It’s been too long since I published a new batch of reviews. I suppose life caught me unaware: I thought I’d done more than I did. Now, in 2019, it could be an important New Year’s pledge to remember that posts don’t multiply on their own. It doesn’t even help to write reviews and publish them on Amazon or Goodreads: they don’t jump across to my blog of their own accord. Without further ado: here are some books I’ve enjoyed, some books I admire, and some book that grabbed my attention.
SL Baron, Vanilla Blood
Feeding the myth: Vampires love blood
What is it that brings people to write about vampires? Is it the age-old blood cult that rears its head? Once the Danes sacrificed horses’ blood in large silver vessels. Also, Hebrew demonology has its examples: Lilith, feeding on babies’ blood. Vampires are part of folklore since forever. The nineteenth century fostered what we recognize as today’s vampire, beginning with The Vampyre by John Polidori and continued by Le Fanu (Camille). Dracula and Nosferatu entered the scene and cemented the genre and inspired authors like Anne Rice. In this case, SL Baron’s Vanilla Blood represents the genre.
Vampires are the ultimate human predators. They’re charismatic and ― undead. They survive from century to century, as glamorous, intriguing characters, who feed on their prey’s blood, discerning the taste and quality of their meal as any gourmet would do. Contemporary vampires don’t die easily. No silver bullets, Garlic, or stakes can harm them but falling in love might become their undoing.
Baron writes an absorbing modern-day version of the old myth. Her narrative stirs up emotions when the protagonist loses her brother and her lust for life. From there the plot unfolds until its climax of revenge and reconciliation. Highly recommended.
Barbara Monier, Pushing the River
Poignant: Barbara Monier’s family saga poses important questions
A sprawling narrative about a house full of ghosts. A dysfunctional family on one side: a fifteen-year-old mother-to-be and her mother. On the side, our protagonist finds a new lover that, to the reader, seems too good to be true. He moves in, with his entire possessions in a paper bag, and leaves when things get overly complex. In the wings, sons and daughters with more, or less, successful lives. In the centre, a woman willing to be there, willing to be everything for everybody. That gives her much heartache — and much happiness. This sums up the plot, but what binds it all together? The central character? The proverbial mother-creature? Is this book turning the spotlight on motherhood? Is it questioning when it is time to let go? Or, is it questioning the way we treat our families? Taking everybody for granted is a recipe for disaster, but so is being unwilling to take responsibility. To me, Pushing the River raises several important questions. It is refreshing that Monier doesn’t force the answers down the readers’ throats.
Daniel Kemp Why, A Complicated Love
An emotional rollercoaster
Why starts with a sex-obsessed protagonist and develops into a tragic love story. There’s every possible element of a mafioso set-up, but it goes further. The story has certain elements that remind me of Rigoletto (the Duke of Mantua, his court jester, and a young innocent woman, caught in the power game belonging to a medieval court). It’s brought forward to a contemporary period, but the essence is similar, and the victim is female. There are some differences: two female leads, the young woman and her mother who suffers a similar fate, except that she’s left her innocence behind years ago. Why is well written and believable. The protagonist survives to lead a new life of sorts, but he is damaged beyond repair. He knows this but is able to make the best of a lousy deal. The book starts at the end: the love-object has already died, and Kemp rolls out the narrative on this background. This isn’t a book that lives through the writing as such. It is the heart-wrenching plot that stays with the reader. Still, the writing brings across the characters’ agony. Nobody exists without suffering. Not in the world, Daniel Kemp opens up for his readers. The strong element of crime and sordid humanity makes the love-story even more devastating. It is a surprisingly thoughtful book. Highly recommended.
Loraine Conn, Sentinels
Carling is destined to save the world. A compelling read
Fantasy. A fight between order and chaos, vaguely set in Britain around the Roman invasion. Ms Conn plays with the idea of a secret domain, which could be Logres of the Arthurian myth. This realm is hidden within the country, but contrary to the Arthurian legend it’s probably located in Scotland. The sentinels, guardians of the old way of life, present an interesting idea as well: a play with colours – representing the rainbow. Could they represent the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology? No doubt, Ms Conn knows her myths and has an affinity with the occult history of Britain. She shares that with authors such as CS Lewis, AE Waite, and Charles Williams. This is no scientific thesis though: it is a captivating story about the One True Child, the heroine and a strong female protagonist. She lives and learns to fight and love through her connection with an extensive gallery of individuals. Highly recommended.
Leslie Hayes, Not Like Other People
Not Like Other Stories
A collection of short stories. Weird and wonderful characters flit across the pages There’s the lonely traveller, the troubled teenager, the overprotective mother as well as actors, writers and, misfits: all in condensed form. Ms Hayes uses each short-story to create a precise impression. There’s skill as well as fantasy in her writing. An admirable achievement.
Ben Westerham, Too Good to Die?
Crime Doesn’t Pay — Addiction Kills
Westerham efficiently describes an eighties’ private detective at work and leisure. Sometimes he mixes up both, sometimes he gets into trouble, sometimes he has a lucky break. This is a bleak story about troubled people, but Westerham lightens up the mood with his, sometimes ambiguous, wit. Recommended.
James Glass, Stone Cold
An Assertive Novel
A courtroom drama ― a criminal investigation. A tortured criminal investigator forced by her circumstances to come to terms with childhood trauma. An ambitious novel from the hands of J Glass.
Karl Holton, The Weight of Shadows
The Past lies in Shadows.
Sophisticated Thriller that, in my opinion, touches on elements of Dante’s Hell and the Seven Deadly Sins. A weight of shadows is possibly what connects the large cast of characters, especially the protagonist, Benedict, and the ‘grey eminence’, Hanson. These two both struggle with their pasts and work to overcome former sins. Their counterpoint is the mysterious hunter who features in the first chapter. Again, this is my opinion: he is the Doctor, although the Doctor could be like Jupiter, the Greek god, in his thousand manifestations.
On the surface, there are several coinciding crimes: a jewel heist, several assassinations, and abductions that involve international crime rings, a complex team of investigators from the regular police to CIA, MI5, MI6, Interpol, and NCA. Everything links up, with the crimes complementing each other like Chinese boxes. Highly recommended
Jessie Cahalin, You Can’t Go It Alone
A sweet and thoughtful book
You Can’t Go It Alone is a wistful ― and wishful ― narrative of how humans can help to bring out the best in one another. It advocates community spirit but doesn’t shy away from showing how troubled we can be. The female protagonist goes through a painful and uncertain IVF treatment, which threatens to estrange her from her husband. Throughout the work, Cahalin illustrates how people could come together and make the world a better place. Is this a romance with roots in everyday life or merely an expression of hope? Wishful thinking? These are the questions the reader must ask, but there are no easy answers.
Doug J Cooper, Crystal Deception
Science Fiction with Emphasis on Science?
Crystal Deception might well build on some of the ideas in McCaffrey’s books. The idea of sentient crystals is part of the trilogy. The author of CD has taken this idea further. Unfortunately, he gets himself involved in technicalities at the beginning of the book, giving in to a natural wish to explain the theory behind the idea. Initially, that reduces the excitement. Once Cooper has set the scene, the book grabs your attention, but some readers might give up before reaching the plot crystallizes. The sentient crystal becomes a believable and pleasant acquaintance, maybe because it possesses the most fleshed out character. There are sections in the book that read like a computer game (random violence in a closed-in area), but the plot comes together towards the end.
I have one final thought to share with you: if you read a book, if you enjoy it — or maybe hate it — never hesitate to tell the author. I know, some authors only live in their books these days, but there are plenty who live and write out of their hearts and guts. Give them a hand up: they deserve it.
© HMH, 2019