Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Prose and Perils of a Christian Nation (#bookreview)

Something a little bit different this morning - a dual review, looking at Frederic C. Rich's debut novel from two very different perspectives . . .

When I first read the synopsis for Christian Nation, I was excited. It sounded like a fantastic alternate history/future dystopian novel, built around a premise far more plausibly terrifying than aliens, zombies, or vampire plagues. What I found in its pages is really two books, both of which are deeply flawed, but which combine to provide a whole that's more fascinating than the sum of its parts.

As a novel, as a narrative work of fiction, this is a rather weak tale. It's told as a series of personal recollections, framed by the act of writing a forbidden memoir. While that kind of framework has its uses, and has certainly been done successfully before, Rich makes a mistake (in my mind) of never straying far from the physical detachment of memoir. There's very little action or excitement, no insights into the thoughts or emotions of those populating the tale, and a distinct lack of urgency. It's a very clinical telling, and one that does little to endear readers to the narrator/protagonist, making it difficult to become emotionally invested in the tale.

It bothered me that so much of the story depended upon coincidences and well-time accidents, but it bothered me even more that government sanctioned murder was required to enable significant turning points in history. Those murders really strained the credibility of "it could really happen here." At the same time, I had an issue with the the narrow-minded focus on the evils of homosexual sin, especially in a world where it's a second 9/11 type terrorist attack that polarizes the average citizen into supporting the establishment of a theocratic government. Similarly, the complete lack of interest in foreign affairs is troubling, not so much in their lack of interference, but in following through on Palin's platform of retribution against the Islamic terrorists.

As a borderline sci-fi novel, there are some really interesting concepts in Christian Nation, but I'm not sure if they're flawed, or just not fully developed. For instance, the Purity Web certainly has the potential to be more horrifying that Big Brother, and should leave you second-guessing yourself every time you go online. It has the potential to be awe-inspiring, menacing on an unprecedented level, but it ends up being downplayed. That, for me, is one of the story's biggest failings. Even if you can't make the reader care for your characters, you should be able to make them fear for themselves.

Finally, it must be said that this is also a rather linear tale, one with a ending that's never in doubt, which makes it impossible to generate any sort of suspense. The cast of main characters is small, and none of them are every really defined beyond their faith, their politics, and their career. It's almost as if they are merely props with which to explore a philosophical idea - which, of course, is precisely what they are.

As a philosophical treatise, this is a somewhat narrow-minded, but well-intentioned tale . . . but I promised to let Sally review that aspect of it.


Like Bob, I was intensely curious about Christian Nation from the moment he first brought it to my attention. I do like a enjoy a good alternate "what if?" history novel, but I was far more interested in this as a book of ideas. As a reader who is apparently destined to be persecuted on multiple fronts in Rich's theocratic state, I was interested to see how he would develop his ideas and justify his conclusions.

Oh my gosh. I mean no offense to my friends south of the border, but this is a quintessentially American novel - full of arrogance, self-importance, and return to thoughts of manifest destiny. The political and religious leaders of Rich's novel not only believe that the establishment of America as a pure Christian Nation is required for the second-coming, but that they were granted the land by God for that sole purpose. There is some lip service provided to the idea of supporting a Jewish state in Israel but, for the most part, the new rulers of America don't give a damn about anybody outside their borders. The Bible may not have been written by them but, by God, it sure as sin was written for them.

Along the same lines, the new rulers are not content to merely accept the will of God and rule their country according to the literal dictates of the Bible. The 10 commandments are a great inspiration, but in America you go big or you go home, and it takes 50 new commandments , in the form of The Blessing, to get things done. I really don't know whether Rich was being satirical in so wholeheartedly embracing the worst stereotypes outsiders have of America, but he plays just about every card in the deck. The Blessing has to be the ickiest part of the novel, several pages of racist, sexist, homophobic that just makes you queasy to think of anybody buying into.

