Category: What we’ve been reading



gospall

REVIEW BY ALLAN KRUMMENACKER

4 – STARS “An Eerie Blend To Satisfy Horror Enthusiasts…”

Mix one part voodoo, one part devil worship, three parts darker side of human nature and you get “The Haunting of Gospall”.

The author does a wondrous job of blending these three elements into a intricate yarn that transcends the high seas. He starts us off with a brilliant opening scene upon the SS Gospall in the 1800’s, showing a keen insight of what sailors and captains faced on the open waters during one of the more contentious periods between England and France.  We’re introduced to characters we come to admire and care deeply for, both in the 1800’s and the present, as the tale unfolds and a mystery that links the two time periods slowly unfolds.

We meet Sean, who is blessed unwillingly with psychic talents that has led him down a dark path once before.  The author also introduces us to his beloved Sophie who not only listens to him when he starts telling her about strange events that led not only to his mother’s death, but also the strange visions and encounters he has been experiencing.  Led by Sophie, they start digging deeper into the mysteries which leads them to a meeting Seamus Mallom, a former exorcist, with demons of his own that led to his hanging up his white collar… so to speak.

Soon the trio find that all that is happening around them and the world seems linked to the final fate of the Gospall, the villainous pirate Santia that had usurpsed command of the vessel, and an island where the darkest of magics were being performed.

Sins of the past and a final battle for salvation hang in the balance, but is it already too late for the world?

A ripping good yarn, especially for the Halloween season.

AMAZON:

https://www.amazon.com/Haunting-Gospall-Solomon-Strange-ebook/dp/B07FW33WW5/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1539195210&sr=8-1&keywords=solomon+strange

Advertisements

Blogger’s Note: I know I promised the second entry about things I learned about putting together an anthology, but the bug we’ve been fighting turned into bronchitis, possibly bordering on pneumonia.  So we’re both on heavy antibiotics which does not make for very sensible thinking or analyzing, much less writing.  So please bear with us and hope you enjoy this latest book review.  We hope to be back in the saddle very soon.  Thank you.

 

raising steam

 

This particular offering by the late-great Mr. Pratchett was a wonderful read, in my opinion. I’ve seen other reviews where people lamented that his declining health was clearly showing in this book saying things like “it wasn’t as funny…” or “…it felt like this was his farewell to the fans…” etc. A lot of this is understandable considering the rare form of alzheimer’s he is fighting. But for me, this book felt more like a wonderfully wild ride that took us to various parts of the Discworld, just as the invention of the first train in Ankh-Morpork intended.

Pratchett uses the invention of the first steam engine to take us all over and reintroduce us to a number of old and familiar faces and places. We go back to Uberwald to visit Lady Margolotta, The Low King of the Dwarves, Bonk, the goblins, Harry King “King of the Golden River” (a river you would not want to swim in by the way folks), Commander Vimes and the Watch, Death, Lord Vetinari, and of course the incorrigible scoundrel of the piece Moist Von Lipwig.

We get to see some of these wonderful characters interacting with each other in various ways, some for the first time like Lipwig (the “reformed” con-man) working with Stoneface Vimes. Mr. Pratchett has been modernizing his world little by little throughout the series introducing the “Clacks” for communicating quickly over great distances, the first newspapers (spreading information to not just the gentry, but the common man), a new monetary system that is not based on the gold, so the addition of the steam engine seemed quite appropriate. With each book he brings his scattered characters closer to one another, while still providing a fun-filled thrilling ride along the way.

In “Raising Steam” he delivers that same fun but in a big fast noisy way. Well worth the read.


*Blogger’s Note: I know I promised to continue about our experiences with creating our first anthology, but massive colds have been kicking us around.  Hope to get back to that subject next week.  Until then, here’s another book review.  Enjoy*

Grandma's Trunk

This was my first venture into the writing of Miss Grogg and I have to say I was quite pleased. This tale took me down the winding passages of my own childhood memories involving friends, relatives, and grandparents (who I sorely miss).

The story begins with Brandon having to move into his little brother’s room, because his elderly great-grandmother is coming to live with his family. Brandon is not happy about this and even resentful. But we quickly see the conflicting emotions within him early on when he first meets his great-grandmother who is full of spunk and not one to be pushed around in spite of her advanced age. But in addition to that fiery spirit she brings an old fashioned trunk that captivates not only Brandon’s imagination but those of his little brother Melvin and their cousin Alisa.

Soon the trio find that there may be more to great-grandma than meets the eye, making Brandon’s feelings towards her more complicated. Eventually we learn that he’s afraid of growing too fond of her because she is so old. He has already lost his other grandparents who were not nearly as old as her, and he still misses them terribly.

