Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Gwendy’s Button Box by King & Chizmar

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Expected publication: May 30th 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications

The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told... until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: "Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me."

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat...

Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December. This book will be a Cemetery Dance Publications exclusive with no other editions currently planned anywhere in the world!

Castle Rock may be one of my favorite fiction settings, and I'm ridiculously excited to see King returning there after such a long absence. The addition of Chizmar as co-author intrigues me as well. If I am able to land an ARC of this, that would be a coup indeed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#Thriller Review: Mythos Christos by Edwin Herbert

Given how much controversy Dan Brown generated with The Da Vinci Code, his 'scandalous' suggestion of a secret marriage between Jesus and Mary was really quite underwhelming. It's like suggesting that Zeus seduced Leda as a goose rather than as a swan - a significant twist on the mythology for some, but a big yawn for a rest of us.

While I suspect Mythos Christos is both too daring and too smart to ever generate the same level of global hype, Edwin Herbert's novel is very much the book that I had hoped Brown's would be. Rather than safely limit himself to casting doubt upon one small part of the biblical story, Herbert deconstructs the entire mythology, exposing its origins, and exploring the complete absence of an historical record for Jesus during his lifetime.

This is a story told in two parts, with an historical thriller interspersed with the more contemporary adventure.

In the latter, we have a young scholar by the name of Lex Thomasson reluctantly leading a secret Vatican team in uncovering the lost documents of the Library of Alexandria. He starts out naively believing that they will allow secular study of the documents, but soon comes to realize that their only goal is to destroy what they believe to be a heretical threat to their faith. It is a very dark and cynical tale in many aspects, but also a wondrously exciting one in others. The mathematical puzzles and old-fashioned treasure hunt are Indian Jones worthy, and some of the archaeological sites are stunning to explore, especially with their clash (and sometimes usurpation) of mythological idols.

In the former storyline, we follow the famous philosopher Hypatia as she guards against the encroaching destruction of the Romans, as they seek to purge all elements of paganism, especially those that contradict the spreading tenets of Christianity. There's some necessary invention in this part of the story, with timelines compressed and historical personages juggled around, but the overarching historical details are solid. It provides a fascinating look at a significant time in history, exploring it from the unique perspective of the pagans who were being displaced, rather than the Church that was selectively chronicling its own history. It is Hypatia who preserves the documents, establishes the puzzles, and sets in motion the treasure hunt of centuries later, although she never expected discovery to take quite so long.

Assuming you can keep an open mind, Mythos Christos is a fascinating novel that works as well as a history lesson as it does an adventurous thriller. Even the most cursory glance at the mythologies of the world will show that each has taken something from the ones before it, and even the most devout believers cannot deny that contemporary mythologies are hardly the first to tell many of their most significant stories. However, when you really start to dissect the mythology, to look at in terms of origins and sources, and realize just how much of it is really paganism under a new name, it becomes all too easy to believe that two warring cultures would have gone to such great lengths in attempting to obliterate or preserve history.

I went into Mythos Christos with impossibly high hopes, and never really expected Edwin Herbert to deliver on his own premise. I kept waiting for him to pull back at the last minute or to cast some shadow of doubt upon Lex, but he sees this through to the very end - without, I might add, going too far the other way. While Herbert is certainly preaching to the converted (so to speak), the way he uses Lex and Thea to explore the dictates of faith and reason, and the way he concludes the story by leaving room for both to coexist, certainly offers something of an olive branch to more fundamental readers. This is one of those rare books that I will keep on hand and gladly revisit again over the coming years.

Published January 1st 2016 by BookBaby

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Just the one new review title this week - a long-anticipated book that I requested way back in December:

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Weaving deftly between 1980 and the present day, and told in an unforgettable voice, Long Black Veil is an intensely atmospheric thriller that explores the meaning of identity, loyalty, and love

I did, however, pick up a pair of new titles for the WTF Friday stacks:

The Haunted Halls by Glenn Rolfe
Part Laymon, part King, complete Rolfe, this is a book that any horror fan needs to read

Onikymn Crystal by RR Morris
A spellbinding work of imaginative science fiction, RR Morris’ novel will impress readers with its command of historical epochs and alien intrigue


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

A fresh start this week, with Jennifer Finney Boylan's Long Black Veil automatically becoming my physical read of choice, and Michael Crichton's Dragon Teeth finally topping the e-reader stacks (I can wait no longer!).

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#Horror Review: The Tower of Zhaal by C.T. Phipps

Whereas Cthulhu Armageddon was comprised of equal parts horror, science fiction, and weird western, The Tower of Zhaal pushes the first two to the margins, thrusting us head-first into the depths of Lovecraftian horror.

I thought the first book was dark, but C.T. Phipps may as well have stamped "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" on the cover here and left it that. I mean, this is a book that starts with Booth and Mercury discussing when to kill him (before he turns into a monster); quickly has the party they're guarding slaughtered by cultists (for the sole purpose of getting Booth's attention); and then proceeds to have one of the Old Ones themselves reveal they've already witnessed humanity's end (but, if we're good, we might earn a false paradise in dreamland). At that point, most heroes would say, "Fuck it," throw their arms up in the air, and walk off the nearest cliff. Fortunately, Booth is too stubborn, too angry, and too rebellious to simply accept the fate that the Old One's decree.

If he can't prevent the end of the world, he'll at least ensure we face it on our own terms.

The twist here, compared to the first book, is that it's not just an insanely powerful madman standing in his way, but a heap of Cosmic Horrors as well. The stakes are raised, right from the start, and the sense of doom weighs heavily upon the story. In fact, Phipps introduces a whole new cast of supporting characters here, some of whom are just as memorable as Richard (my favorite supporting character from the first book), and most of whom die just as quickly and unceremoniously a death. He also broadens the world, taking us farther and faster than was previously possible, thanks to time/space warping "technology of the mind" developed under the oversight of the Old Ones at Miskatonic University.

Not surprisingly, this is a story that delves as deep into ethics as it does magic, often questioning whether the end justifies the means, whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and at what cost is survival no longer worth it? Nowhere, though, do those questions weigh more heavily than when Booth and crew pass from the ruins of Insmaw into the subterranean paradise of Shak’ta’hadron . . . and come across Booth's ex-wife. It's not necessarily the most important or exciting part of the story, but it's very much at the heart of what makes such a doom-laden story, fronted by such a gloomy protagonist, still so utterly compelling.

The climax at The Tower of Zhaal is not necessarily bigger than that of the first book, but it is certainly more significant, especially when it involves the words, "We have to summon Cthulhu." I will say no more on that front, but rest assured Phipps isn't merely content to play with the fringes of the Lovecraftian mythos, he's plunging right into its heart.

Kindle Edition, 264 pages
Published January 22nd 2017 by Crossroad Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Owl and the Electric Samurai by Kristi Charish

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Owl and the Electric Samurai by Kristi Charish
Expected publication: May 8th 2017 by Simon & Schuster

The third exciting novel starring the unforgettable antiquities thief Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. From the pen of rising urban fantasy star Kristi Charish (Owl and the Japanese Circus) and for fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Jennifer Estep, Jenn Bennett, and fantasy lovers everywhere.

The International Archaeology Association (IAA) is responsible for keeping all things supernatural under wraps. They’re also responsible for ruining the promising archaeology career of Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl.

Needless to say, Owl’s still a little sore about that.

Just to keep Owl’s life lively, the IAA has opened a bounty on the two designers of World Quest, the online RPG that is much, much more than it seems. Owl needs to locate the notorious gaming duo before the other mercenaries do. But finding the gamers won’t be easy since every clue points to them hiding out in the legendary lost city of Shangri-La. Not to mention that the last time Owl and the game designers spoke, their conversation didn’t exactly end on the best note…

Meanwhile, undercurrents of supernatural politics are running amok in Tokyo, dragging Owl and her friends into a deadly game of wits with an opponent who calls himself the Electric Samurai. The cost of losing? All-out civil war between two powerful supernatural factions.

All in all, just another great day on the job.

Technically, I am no longer waiting, since I nabbed an electronic ARC last week, but I have been looking forward to this. It's such a fun series, mixing urban fantasy with archaeological adventures, and Owl is a fantastic heroine.

Monday, March 20, 2017

#Thriller Review: The Only Child by Andrew Pyper

The Only Child is . . . well, it's a lot of things, and I think that might be the problem. Andrew Pyper weaves what could have been an entirely satisfying gothic horror story, but then dilutes it with the trappings of a contemporary psychological thriller, drags it down with a 'hunter' subplot that's as weak as it is unwanted, and ties it all to a protagonist who loses all appeal after the first few chapters.

Dr. Lily Dominick is introduced as a smart, strong, independent young woman who chooses to confront and catalogue the monsters around us. There's a glimmer of humanity beneath her cool, clinical exterior that engages the reader and draws us is, but it's all too quickly extinguished. Instead, she's reduced to the role of victim, an emotionless pawn who forces the story forward, but about whose fate it's really hard to care.

Michael, the madman and monster at the heart of the tale, is really the only reason to keep reading, but even he wears thin after a while. His backstory is utterly fascinating, a tragic tale of gothic horror that ensnares Shelley, Stevenson, and Stoker, but it's only a small part of the story. Unfortunately, the bulk of the story involves his pursuit of Lily, and while there are some interesting questions there to drive the suspense, his threatening taunts and incestuous sexual innuendo are so over-the-top that he becomes a mockery of the genre. Even worse, their contrived cat-and-mouse game will have you mentally calculating the odds of continually being in the right place, at the right time, to see/hear/find the right thing.

The whole 'gothic' thing is played very well for about the first half of the novel, before it's almost completely forgotten. There are some great set pieces, such as the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center and the abandoned asylum in Budapest, but too much of the story takes place in airports, hotels, and tile-floor bathrooms. Similarly, Michael's diaries and journals are utterly fascinating, and really serve to bring the story to life, but then they just disappear. As for the hunter subplot, the story could have done very well without it. Aside from introducing a lame romantic subplot and orchestrating a violent climax that feels out of place for the genre, it never really serves a purpose. It never feels as if Lily is truly threatened by the hunters; we're not given enough detail to ever question (or care) whether they are good or bad; and their pursuit of Michael adds absolutely nothing to his story.

There's a really good gothic horror story buried in The Only Child - unfortunately, it's overwhelmed by a boring contemporary psychological drama and a clichéd procedural thriller. The twist ending (which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one) redeems it somewhat, but by that point it's too little too late.

I won't be so crass as to suggest The Only Child should have been aborted, but it's probably for the best that it doesn't have any siblings.

Paperback, Canadian Export, 304 pages
Expected publication: May 23rd 2017 by Simon & Schuster Canada

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.