It's not just American stereotypes at work here, however, but misogynistic religious ones as well. In the new Christian Nation, it's homosexual men who are the enemy, and sodomy that is the world's greatest sin. Islamic terrorists loading rocket launchers around airports are bad, but Rich's theocratic leaders would run right past them to stop two young men from loading something far smaller, and far less lethal, into one another. His is a world where single men over a certain age are legally assumed to be homosexual, and where gay sex is grounds for execution. Lesbians, however, merely have to be watched (I guess some things never change), and women merely have to be pleasant and obey their husbands - who can, of course, demand any sort of kinkiness they desire. I do have to give Rich credit for making a lovely, charismatic gay man one of his protagonists, though, even if he never gets kissed, much less sodomized, anywhere on the page.

Whew. Could it really happen the way Rich suggests? Could a theocracy take root in America, rise to absolute power, and then gleefully abuse that power until everything that made the country America is gone? I sure as hell hope not but, then again, he makes it clear the world felt the same way about Nazi Germany once upon a time. As a cautionary tale and a philosophical exploration of what happens when the lines between church and state are erased, this is a fascinating read. It's very dry, and full of long passages that I'm sure even lawyers and university professors will be tempted to skim, but it is interesting to see how easily we can be convinced to give our freedoms away.


Ultimately, Christian Nation is an intriguing read, and possibly even (to borrow an overused term) an important one. It's not a great work of fiction, but it is a good work of speculative fiction in that it makes you think, ponder, and really consider the possibilities. I think I enjoyed it a bit more than Sally, but I also think she found it a bit more disturbing than I did.

Expected publication: July 1st 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company
Hardcover, 352 pages

Friday, June 28, 2013

Some Decent but DNF Titles (#bookreview)

I seem to be in a bit of a rut lately, and I suspect it's because I've been reading too far (or perhaps just too much) outside my core comfort zone. I've been dabbling a lot in genres that I generally enjoy in small doses, and finding that you really can have too much of a good thing.

The following books are not 'bad' by any means - if they were, I'd politely shelve them away and never say another word - they just didn't work for me. Hopefully, by shedding some light on them, I can help them connect with the right readers.

Kafira is a novel with a great premise, but I found I stumbled over too many things in the opening chapters, and just couldn't find my way back into the book. John G O'Neill is a solid writer, and spins some really interesting plot threads here - political, sci-fi, and bio-terror included. Moon landings get me excited, and I've been a huge fan of plague stories, so this seemed like a good fit. Unfortunately, I had a hard time settling in with the style of the narration, and had trouble connecting with the main characters. It's a fast-paced thriller, with a good deal of imagination but, ultimately, just not for me.

Be Careful What You Wish For offers up a concept that intrigued me, but I just couldn't find the hook to keep me reading. Adam and the gang are well-established, evoking memories of the guys I used to play AD&D with back in high school, but I can't really speak to their development. While neither wishes themselves nor wishes for magic to be real are hardly new, Daniel Black's choice to place that magic in the context of a role-playing game is something different. As much as I wanted to like the book, however, I found the pacing a little too slow, and the mix of genres a little too awkward for my tastes. Urban fantasy fans will likely find more to appreciate here, as will hardcore RPG fans who remain closer to the game.

Having had the ARC in my possession since December, I took several stabs at The Darwin Elevator, hoping that I might eventually find my way into it. After all, there are several authors (Steven Erikson immediately comes to mind) who demanded patience and perseverance with that first book, but who have since become favorites. I must say, Jason M. Hough has a great imagination, a flair for intense action, and a knack for dark/witty humor, but it felt like this novel could have used a more ambitious editor. The characters didn't hold any appeal for me, which really drained the story of any significant source of tension. In addition, I really struggled to grasp some of the politics and societal rules, which just seemed rather backward. Ultimately, this struck me in much the same way as Control Point, but readers who found the appeal there will likely enjoy this.

