Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Book of Revelation by Rupert Thomson

The Book of Revelation: A Novel  What a strange little book, this Book of Revelation. It centers around a 29-year-old British male dancer who lives and works in Amsterdam. He and his girlfriend Brigitte, who is also a dancer, live together and work for the same dance company. He's happy. As he steps out to buy cigarettes for his girlfriend - he tells her cigarettes will give her cancer but she doesn't care - he reflects on how perfect his life is at that moment. He knows his career as a dancer is nearing its end, but he has a burgeoning career as a choreographer and he has Brigitte.

On his way to purchase the cigarettes, the man is approached by three women.  They begin to praise his dancing. He is gracious. Then he feels something prick his arm and the world goes black. The man wakes up chained in a room. Over the course of the next eighteen days the women force him to have sex with them and to engage in various humiliating situations. They tell him that he is theirs. They mutilate him. Once the women are finished with him, they release him. The man is left confused, embarrassed, ashamed, and humiliated. He returns home. He tells his girlfriend what happened and she doesn't believe him. Let me just pause here and say this made no sense to me. Not only has the man never cheated on his girlfriend before, he disappeared from everything and everyone - family, friends, and job - for eighteen days, and she thinks it's all about her? His parents had the good sense to wonder where their son was but because Brigitte insists that her boyfriend simply ran off with another woman, the police never bother looking for him.

Anyway, after being kidnapped, raped, and then dumped by his girlfriend, the man is adrift. He never really tells anyone (except Brigitte) what happened to him. He doesn't go to the police or the hospital. He wanders about, literally and figuratively. He does have friends. One in particular, Isabel senses that something happened to the man but she doesn't know what. She tries to help as best she can. At some point the man becomes obsessed with the finding the women who abused him. Unfortunately he doesn't know anything about them or even exactly what they looked liked - throughout his ordeal either he was hooded or they were.

I am not sure what to think of this book. With such a provocative plot I would expect that the author is trying to say something but I have no idea what that is. I was reading reviews of this book on the web and saw at least one that suggested that at least up until the mutilation scene, the idea of a man getting kidnapped by three women who want to have sex with him is a typical male fantasy but I don't think that is what The Book of Revelation is about. At no point is the man happy with being kidnapped. He doesn't appear to enjoy the sex. Before the kidnapping and during the ordeal a large part of what gets him through it all is thinking about Brigitte with whom he is so in love. Nor does this book appear to be about society's treatment of male victims of sexual abuse because aside from Brigitte, no one gets a chance to react because no one knows what happened to the man. Maybe this book is little bit about how one's life changes after experiencing such an ordeal, but even that's a stretch because the man himself does little to confront his own feelings about his experience.

The most confounding and frustrating thing about the book is the lack of resolve. The book ends rather abruptly and it is entirely unsatisfying. I wanted, if not resolution, some sense of how the man plans to continue on in life. If anything The Book of Revelation is a good conversation starter. It provides no answers but may get you thinking.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Bat by Jo Nesbø

The Bat (Harry Hole Series #1)  While on a trip through the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago I picked up a bunch of books from Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole series at one of my favorite bookstores, Powell's City of Books. For a variety of reasons I didn't start reading the series right away, but did read Headhunters and The Son, two of Nesbø's standalone books. It's been awhile since I read Headhunters. Mostly I remember it being violent and funny in a madcap sort of way. The Son was also violent, but much more somber. The Son also included a not entirely believable romance story line. Going into the Harry Hole series, I wasn't sure if I was in for a gritty crime series, a funny crime series, or something else entirely. With a name like Harry Hole I half expected funny, but suspected there would be a hefty amount of violence deaths added in. Seriously, I wonder if the main character's name sounds like something a school boy made up in Norwegian too.

The Bat is the first book in the series. As it opens Oslo police detective Harry is just arriving in Sydney, Australia to assist in the investigation of the murder of young Norwegian women. We're told the woman was a minor celebrity in Norway but in Australia the victim was a waitress so I was never quite sure what made her a celebrity. Whatever her celebrity status the situation apparently merited sending a policeman from Norway to Australia and Harry, having recently gone through some difficulties in Oslo, is all to glad to get away to the beach. Once in Sydney he makes friends with one of the lead detectives on the case. It isn't long before they come to suspect that what seemed like an isolated incident might actually be the handiwork of a serial killer.

For me, mysteries are usually about the plot (the mystery itself) or the characters, rarely both. I have to admit that the plot of The Bat didn't exactly grab me. There were multiple times when I was either lost as to what was going on or where my mind wandered off somewhere else. Maybe it was the writing; maybe it was me being distracted; maybe it was both. It was a little too convoluted and over the top. I mean, of the multiple deaths that occur in the story, one involves a clown and another involves a shark. I'm not sure if the intention was to be comical, but it came off as comical albeit in a very gruesome way. Having one crazy, weird death would have been enough. Multiple crazy, weird deaths and the phrase "jumped the shark" is justly applied.

One thing I did really like about the book was the integration of Aboriginal history and its influence on Australian society in the story. This played heavily into the plot and the stories of individual characters. I appreciated not only learning a tiny about this subject, but also the acknowledgement that the problems of the past have not been completely resolved, and further that they may continue to influence the present, often in unanticipated ways. This brings me to the characters as a whole. While the plot was not entirely convincing the characters were intriguing. I am definitely interested in reading more of Harry Hole's adventures. Luckily I have a bunch of the books in the series already waiting in my TBR pile.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love by Chris Roberson

Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love #1 (NOOK Comic with Zoom View)  This seems to be the season of retelling, or rather recasting, of classic stories in a different genre from the original. Or at least it is the season of me finding such stories.  This book is a retelling of Cinderella's story in graphic novel format. Instead of a damsel in distress waiting for her prince, here in Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, Cindy has divorced her Prince Charming. Most of Fabletown thinks she is just another socialite globetrotting around the world shopping and partying. What most don't know is that Cindy is an international spy. When magical objects start disappearing from Fabletown and reappearing in the mundy (that is, the ordinary human world), Cindy is tasked with finding out who's behind it and putting a stop to it. Magical objects in the mundy world could cause real problems for everyone.

This was super fun! I'm not too familiar with this series of Fables from Vertigo. I picked this up on a whim and am so glad I did. Cinderella as a super spy who can defend herself with or without a weapon was just plain awesome. I don't want to give to much away but I loved how the traditional tropes from fairy tales were used to comment on the themes of fairy tales, particularly the trope of the fairy godmother. This was definitely a good read.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Unleashing by Shelly Laurenston

The Unleashing  There is a beautiful man with six pack abs on the cover of The Unleashing.  It is a beautiful cover but it is totally misleading because The Unleashing isn't about him. It's about Kera.

Kera was a marine who struggled to find her footing after leaving the marines. Her days largely consisted of serving customers at the diner she worked at, walking Brodie Hawaii, the pit bull that rescued her as much as she rescued it, and hanging out in her rundown apartment. She died trying to help a teenage girl who was getting beat up by her pimp in an alley behind the diner. After surviving two tours in the Middle East Kera couldn't believe she died in an alley. Even more unbelievable was having a viking goddess offer her a second chance at life as a Crow. The Crows are an all female clan of assassins for the Norse gods, or something like that. They kill when ordered by Odin or one of the other gods.  In between killing sprees, the women can make of their new life anything they want it to be.

I picked up The Unleashing expecting a paranormal romance. Kera does find a lover and there are paranormal elements what with the Norse gods and all, but paranormal romance is not an adequate description. Kera spends a large part of the story trying to figure out how to live in her new life. As a Crow she is expected to kill. As a marine one might think that it wold be easy for her, but adjusting to life after the marines meant in part trying to get away from violence and death. Beyond learning to let her rage guide her per the Crow's motto, Kera has to figure out what to do with her life. Her Crow sisters have all kinds of jobs. The book is set in the Los Angeles area so most of them have jobs in or related to the entertainment industry. The point is each woman died and when given a second chance at life, decided to live their dream life. It is sometime before Kera figures out what her dreams are.

I liked this. The romance that develops between Kera and the viking who made it possible for her to get a second chance at life is sexy and fun. The fight scenes are action packed. Kera's attempts at finding her footing in her new life are interesting. All of this is set against a backdrop of something amiss in the supernatural world and it being up to the Crows to figure it out.

I believe The Unleashing is the first in a new series. I am not familiar with Laurenston's other series but after reading this I might give them a try. Of course, I'm looking forward to finding out what follows for Kera and her sister Crows.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Darkest Whisper by Gena Showalter

The Darkest Whisper (Lords of the Underworld Series #4) The Darkest Whisper is the fourth book in Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld series. The lords are immortal warriors who were once favored by the gods. The lords lost that favor after they killed Pandora and released the demons that were once imprisoned inside her box. As a punishment each lord was cursed to carry a demon inside him (or her). Centuries have passed and man and demon have become one. Separating the demon from the man would kill the man. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the hunters want to do.  The hunters are a group of humans who blame all the world's ills on the lords and believe that if they could capture the lords and remove their demons, then life would be heaven on earth. As one character points out, the hunters seem to have forgotten that humans have free will and are at least partially to blame for the ills of the world.

