed Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain both times I read it and can only hope that Martinez will take us back to visit these characters again.

Humans, Bow Down by James Patterson

The Great War has ended and the robots have won. The few humans that survived have two choices – to serve the robots they created or be banished. Banishment means living on the Reserve; a barren, desolate area of land where life is cruel and the humans often crueler.

Not every one though is content with the status quo. Six, a young woman whose parents were killed during the Great War, is one such person. Along with her friend Dubs, most of her time is spent simply trying to survive. When an attempted massacre causes the two friends to run, it sets in to motion a series of events that could either spell salvation or doom for the human race.

If the basic premise of Humans, Bow Down sounds familiar, that’s because it is.  Humans create smarter and smarter robots who then rise up against their creators, resulting in war. The robots win (as they generally do) and subjugate the humans, either making them slaves or decimating them almost entirely. A plucky young human does something to garner the robots attention and while running from them somehow manages to come in contact with a secret underground organization that seek to overthrow the robot overlords.

It is a plot that has played out again and again in various media and in this book it is no different. Patterson, while definitely a gifted writer, does little to add anything new to this often overused and abused story line. And while the addition of a transgender character seeks to bring the story in to more modern views, the character herself is little more than a few lines.

The addition of oddly photo shopped pictures every few pages does little to help, either. I’m guessing that they are to help us get a picture of the characters, but I found them to be more distracting than anything else.

As much as I have previously enjoyed Patterson’s books, I found Humans, Bow Down to be rather boring and contrived. The story is nothing new and there have been others who have done it better. If you are looking for a mindless read, you can give it a go but otherwise, I advise my dear readers to skip this one.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen

It takes only a moment for Clara Lawson to be taken from the life she has always known. With no warning she has been taken from her home; from her husband and daughters; a husband who as they are being separated orders her to say nothing.

Isolated from those she holds dear, every day Clara faces questions from the people who took her. Questions about her husband and his family and accusations about the unspeakable crimes they supposedly committed. At first, Clara vehemently denies every accusation but as time goes by she begins to wonder. Her past has always been full of secrets; of half truths and whole lies. With each new day she gains new information and new insight into herself and into what exactly was happening around her.

Let me begin dear reader by saying I devoured this book. I read it in just two days and if it weren’t for pesky things like eating and sleeping, I likely would have finished it in one. The Girl Before was just that good.

Dealing with such a subject as human trafficking is a tricky one but Olsen handles it with aplomb. Chapters alternate between modern time as Clara is held by the authorities and her past, both as a child as later as a married woman. We see just how blind and unquestioning she is to the events around her, having been raised to do just that. Her desire to make those around her happy make her not question things, no matter what doubts she might have.

Olsen’s characters are well written and quite believably so. Clara doesn’t see herself as a victim and only as time goes on does she realize the magnitude of what she was doing. She believed herself to be doing good things and when she realizes what was happening, her horror is heartbreaking.

An incredibly tense read on a sensitive subject, The Girl Before is one of those books that I cannot help but recommend. I urge all of my readers to check this one out.

The Weaver by Emmi Itaranta

Eliana is a model citizen of the Island. She works as a weaver, living in the prestigious House of Webs. She also holds a secret – she can read and write – two things that are forbidden to the women of the Island. She can also dream – an ability that is forbidden of all residents by the mysterious Council. To dream is to be ostracized and cast out.

Much like the weaving she is so proficient at, Eliana has woven a web of protection around herself. The web begins to unravel though when an injured young woman is washed up on the shore outside the House of Webs. Unable to speak, the only clue to the girls’ identity is a tattoo on her palm. A tattoo in invisible ink that bears Eliana’s name.

The Weaver is the second novel by Emmi Itaranta. Like her first one, it takes place in a future dystopia where some unknown event has changed society. The resulting world is both familiar and yet also new to the reader. It is vast and yet it is tiny, much like the island where our story takes place.

Itaranta’s style of writing is very unique. Like the water that plays such an important role in her books, her prose has a kind of ebb and flow. We the reader are subjected to the push and pull of emotions by her words. We experience the highs and lows just as the characters do.

An engaging read, I found The Weaver to be imminently enjoyable. Much like Itaranta’s other book, I recommend it to my readers and look forward to seeing what she creates in the future.

 

New Amsterdam (New Amsterdam #1) by Elizabeth Bear

Abigail Irene Garrett is a formidable and notorious woman. She drinks far too much and sleeps with married men. She has nothing but obligations. She is also a forensic sorceress, working for a Crown that has done little to win her loyalty.

Sebastien de Ulloa is a vampire. Incredibly old, he has forgotten his birth place and even the year he was born. What he does remember is the woman who made him what he is.

In a world where the sun never set on the British empire, and where the expansion of the American colonies was stopped by the war magic of the Iroquois; they are exiles in the new world and possibly its only hope for justice.

My dear readers, in the almost three years I have been writing this blog this is the first time I could not finish a book. Not because I ran out of time but because I found the book just that bad.

Told in a series of short stories, aside from the main characters there is little tying the novel together as a whole. Reading them, one almost has the feeling that the stories were written separately and only later were compiled together as a book. The tone is very inconsistent and quickly becomes irritating.

What irked me the most though was how flat I found the characters. With almost no characterization given, there is nothing to draw us to either Garrett or Ulloa. I found them to unfortunately be very one dimensional and bland. While the summary made them sound very interesting, upon reading the book I found the opposite to be true.

Looking at some of the other reviews on Goodreads, it would seem I am not alone with my dissatisfaction. New Amsterdam has a mixed bag of reviews.

While the concept showed great promise, the execution unfortunately falls flat. Steer clear of this one, dear readers.