Despite an impressive pedigree of authors, After the End: Recent Apocalypses suffers first from familiarity, and second from its recent competition. Paula Guran has collected a nice variety of tales here, but while I had read many of them before, none were memorable enough for me to realize it right away, and none were strong enough for me to feel the urge to read them a second time. As for the competition, I know it's unfair to judge one book against another, but there have been some stellar collections of original apocalyptic fiction lately, and this one does suffer by comparison. Likely a good collection for those who haven't read the stories before, or who haven't been spoiled by recent reads, but I simply ran out of patience waiting for something 'new' to surprise me.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Through A Hole In The Universe with Catfish McDaris (INTERVIEW)

Catfish McDaris is an American poet and author, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who has written poetry and prose for the past 20 years. An ex-G.I. Joe who hopped freights and hitchhiked across the country, he's built adobe houses, tamed wild horses, made cattle troughs, worked in a zinc smelter, and even painted flag poles.

Our very own Donald Armfield sat down for a chat with Catfish, to talk about his writing and his career, drawing an exclusive piece from him in the process!

What was it like working at the Post Office, during the Anthrax scare?

While working on the letter sorting machines at the main post office in Milwaukee we would get all kinds of threats. Anthrax and Ricin were supposedly sent to Washington D.C. or other politicians often. The letters would go through the bar coder and sorter and they would explode in white powder, 99% of the time it was baby powder, rice, or oatmeal. We'd sometimes get covered in a huge cloud and Haz-mat teams were called and sometimes dogs for bombs. We'd be quarantined and checked for poisoning and sent for showers. When Jeffrey Dahmer was captured we got bombs on the way to prison to blow him up. We evacuated quite often. There were several shoot outs inside the building in my 30 year career and one guy went and committed a murder while on the clock and I watched the FBI drag him off in handcuffs

What sets the mood for you, to sit down and write?

Since I'm an alcoholic and addict that has been clean for 9 years, I drink coffee. I have a wife of 30 years and a daughter of 25 they give me a reason to stay sane. I garden, shoot pool, stay away from all my old bad influences. I haven't worn a watch in 3 years. I no longer care what I own or owe, when you get to that point you're almost invincible. I do have a little snack of pills from Dr.Feelgood.

Some publishers would definitely publish your work, why did you decide to go the Chapbook route?

I wrote a novel and it bounced around NYC, with agents and never saw daylight. I discovered Bukowski, another postal worker like myself. I started writing stories and the small press world liked them. I started writing poems and reading them in public. There was a great scene in Milwaukee and if you hold your own on stage here, you could do it anywhere. I met some famous folks along the way and read at some great venues. I invented Wordstock in 94 and a series of poetry and music events and gave all the proceeds to Hope House, a charity for homeless women with children. Editors from the small press invited me to do chapbooks with them and I later discovered no one buys poetry. You need academic credits to get the big publishers to take notice.

What's in the future for Catfish McDaris?

Future writing projects are a long piece about going into the Veterans Hospital for a 6 month boot camp rehabilitation to get clean called: Lipstick On A Pig. I'll have a new book from Kolkata, India in Bengali by year’s end. An old interview I did that was translated into Esperanto should see daylight again. I was just in The Lowdown an anthology dedicated and with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I received Big Pulp today which contained my imaginary trip to visit Ginsberg and Burroughs. I have lots of other tricks up my sleeve. With the Web instead of snail mail and SASE's for submissions it's insanely easy to be a writer. Beware of face book.


Through A Hole In The Universe
(exclusively for beauty-in-ruins)

I’ll be the exterminator in a flea circus
play trombone in a bedbug parade
the worm swimming in a sun yellow
bottle being shared by alley skunk skanks
until their eyes fill with death tears forever

Kahil Gabran saying: it’s all love baby doll
or David Lerner: people hear my poetry and
weep, scream, disappear, start bleeding, eat
their television sets, beat each other to death

Change my name to December Q. January and
swim in the Sea of Tranquility and to the bottom
of the Mariana Trench and find a mermaid harem
and send up poems in bottles and never come back.