Sabin is the keeper of doubt. Get near him and you start doubting everything good in your life.  Sabin has had lovers before but it never worked out. In the end the women also began doubting everything about themselves no matter how much Sabin tried to boost their confidence. After one lover was overcome doubt and committed suicide, Sabin swore off women and relationships for good. Then he met Gwen.

Gwen is a half harpy, half angel who was captured by the hunters and imprisoned for a year. When the lords break into the hunter's fortress and rescue her and the other captives, Gwen isn't quite sure what to think. She has heard stories about the lords, and in all of them the lords are ruthless killers. Being anywhere near the lords should and does terrify her, not only because of what they might do but also because of what she might do. As a harpy Gwen knows violence and she hates it. She despises the part of herself that is harpy, not entirely without reason. When she goes into harpy mode she loses control and people die. Yet she can't deny her attraction to Sabin. Being around him seems to bring out the best and worst in her.

This one was a mixed bag for me. The harpy mythology was new to me and a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed Gwen's trajectory in the story. In the beginning she can't accept the violent harpy half of her.  She's afraid of her own power and believes herself to be weak. She even blames herself for being kidnapped. Over the course of the novel she gains confidence in herself and her powers. She learns how to fight and to stand up for herself. A woman growing into her own is always a good thing to see.

What I liked less was Sabin's "protection" of Gwen. Gwen opens up to Sabin, revealing her greatest weakness to him. He uses that knowledge against her, imprisoning Gwen and her sisters against their will. He reasons that locking the four women up is for their own protection. Multiple times in the book he physically prevents her sisters from going near Gwen because he feels he has to "protect" her from them even though they have never done anything to harm her. I so wanted Gwen to stand up to him and tell him to back off. Even if he means well Sabin's actions went too far too many times.

Each book in the series focuses on a particular warrior as well as the lords' overall fight to defeat the hunters. In this one there was an interesting development involving children with powers - can't wait to see how that plays out in future books. I also liked the side stories involving Aeron and Paris and Torin and Cameo.

One of the fun things about the series is the friendship between the men. It's not difficult to find books that depict deep female friendships but I have across far fewer that involve serious male friendships. Don't get me wrong, romance is great but so are lifelong friends. Aeron and Paris have a deep friendship. Having lost the one woman he might have loved, Paris the keeper of promiscuity, is burying his sorrow in ambrosia and alcohol. Aeron desperately tries to help his friend. Paris will not self-destruct if Aeron has anything to do about it.

Another interesting relationship is that between Cameo and Torin. Cameo, the only female warrior, is the keeper of misery. The sound of her voice literally makes people depressed and miserable. Torin has the worst demon in my opinion - the demon of disease. He can't touch another person with his bare skin without causing a plague. Cameo and Torin have been flirting with each other for awhile. Here they both come to understand the limits of their relationships, and not just the limits resulting from their demons. The individual stories of these warriors, I'm betting, will be interesting and steamy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wallbanger by Alice Clayton

WALLBANGER - Ein Nachbar zum Verlieben  Caroline has just moved into a beautiful apartment.  It has a nice big kitchen perfectly suited for all the cooking and baking she likes to do.  It has a great view of the city of San Francisco.  There's just one tiny problem - she share's a bedroom wall with a very noisy neighbor.  The first night in her beautiful apartment Caroline wakes up to someone banging on the wall and the sound of spanking.  The next night there is more banging and the sound of purring.  Night number three follows with more wallbanging and giggling.  Fed up, Caroline marches over to give Wallbanger, as she has nicknamed her noisy neighbor, a piece of her mind.

Wallbanger is one of the best romance stories I've read in a long time.  It has the perfect blend of romance, comedy, and sexiness.  It also has a smart and funny heroine who before and after meeting Mr. Wallbanger has a full life, complete with friends, family, interests of her own, and a career she loves and is great at.

This is a romance so there is no surprise that Caroline and Simon, aka Wallbanger, eventually get together but watching them come together was great.  Even better, once they get together they still have issues to deal with, making this very much a grown up romance, and by that I mean the kind where romance is one part but not the whole part of one's life story. My one tiny complaint is that there are three girl friends who meets three boy friends and by the end there are three couples.  That was a little too convenient, but that's a small quibble.  This is definitely worth the read.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson Series #1)  Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson is an interesting girl.  She's smart.  She can just as easily hot wire car as she can fix its engine.  And oh yeah, she can shift into a coyote.  She was raised by werewolves but being a coyote, was never part of the pack.  Now an adult, Mercedes owns and runs a mechanic shop but her life involves much more than fixing engines.  Her next door neighbor Adam is the local werewolf alpha.  Stefan, one of her best customers, is a vampire and Zee, her former boss, is fae. When Mercy wakes up to find Adam's house a wreck and Adam badly injured, she immediately jumps in to help and quickly finds herself in the middle of something much bigger than she ever anticipated.