Miss Grogg fleshes out her characters extremely well and makes the reader dwell upon family and friendships, as well as the realization that even though we may one day have to say goodbye, there is so much to be enjoyed in the here and now.

AMAZON:


Cover Three Bags Full

REVIEW BY HELEN KRUMMENACKER

     Mystery stories have to work hard to set themselves apart from the crowd. Some do it with an underlying nonfiction theme, such as mystery novels/recipe books. Special settings can be useful. Most of all, characters are a way to be distinctive and memorable. There’s an entire bookshelf in our house of mysteries with animal detectives.

Cats make up the majority of animal detectives, able to roam freely and unobtrusively. Three Bags Full takes a different, and possibly unique path. As the name suggests, the mystery is being worked on by… sheep.


It begins with the discovery of the death of their shepherd. Even they can tell it is not natural causes, because he has had a spade stuck in his body. Whether it is the cause of death or not, it is a definite sign of violence and took place in their pasture, at night, while they were in a barn. They are disturbed; it is very like and yet unlike a wolf attack. The sheep vow that, as he protected them and cared for them in life, they would see his killer brought to justice.


From early on, it is evident the sheep are unusual (and some of the most interesting subplots come from the secrets of the sheep themselves being revealed). Even so, they are terribly unsuited for the task ahead of them– to solve a murder, one must understand how human society functions, and they start out knowing so little about it that they draw conclusions like the priest’s name is God, because they heard him welcome people to the house of God. He seems to talk about himself a shocking amount. (I find their attempts to understand religion quite amusing.) They also have to understand those parts of their shepherd’s life that don’t involve them, and, indeed, we the readers are somewhat puzzled by the parts that do. He seems to have deliberately brought in sheep that might have been in danger elsewhere, won’t sell any of them, reads books to them, and wants to take them on a tour of Europe.

The best thing, for me, is that the write, Leonie Swann, puts so much empathy into working out the way sheep might think. They aren’t little humans in wool coats; they are nervous, social, forgetful (except for Mopple, the Memory Sheep, who acts as a sort of living notebook for the flock), and they can gather information through their sense of smell. They also have their own culture; human society may be a mystery to them, but they have their own aphorisms, superstitions, and generational knowledge. Within the flock, each sheep still has individual identity. Miss Maple is extremely clever, Othello is brave, Cloud is kindly, Zora has imagination, and there are many more special traits and sheep.

     I would recommend this even without having finished it yet. It is the kind of book where the experience of reading and thinking about it make the journey a joy, regardless of how the plot wraps up in the end.


Death Light Moon

REVIEW BY HELEN KRUMMENACKER

Death by the Light of the Moon by Joan Hess was something I picked up from a Friends of the Library sale, a paperback mystery marking itself as A Claire Malloy Mystery. I’d never heard of the series, but the description was interesting. An eccentric, rich elderly lady dies the evening of a party that was meant to reveal her heirs. The protagonist is there by virtue of being a daughter-in-law, and barely knows the family.

The basic plot is grounded in the “cozy” style of mystery– the murder takes place in a somewhat remote area, limiting the suspects mostly to the family, with a few hints about something more being afoot. The protagonist is not a professional detective, just someone with a knack for coming across trouble and ask questions. As the story goes on, it becomes a bit less cozy in both the genre and descriptive sense, as more bodies turn up and the protagonist becomes a target, giving a bit more of a thriller vibe at times.

I found this to be not only satisfying as a mystery. The author has a sense of humor and a way with words. The prose makes for a light, easy read, and yet there are digs, gentle in some cases, hard in others, at real ways in which worse aspects of human nature tend to surface, reminiscent of Jane Austen, or perhaps P.G. Wodehouse. From the self-absorbed digressions of a teen, to the small-town police who almost prioritize getting along over getting answers (but who do change their approach appropriately as events unfurl), to the sexism and racism causing real, secret problems for a family of Southern aristocrats, the foibles are observed with wit and honesty. The protagonist even has her own failings

It would have definitely been worth buying at full price, and I look forward to finding more of the series.


 

The-Handmaids-Tale

REVIEW BY HELEN KRUMMENACKER

I’m starting this book review with the book still unfinished. It’s the kind of book that you think about a lot while reading it, even as you itch to turn the pages again. I can’t compare it to the movie or TV show, as I wanted to read it rather than watch it. I would advise this, although the adaptations may be excellent. The voice of the narrator is crucial.


The voice of the narrator is crucial to the story’s style. We begin, a little scared, a little confused, picking up meaning from tiny details– because that is what she can give us. Her voice becomes clearer, gradually, as she moves farther from the drugging and brainwashing and has time to rebuild her story and factor in the new things. But even ¾ of the way through, I still don’t know what goes on in the colonies that has her worried about being sent there, or what the real fate of Unwomen is. Sometimes, it sounds like she’s afraid of being executed and sometimes it sounds like there is something worse in store for her. The people in charge probably like to keep everyone uncertain, because it makes them more pliable.