A huge thanks to Catfish for stopping by!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting On Wednesday - Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

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

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Sept 24, 2013 (Scribner)

Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon. 

It was November of 2009, An Evening with Stephen King, at the Canon Theatre in Toronto. I sat there and listened as he did a little reading from Under the Dome, talked about a myriad of topics on stage with David Cronenberg . . . and teased a project he'd been thinking about, one involving a grown up Danny Torrance. The Shining has never been one of my favourite King novels, likely because it's the only one where I saw the movie first, but I love how he seems to be bridging his early work with his later work here, and I'm excited to discover more about The True Knot.

If you're keeping track, we're officially down to 3 months and counting . . .

Monday, June 24, 2013

Stacking The Shelves & What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly meme being hosted by Tynga's Reviews, while Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Dolce Bellezza this month (see Mailbox Monday for each month's host). Both memes are all about sharing the books you've added to your shelves - physical and virtual, borrowed and bought. It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and it's focused on what's in your hands, as opposed to what's on your shelf.

With an average of two reads per week scheduled into the middle of August, I've been trying to hold off on adding to the TBR pile, but a pair of pleasant surprises arrived in the mail this week.

Emperor of Thorns
by Mark Lawrence
Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: August 6th 2013 by Ace Hardcover

Acquired via the author . . . signed, no less!

Christian Nation: A Novel
by Frederic C. Rich
Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: July 1st 2013 by W.W. Norton & Company

Acquired via publisher/publicist.

Armed with an Amazon giftcard I won via the ARTifacts project, I also did a little shopping this week:


As for what we're reading, the team has reviews coming up over the next 2 weeks for:

What's topping your shelves this week?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

War is hell when There Be Dragons involved (#bookreview)

For a book that I nearly abandoned halfway through (more on that in a bit), There Be Dragons turned out to be a solid, enjoyable read. Peter Hallett has taken the 'war is hell' story of American soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, deftly incorporated all of the elements that you'd expect, and then added a pair of new twists to make the story his own.

This is a story that, right off the bat, evokes memories of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Tour of Duty. Hallett nails the Vietnam setting, effectively capturing the familiar depiction of life and death within the jungle. He incorporates the conspiracy theories, the media presence, and the feeling of being abandoned by one's country, but goes a step further. Instead of merely settling for a war that few people understood, and ever fewer wanted to fight, he provides a rather incredible, but effective, justification for America's most unpopular war.

You see, in Hallett's version, there do indeed be dragons. They're a bit smaller than their epic fantasy counterparts, but just as mean, just as vicious, and just as dangerous with their talons and their fire. He smartly keeps them off the page for most of the novel, introducing the very concept of them as something crazy, something questionable, something to be dismissed. Even once he's exposed them to the reader, he keeps them largely in the background, keeping the focus on the soldiers and their struggle for survival.

Along with the dragons, he introduces an interesting twist in terms of political strategy, with cold war foes entering the fray not out of a misguided sense of justice, but in order to control the secrets of the dragons. This sets up the capture and torture of our hero, which keeps the story grounded in the human element. The strength of the entire story rests on the shoulders of Jacob, and he proves himself more than capable of carrying so much violence and drama on his back.

If I were to have one complaint (I promised I'd get back to it), it's that the spiritual element was a bit too heavy for my taste. The whole idea that are no atheists in foxholes is something I disagree with entirely, but it's a common enough theme that I can often overlook it. Paired with a rather prolonged soapbox speech about how dragons are proof of Noah's ark and creationism, however, it becomes an issue. While I think the existence of dragons could be used to raise some interesting questions, I think the story could have benefited from some balance.

The spiritual element aside, this was a strong, enjoyable read. I grew tired of Vietnam war stories a long time ago, but Hallett has done enough here to make it interesting again. There Be Dragons is a compelling tale, well-told, with a strong understanding of human relationships, and a great sense of how to balance the monstrous with the human. Worth a read.

Apocalyptic Organ Grinder by William Todd Rose (#bookreview)

Apocalyptic Organ Grinder: A Hydra Dystopian Novella by William Todd Rose
ebook, 86 pages
Published June 17 2013


William Todd Rose reinvents the zombie story with a thrilling novella of a post-apocalyptic America where saviors are heroes . . . and heroes are killers.

A fatal virus—a biowarfare experiment unleashed on an unsuspecting world—has reduced the once-mighty United States to a smattering of tribes dueling for survival in the lawless wilderness. The disease-free folk known as Settlers barricade themselves in small villages, determined to keep out the highly contagious Spewers—infected humans who cannot die from the virus but spread the seeds of death from the festering blisters that cover their bodies.

Tanner Kline is a trained Sweeper, sworn to exterminate Spewers roaming the no-man’s-land surrounding his frightened community. As all Settlers do, Tanner dismisses them as little more than savages—until he meets his match in Spewer protector Lila. But when hunter and hunted clash, their bloody tango ignites a firestorm of fear and hatred. Now, no one is safe from the juggernaut of terror that rages unchecked, and the fate of humanity hangs on questions with no answers: Who’s right, who’s wrong . . . and who’s going to care if everyone’s dead?


I received my copy from Netgalley, after requesting to read.

Well-written, you sink into the setting of a story that is told with a dash of prose, sometimes deep. The title may turn readers away, but the content of the story gives a great view on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. A quick read that I'm sure will get better reviews when given to the right readers.

Sweepers and Spewers despise each other, fighting for change of the world to be the better of the two. A sad tune that gives a melancholy story of two race similar in some ways but don't see it.

(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Easy Go-ing with Michael Crichton and The Last Tomb (#bookreview)

Before abandoning the practice with The Terminal Man in 1972, Michael Crichton actually published 10 of his first 11 titles under pseudonyms such as John Lange and Jeffery Hudson. The Andromeda Strain was the notable exception. While 2 of those titles were eventually republished under his own name, the rest were abandoned to the dusty shelves of used bookstores around the world, becoming collectibles for those who knew what to look for.

Easy Go, his third John Lange title, is one I came across a few years ago via a tattered paperback copy, re-titled The Last Tomb. Now available as part of Open Road Media's collection of The Med School Years, it's an amusing little adventure that offers some glimpses of the Crichton we've come to appreciate. It won't engage you on a moral, philosophical, or intellectual level like some of his better-known blockbusters, but it's perfect for a summer beach-read diversion.

Despite what you might initially think, especially from the cover, this is primarily the story of a heist, told with humor, à la Oceans Eleven. The characters are larger-than-life, bordering on the edge of parody, with all the over-exaggerated violence, sexuality, and macho-ism of the 70s. It's one of those so-bad-its-good kind of reads, one where you roll your eyes, but keep turning pages. There is an interesting archaeological puzzle to kick it all off, and some nice scenes of tomb raiding later on, but they're almost secondary to the personalities.

It's not going to make you forget the likes of Jurassic Park or State of Fear, but Easy Go is a fun romp that provides a glimpse into the man who would be Crichton.

Published July 3rd 2013 by Open Road Media (first published 1968)
Kindle, 208 pages

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Foreverland is Dead by Tony Bertauski (#bookreview)

Foreverland is Dead by Tony Bertauski
ebook, 300 pages
Published January 1st 2013


Six teenage girls wake with no memories. One of them is in a brick mansion, her blonde hair as shiny as her shoes. The others are in a cabin, their names tagged to the inside of their pants. Their heads, shaved. Slashes mark the cabin wall like someone has been counting.

Hundreds of them. There’s wilderness all around and one dead adult. The girls discover her body rotting somewhere in the trees. As the weeks pass, they band together to survive the cold, wondering where they are and how they got there. And why.

When an old man arrives with a teenage boy, the girls learn of a faraway island called Foreverland where dreams come true and anything is possible. But Foreverland is dead. In order to escape the wilderness, they’ll have to understand where they are.

More importantly, who they are.


It all began with The Annihilation of what the boys called Foreverland, where they felt like their dreams came true. A matrix flip page turner with some twists that keeps you guessing.

In the sequel, when the girls wake, they are fighting for survival in the dead lands of Foreverland.

The six teenage girls find they all have different traits to work together to what they hope for a way out of this horrible pain. It's a dream world where a fight to the end is to awake in reality - or is it?

I am a fan of Tony's work, having read the first of the trilogy of "Foreverland" and "Claus: Legend of the Fat Man." If you like the Matrix then you will love what Tony does with the concept of being plugged into an alternate world. Recommend Reading!!

(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Waiting On Wednesday - The Dragon Queen by Stephen Deas

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

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Dragon Queen by Stephen Deas
Aug 15, 2013 (Gollancz)

Praised by the likes of Joe Abercrombie and Brent Weeks, Stephen Deas has made dragons his own. In the years before the Dragons laid waste to man's empire, the fearsome monsters were used for war and as gifts of surpassing wealth to buy favour in the constant political battles that tore at the kingdoms. Notorious in these battles was the Dragon Queen. And now she is a prisoner. But no-one is more dangerous than when caged...

The critics, fellow authors and readers alike are agreed - if you love dragons and epic fantasy, Stephen Deas is the writer for you. The man who brought dragons back to their full glory, might and terror. Dragon Queen is a companion volume to the Memory of Flames trilogy and to THE BLACK MAUSOLEUM.

Yet another one from the towering TBR pile, the latest installment in a series that I'm itching to read. As much as I enjoy some of the darker, grittier, more militaristic fantasies that have dominated the genre in recent years, there's nothing like some dragons to get the blood pumping!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gregory Widen talks Blood Makes Noise (GUEST POST)

I remember the moment I got the idea for Blood Makes Noise. I was visiting a friend in an unnamed Latin American country who was a field officer for the CIA. Now, this friend has been involved in all sorts of craziness, including – on direct orders – supervising not only the murder of certain bad individuals, but “making it hurt.”

Despite a life of anecdotes like this, in the nights we spent drinking, the only time I ever saw him express disgust for anything was the following anecdote: “On 9/11, the FBI office in Miami was given the photos of the hijackers. This was critical – it had to get to Washington immediately – and they sent it by FedEx. Why not e-mail? Because there wasn’t an agent there who knew how to attach a photo. That is all you need to know about the FBI.”

I’d already decided at this point to write a novel titled Blood Makes Noise, centered around the craziness that accompanied the disappearance of Eva Peron’s corpse in 1955 Argentina. I knew my hero would be a troubled CIA officer sucked into those events and nearly destroyed by them. But when you write a novel, character and plot are just two of three things you need. The third, and often most elusive, is a unique background that provides the kind of catalyst to propel characters forward beyond the requirements of plot.

It occurred to me that I might have just found my catalyst.

As my friend’s white-gloved butler served us bourbon martinis at precisely six o’clock, I pressed further. Everyone knows of the historical mistrust between the CIA and FBI, but I quickly learned just how toxic it had been in South America – to the point where the CIA and Hoover’s FBI were nearly in open warfare with each other.

Prior to the CIA’s creation in ’47, the FBI had always been in charge of spying in South America. But Truman, who never trusted J. Edgar Hoover, now wanted to hand that responsibility over to his new agency. From that moment on, Hoover committed himself to strangling the baby CIA in its crib.

As servants built a fire in the living room, “drinks” became a cocktail party as various local spooks arrived. There was the BND (German spy agency) guy, another who’s family ran Cuban Intelligence, and some current and retired CIA. Working through my third martini, I soaked up the stories.