Moon Called is the first in a paranormal series of books by Patricia Briggs.  I had no idea what this book was about when I picked it up, other than that it involved werewolves, vampires, and other supernaturals.  Upon first glance it reminded me of the Southern Vampire series.  I missed the world Charlaine Harris created in that series - the romance, the battles, the mysteries, all of it.  Mercy Thompson and Moon Called turned out to be a perfect read after finishing the Southern Vampire series.  Mercy is smart, strong, loyal, and independent.  She is not invincible but capable of holding her own.  She refuses to be a pushover but doesn't pretend she can do everything herself.  She was compelling and interesting.  She's not alone.  Mercy is  surrounded by a host of well drawn characters, several of whom I suspect will become love interests for Mercy in future books.  In addition to great characters there was action and adventure.  In short, I really enjoyed this. 

One of the pleasures of coming to an established series late is not having to wait a year or more before getting to read the next book.  There are at least seven more books in this series that have already been published and my local library has most of them, which means happy reading for me.  This is a series I'm looking forward to reading more of.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong

Personal Demon (Women of the Otherworld Series #8)  Personal Demon is the eighth book in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series and it might be my favorite.  It is definitely in the top three.  It starts out as Hope's story, then brings in Lucas and Paige and a whole lot of cabal trouble.

Hope is a half-demon who feeds on chaos.  As superpowers go, it is not much of a power.  If anything, it is more like a terrible drug trip.  When Hope is caught up in chaos she forgets everyone and everything around her and can only think about getting more chaos.  The one benefit of her chaos power is that it allows Hope to see visions, snippets of the violence that led to the chaos.  If a person died peacefully Hope sees nothing.  But if a person died violently Hope can pick up his or her last moments, perhaps even seeing the killer and solving a murder.

Lucas Cortez is the reluctant heir of the Cortez cabal.  The cabals are more or less supernatural mafia style organizations headed by a powerful family.  Lucas grew up idolizing his father Benecio and the cabal he ran until he realized just what the cabal was.  It isn't all bad.  The cabals have created a safe place for supernaturals to connect and utilize their powers away from humans who would be sure to persecute them if they knew supernaturals existed.  In return, they demand total loyalty and punish betrayers severely.

Lucas who is the fourth child and the illegitimate son of Benecio, has done his best to distance himself from his father's business.  Worse, or better depending on one's perspective, Lucas uses his legal and other skills to defend potential victims of the cabal.  Not surprisingly, many members of the Cortez cabal as well as members of the other cabals dislike Lucas, seeing him as a threat to their way of life.  Benecio, however, hasn't given up on the idea of bringing his son into the fold.  He's willing to make some changes to business practices but he is still the ruler of an empire and being a ruler requires making tough (which may mean bloody) decisions.  Benecio has gone so far as to declare his youngest son as his heir, over the objections of not only Lucas but his three older sons.

What I look for in the Women of the Otherworld series is romance and strong women kicking ass.  Typically the heroine is (1) dealing with relationship issues whether it is falling in love or figuring out the next step after falling, (2) trying to master or improve her supernatural gifts, and (3) solving a mystery or other problem, all the while trying to stay alive as the third task usually results in someone trying to kill her or someone she loves.  Personal Demon has all of the above and more.  It begins with a simple sounding assignment: Benecio wants Hope to infiltrate a local gang who has been agitating against the cabals and figure out what their deal is.  Lucas has always refused to work for his father on principle.  However, when his friend Hope is called in repay a debt she owes to Benecio, Lucas and his wife Paige agree to oversee the investigation in case Hope needs help.

The gang that has been causing trouble for the Cortez cabal turns out to pose a much bigger and different threat than anyone imagined.  Armstrong introduces a new kind of half demon, one who can impersonate other people quite effectively.  Lucas moves closer to becoming the head of the cabal whether he wants to or not.  Equally surprising is the development in Hope's love life.  Karl is the lone wolf who remained an outsider even after joining the werewolf pack.  Their past was hinted at in the prior book and in this book, their relationship takes a great leap forward.

Personal Demon is one of the best entries in the Women of the Otherworld series.  Strangely, it isn't so much that I liked Hope (usually it is the heroine that draws me in).  I mean, Hope is a great character but what really drew me in was the overall plot.  This book did a good job of advancing the series overall.  I suspect Lucas will be forced to make a decision about his involvement with the Cortez cabal soon whether he wants to or not.  I also suspect the guy who can impersonate anyone will resurface and further doubt Hope and Karl are going to live happily ever after, at least not yet.  Can't wait.