The voice of the narrator is also an important part of the story itself. There are many women in this story, but the narrator’s story is very much hers, very personal. She finds joy in little things, and fear in them as well. She was left with a pillow that has Faith embroidered on it, but reading is forbidden to women… so she stands, when she finds the pillow, reading that one word over and over, enjoying breaking one of the stupid rules, but wondering if she will be held responsible for a pillow she did not choose. Internal moments like that are a tremendous part of the narrative, and they make the dystopia seem far more real than an external storytelling would.

One thing that is difficult in reading it is that she speaks in the present tense even when recounting dreams and memories. We don’t always know what is real until we have read enough to place it in her timeline. But this reflects her own struggle to handle it all. Her memories, her reality, her hopes and fears jumble together when she is left to sit alone for hours with nothing to do.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept, the story takes place in a near future time when theocrats take over. There are wars and perhaps disasters as well that have left the majority of people unable to create healthy children. The narrator had a healthy child, before the theocrats took over but after some of the pollution events, and so she is seen as proven fertile, and eligible for status as a Handmaid, a caste of women who are, in theory, to be honored for trying to keep humanity alive by acting as breeding vessels, but are in fact despised for having a life defined by their sexual potential. They are circulated in assignments among the elite, and if they give any of the Commanders a healthy child, they will have a future. If they do not, at a certain age or after a period of time, they are removed from Handmaid status and death or exile seem to be their fate.

This is part of a larger theocratic totalitarian state, but the Handmaids are important not only because this is the story of one, but also, I must say, Gilead (the state they are in) is both correct to be desperately trying to make more citizens and at the same time, doomed by its methods. The rules controlling the Handmaids, the infertile Wives, and the men of all ranks, makes it less likely there will be successful offspring. Cheating leads to death (and I suspect some Handmaids are trapped into it by angry Wives), but the Commanders often are sterile. The atmosphere of fear and mistrust seems unconducive to reproduction. At best, stress hormones aren’t great for a pregnancy, while at worst, the people are actively undermining the possibility. If Gilead really wants babies, it should make procreation fun and free rather than coercive, but the people in charge want to control everything more than they really want another generation.


* * *
Now that I’ve finished the book, I’m finding myself surprised by some things I heard in the past. I have to wonder if people saying, “Serena Joy was worse than the Commander” were talking about the movie, because my feeling about her in the book is quite different. She was unhappy and oppressed as well, and sometimes showed some genuine kindness in spite of her general jealousy. Even when she had something specific to be jealous about, she didn’t want the Handmaid destroyed– she alone had the nerve to make a slight protest when the narrator was led away.

The ending, I won’t say exactly what it was, but this book manages to pull a The Lady or the Tiger end which I look at from the optimistic perspective, finding it more in keeping with the way I interpreted a couple of characters. It certainly gave more room for optimism than 1984 or Brave New World, mostly within the personal story, but also, I believe that Gilead is doomed/ They have no real ability to convince the people they are oppressing that their regime is the best thing around. They have only existed for a few years and already they are riddled with corruption, resistance, hypocrisy, inconsistency, poverty, and a death rate much higher than the birthrate. Either the regime will be pulled down or it will collapse under its own failure to work with human nature.

I wonder if the people who found the book more depressing than I did mostly identified with the narrator more. I don’t say she was difficult to identify with. Actually, she’s a fairly normal woman. I’m just not normal, and found myself more drawn to side characters. I also kept thinking that in that world, I would have been sent to the Colonies (forced labor areas), if I wasn’t killed outright,  and wanted to know more about life there.


making money

The Bank of Ankh-Morpork has gone to the dogs… or rather the dog of the now deceased chairman of the bank. When Topsy Lavish died, she willed her controlling shares in the bank to her dog Mr. Fusspot, who she in turn bequeathed to the least trustworthy man in all of Ankh-Morpork, Moist Von Lipwig former con artist and now “reformed” character.

Soon our dear Mr. Lipwig finds himself trying to deal with the entire Lavish family who all want Mr. Fusspot dead, while at the same time he has Lord Vetinari the city’s Patrician, breathing down his neck to give the city a loan to fund some much needed infrastructure improvements.

But the Bank and the Mint both run on the gold currency, and there’s only so much gold to go around.

Soon Moist is in mischief and high finance up to his ears. Wheeling and dealing, talking a mile a minute and selling the idea of paper currency to the inhabitants of Ankh-Morpork. Can his fast talk and silver tongue keep him ahead of his enemies as well as his old partner, who remembers him as Albert Spangler notorious crook and con-man?