Despite Truman’s change, Hoover managed to keep many of his people in place, effectively creating an FBI-run CIA within the CIA. As the agency fought to get control, Hoover just went to greater lengths to discredit it.

As the party devolved, I remembered a dinner commitment. My friend’s crew decided to join me. Off we went to a large dinner party most memorable for the moment my friend informed me that my host was the son of the country’s biggest narco boss. I worried I’d unknowingly made some terrible mistake. But he only smiled wryly: “No. Thank you. It would have taken me months to make this meeting happen by accident.”

Both the drinks and stories kept coming: how in an effort to discredit the CIA, Hoover had ordered his men – while a CIA team burglarized a foreign embassy – to fire shots outside to alert the security people within. Or the time the CIA had arranged the defection of a KGB officer in Buenos Aires and Hoover, wanting the credit – and to embarrass the CIA – had his boys grab the defector in a restaurant first. But a CIA team arrived at the same moment and a brawl broke out between the two groups, trashing the place.

It was chaos in the CIA stations down there at the time. The old FBI officers still in place did everything possible to frustrate and humiliate the new arriving CIA personnel, including burning their files when they were finally ordered out. Those days in South America, sighed an old hand, were one wild circus.

As evening crawled to dawn, I knew now the atmosphere my character would be thrust into: a freshly minted CIA officer arriving in Buenos Aires and going to war against the old FBI hands still in place. A young man whose greatest threat would turn out not to be the KGB, but the people in his own embassy.

Walking home later, I thought, not for the first time: It’s funny where ideas come from.


This is a guest post by Gregory Widen, author of Blood Makes Noise. Gregory studied film and screenwriting at UCLA, and penned scripts for the films Highlander, Backdraft, and The Prophecy. He’s a native of Laguna Beach, California and he lives in Los Angeles. Blood Makes Noise is his first novel.


Blood Makes Noise by Gregory Widen
Published April 30th 2013 by Thomas & Mercer
Paperback, 442 pages

On a summer’s night in 1955, CIA agent Michael Suslov is summoned to a secret vault in the heart of Buenos Aires. His mission: transport the corpse of Eva Peron to a new hiding place in the wake of her husband’s fall from power. But before Michael can comply, everything goes tragically, horribly wrong…

Sixteen years later, Michael Suslov is a ghost of a man, an ex-government agent living off the radar—and the only soul alive who knows where Evita is buried. When an old friend from Argentine Military Intelligence appeals to him for help bringing the body home, Michael agrees, hoping this final mission will quiet the demons from his past. But he’s not the only one on a recovery mission: two rogue CIA agents are tracking him, desperate to unearth Evita before Michael does—and to claim the secret millions they believe she took to her grave.

Based on a little-known yet fascinating true story, Blood Makes Noise is a brilliant examination of the power of the dead over the lives of the living.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Grown up and grossed out with William Vitka in Emergence (#bookreview)

Okay, bear with me for a few moments here, because this may sound like a criticism, but it's really a grateful nod to the author. Emergence reminds me of late 80s horror flicks like Critters, Ghoulies, or The Gate - works of horror with a coming-of-age element, ostensibly marketed at a young adult audience, but which were certainly more graphic and far more mature than any parent would have ever expected. It's deceptive, particularly in the early chapters, but patience pays off.

It doesn't quite achieve the classic coming-of-age horror of a Stephen King or Robert McCammon, but William Vitka tells a great tale and does it well.

With elements of zombies, body snatchers, and tentacled monsters à la Lovecraft, Vitka lays the foundations for a rather deep tale early on. He puts his young charges in harm's way, challenges them, and forces them to confront their fears. Not only that, but in forcing them to grow up so quickly, he bestows upon them some interesting powers or abilities that, without spoiling too much, are intrinsically tied to the creatures besieging their city. The titular Emergence operates on a number of different levels, referring to the emotional and psychological emergence of the teens, the physical emergence of the monsters from beneath the city, and the intellectual emergence of the truth regarding just who (or what) the true players and motives are.

Like I mentioned in my opening, this is a deceptive tale in terms of violence and gore. All young adult pretensions aside, this is an absolutely brutal book, with enough blood, guts, and tentacle slime to satisfy the most jaded reader. The juxtaposition of such young heroes against such mature violence is, no doubt, a deliberate one, but it's not played for mere shock value. It's simply maximized for the needs of the story, allowing adolescent fantasies and nightmares to play out naturally against such unnatural horror.

I think what I appreciated most about the tale is the way Vitka layered the different elements, revealing one threat after another, before even touching upon the concept of superhuman (or, perhaps, inhuman) abilities. It's not a matter of dumping everything on the reader and watching them run with it. Rather, it's a smart game of cat-and-mouse, engaging the reader, toying with both their emotions and their expectations, and leaving them to wonder if there's yet another layer to come.

All-in-all, a well-done, pleasant surprise, full of unpleasant horrors. Emergence  is worth the read.

Published April 8th 2013 by VitkasGrimm
Kindle Edition, 380 pages

Getting nostalgic with Doctor Who and the Prisoners of Time (#bookreview)

As an old-school Doctor Who fan who grew up with Tom Baker, I've been thoroughly enjoying the excitement leading up to the 50th anniversary. We got something similar a long time ago in The Five Doctors (celebrating 20 years), but with some recasting and stock footage necessary to bring it about. It was 'neat' but certainly nothing like what we're seeing now.

Anyway, that brings us to Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Volume 1 by Scott and David Tipton. It's tough to review the basic storyline, since the ARC only represents the first three issues (there are five in the published edition) of a longer miniseries, but it was more than enough to excite me and make me feel nostalgic. It all begins with a mysterious villain, surveying the long history of Doctors on a wall of monitors, and laying his plans to bring them down through their companions.

In terms of artwork, I thought the three issues looked great. They immediately captured the look and feel of those classic episodes, with Doctors and companions instantly recognizable. The monsters are left deliberately cheesy, evoking memories of low budget special effects from long ago, which is just how I like them. In terms of action, these are exciting pieces, with a lot going on - so much so that they feel a little bit rushed.

If I had one complaint about the opening issues, that sense of being rushed would be it, but I understand we have a lot of Doctors to revisit . . . and a lot of companions to remove from the stage. These three stories are interesting, reminiscent of the classic storylines, with some great historical celebrities involved. I am really curious how they'll all come together, and whether the Doctors will necessarily meet in order to resolve the end-game, and that's all you can really ask.

Whereas so many comic adaptations have left me disapointed and wanting more, I quite enjoyed  Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Volume 1 and am looking forward to Volume 2 in September.

Published May 28th 2013 by IDW Publishing
Paperback, 104 pages

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stacking The Shelves & What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly meme being hosted by Tynga's Reviews, while Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Dolce Bellezza this month (see Mailbox Monday for each month's host). Both memes are all about sharing the books you've added to your shelves - physical and virtual, borrowed and bought. It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and it's focused on what's in your hands, as opposed to what's on your shelf.

With an average of two reads per week scheduled into the middle of August, I've been trying to hold off on adding to the TBR pile. However, there are a few titles with release dates outside that review window which I couldn't stop myself from requesting:

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl
by David Barnett
Paperback, 352 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2013 by Tor Books

Acquired via the publisher.

Under a Graveyard Sky
by John Ringo
Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: September 3rd 2013 by Baen

Acquired via NetGalley

by Jay Posey
Expected publication: July 30th 2013 by Angry Robot

Acquired via NetGalley

Pharaoh: A Novel
by David Gibbins
Paperback, 400 pages
Expected publication: October 1st 2013 by Dell

Acquired via NetGalley

The Troop
by Nick Cutter
Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: January 7th 2014 by Gallery Books

Acquired via Edelweiss

As for what we're reading, the team has reviews coming up over the next 2 weeks for:


What's topping your shelves this week?