The jokes and imagery Mr. Pratchett creates within this novel are as fast and furious as ever. Yet at the same time, he provides the readers with a good look into the way banks operate and how financial decisions are made.

His unique blend of comedy with fact is an amazing achievement that keeps the reader both entertained and informed a the same time. However, he never loses that wry sense of humor that keeps his audience in stitches. The image of Mr. Fusspot and the self-winding ‘toy’ he finds amidst piles of leather garments, whips, and chains, provides some classic imagery throughout the book.

Mr. Pratchett is indeed one of the finest comedic authors of our time and this installment of his Discworld series proves it. Truly worth 5 stars. A fantastically funny read.


The Thing

Just found this novella a few weeks ago and was thrilled to get another chance to read it. I’d read it once before many years ago, but I had thought it lost and was delighted to find it was simply among my books in storage.

Mr. Campbell did a wonderful job of creating a terrifying science fiction tale of isolation and the old ’10 Little Indians’ theme. In the lonely antarctic, a team of researchers are slowly realizing that the remains they brought in from a wrecked spaceship they’d found in the ice is still alive. Even more alarming is the fact that it can infect and duplicate any life form, by entering the victim’s body and replacing every cell in that target body, allowing it to devour and become that person/animal.

The rest of the humans must find a way to figure out who’s been taken over and what this ‘thing’ wants, before any migrating birds come to stay at the base and move on to other parts of the world.

John Carpenter’s version of this story “The Thing” is very close to Mr. Campbell’s actual story, but liberties were taken and the novelette is still worth reading. I highly recommend anyone who is a fan of science fiction and mystery to check out this spine-tingling tale.


Love and Coffee

Many of us have a particular establishment where we go for a good cup of coffee, tea, and maybe even a pastry.  We might even like to park ourselves at a table, maybe by the window, or in a corner so we can sit, read, do a bit of texting, writing, artwork, or just dream.  But how many of us pay attention to the other folks sharing that space where we like to relax and unwind?

After reading “Love and Coffee” you may find yourself paying more attention to those around you and wondering what roads they’ve traveled down.

“Love and Coffee” is a collection of short vignettes that all take place inside not just any coffee shop,

but a very special one.  It’s run by a woman everyone calls Little Italy, who knows just what you need even before you make up your mind.  She’s assisted by her cohorts Big Red, and Angel, as well as a music box that seems to have come straight out of the more benevolent corners of the Twilight Zone, along with Little Italy who simply has to give it the slightest nod or look of encouragment get the device to bring the just the right song into play at the moment it’s needed most.

All the stories are told through the eyes of the author, who has a wonderful gift for making you feel like you’re there at the same table with him watching each installment unfold.  And although we never learn the real names of the other patrons, he manages to make us feel like each and every one is an old friend and when the next story involving them comes up you can’t help finding yourself sharing their hopes, dreams, and disappointments.

I found myself smiling, laughing, and even shedding more a few tears over a number of these short tales, which I offer as high praise for the author’s handling of each scene.  There are a host of characters waiting for you within the pages of this collection like The Man with the 5 Minute Memory,  Pin Stripe, Mister Tick Tock, The Mouse and so many others.  They’re all waiting for you, so step on with your favorite beverage.  And if you don’t have one, never fear because Little Italy will help you discover it soon enough.

And when you finish never fear, Mr. Main already as a “Refill” in the works and I for one cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Amazon:  

https://www.amazon.com/Love-Coffee-Bryce-Main-ebook/dp/B01DUAPC0Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519742214&sr=8-1&keywords=bryce+main+love+and+coffee

AmazonUK:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Love-Coffee-Bryce-Main-ebook/dp/B01DUAPC0Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519742273&sr=8-1&keywords=bryce+main+love+and+coffee


c3b4c-e-vamp

A Romantically Fang-Tastic Read

5-stars:   

This book surpassed all my expectations.  In an age of sparkling day-walkers, we get some good old traditional vampires who have moved with the times.  They’re powerful, clever, and have built some strong financial power for themselves.  However, a number of them are still ‘monsters’.  Dorian Taylor is an exception.  He does not view mortals as merely play-toys or food, like his associates.  He longs for something more and finds it in Jennifer, he also finds his heart.  

Definitely not a book for anyone under eighteen, but a cracking good read.  Miss Black supplies the reader with a good amount of BDSM and sex.  But even more importantly she provides us with a love story with plenty of danger lurking in the shadows.  There are twists and turns I did not see coming which I found both moving and exciting.  While some situations might seem trite to some people, the author does something else that certainly makes up for it.  She makes us ‘care’ about the characters, including the supporting ones.  

A damn good read, which I highly recommend to others.  

%d bloggers like this: