Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blackbirds (Miriam Black #1) - Chuck Wendig

Happy Samhain! This week I'm reviewing a book that scared the crap out of me.

Chuck Wendig is a force of nature. His blog, Terrible Minds, is a must-read for indie authors (and pretty much anyone else with a pulse). And he writes his fiction in multiple genres at once, as if he didn't know any better.  

Blackbirds is a case in point. This book could fit into any one of several genres -- contemporary fantasy, paranormal something-or-other, thriller, horror. It tells about an episode in the life of Miriam Black, a woman who has an unusual ability, and one she wishes she didn't have. All she has to do is touch someone, and she can see how the person will die. In living Technicolor. And she knows, pretty much to the minute, when it will happen. It's part of the reason why she's adopted a wandering lifestyle, but it's not the only reason.

One night, she gets into Louis Darling's truck, and learns in her usual manner that he will die in a month, in a horrible way -- and all because he met her. The worst part of it is that Louis is a nice guy. Thus begins Miriam's quest to either get out of Louis's life entirely, or figure out a way to cheat the fate she knows is his.

This is not a book for those with delicate sensibilities. Many of the novel's scenes are visceral in their violence, and Miriam has a colorful vocabulary. But the plot is well-paced and the characters are believable. I was invested enough in Miriam and Louis that I had to keep reading to know how it all turned out.

Blackbirds isn't the kind of thing I usually read, but I'm glad I did.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Queen's Gold - Melissa Bowersock

It seems only fair, this close to El Día de los Muertos, to travel to Mexico for this week's Rursday Read.
Hal Thompson is nobody's fool. So when his daughter gets involved with someone who performs past-life regression therapy, he is understandably skeptical -- even after the details of his son's regression check out.

Reluctantly, he agrees to undergo a regression himself. And he's even more skeptical when his session reveals that in a past life, he was involved with hiding a fortune in Aztec gold from the conquistadores.

Unfortunately for Hal and his family, there's at least one group of people searching for that cache of artifacts, and some of them appear to be up to no good. It looks like Hal is the only person who can unravel the mystery behind the gold's disappearance, and protect his family in the process.

Bowersock is a wonderful author. Her characters are believable, and the plot kept me turning the pages of this book into the wee hours. I've enjoyed several of her novels, and am happy to add Queen's Gold to that list.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Heart Chants (Phillip McGuire Mysteries #2) - Randy Attwood

This week, I'm reviewing a book that treats Native American beliefs and customs with a great deal more respect than The Blue Coyote Motel does.

I'm not a big fan of mysteries, usually, but I have enjoyed reading Tony Hillerman's books -- mainly for the glimpses into Navajo culture that his characters provide.

Heart Chants is similar to Hillerman's work in that it's a mystery, although "thriller" may be a more accurate genre description, and that it includes a lot of information about the Navajo. But there's quite a bit more to it.

Phil McGuire is a former journalist who quit the business after a horrific incident in Beirut and retired to Lawrence, Kansas, where he now owns a bar. One night outside the bar, he rescues a Chinese woman from a group of thugs, and gets beaten up in the process. At about the same time, two Navajo women have disappeared from the local community college, and a third -- who is like the missing women in that her father is a singer -- is convinced her friends were kidnapped. She comes to Phil for a place to hide, so she doesn't end up missing, too.

Phil's story runs concurrently with that of a half-Navajo, half-white man who wants the whites in America to go back where they came from. It's not long before we realize this young man is involved with the disappearance of the women, and much of the book's tension comes from watching these two story lines head for their inevitable collision.

Attwood is an old newspaperman himself, and it shows in his ability to tell a story. His characters are genuine -- I liked Phil right away -- and it's clear he did his research into Navajo culture. Although this is the second book in this series, I didn't have any trouble keeping up with either the characters or the plot.

I enjoyed Heart Chants very much, and I'll definitely be looking for more of Attwood's work.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Blue Coyote Motel - Dianne Harman

I wanted to like this book, but it just has too many problems.

In a nutshell, the plot is this: Maria, a Hispanic woman who is terrified of losing her looks to aging, meets and marries Jeffrey, a scientist who is developing an anti-aging hormone. When one of Jeffrey's colleagues at the research lab where they all work discovers Jeffrey has been giving the hormone to Maria, both Jeffrey and Maria are given the heave-ho, and sent out the door with a $2 million settlement. They use the money to buy a rundown motel in the middle of the California desert. Maria runs the motel while Jeffrey sets up a test lab in the basement. He comes up with a gas that treats depression, and they test it on the occasional guest by piping it into the rooms. Each of the treated guests consequently leaves the motel feeling terrific; they all go home and turn their lives around. Eventually, though, the drug wears off. When it does, they all happen to  come back to the motel on the same weekend, meet each other, and figure out pretty quickly what's going on. Jeffrey, who is in full-blown mad scientist mode by then, charges them each big money for a continued supply of the drug. And things go downhill from there.

The idea is interesting and original. But oh my goodness, does this book need editing. There is way too much telling and not nearly enough showing. The author repeats details far too many times; for example, we hear that a particular character has earned a specific degree three times in the space of two pages. And the characters deliver their dialog as if they were soliloquies: first one declaims for a paragraph or two, and then the next gives a paragraph in response. Friends, this is not how real people talk.

All that is bad enough, but the author gets numerous facts wrong. Alzheimers, which is a form of dementia, is not the new term for "hardening of the arteries," which is a form of heart disease. The author is confused about how bipolar disease works; she claims people in the manic phase cycle between not sleeping and sleeping ten hours per night (manics sleep very little -- it's people in the depression phase who sleep long hours) and don't shower (again, that's people in the depression phase). I got the impression she pulled up a list of bipolar symptoms online and simply mixed-and-matched.

But what annoyed me the most was her misunderstanding of Native American culture. One of Jeffrey's human guinea pigs is a member of an unnamed tribe. She asserts that once someone receives an "Indian name," they're stuck with it for life. That's not true; many tribes give their members new names to mark significant milestones. She also claims the tribe let her character off the hook for his adolescent vision quest because he was too busy with school, which is unlikely, and that every male gets only one vision quest per lifetime, which simply is not true -- shamans in particular do them more often. Her character is supposedly studying to be a medicine man, but his mentor seems to think he can pick up everything he needs to know in a few months of part-time study, as if he were going to night school for a certificate in shamanism. Sorry, but that ain't how it works.

I cannot recommend The Blue Coyote Motel. It's the first in a series, but with so many significant problems in this book, I will not be bothering with the others.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Playing Charlie Cool - Laurie Boris

Charlie Trager's back, and this time he's playing for keeps.

Playing Charlie Cool is the sequel to Boris's novella The Picture of Cool (her novel Don't Tell Anyone fills in the timeline between the two), and features the same main characters: Charlie, producer of a TV talk show; and Adam Joshua Goldberg, former New York City mayor's aide, who resigns from that job when he announces he's gay. He and his wife subsequently split. But Adam -- or Joshua, as Charlie calls him -- is leery of making his relationship with Charlie public. For one thing, he and his soon-to-be-ex have two kids. For another, Josh comes from a political family, and his father the senator wants him to run for Congress.

Charlie's head-over-heels for Joshua, but he's getting more and more tired of waiting in the wings. How long will it be before Mr. Producer Man loses his celebrated cool?

I loved this book. Boris does such a great job at portraying both Charlie and Josh that you just can't help but hope that they can figure out a way to be together. One of my favorite scenes is the transatlantic phone call during which they hash out Joshua's big speech in Geneva. It shows that their relationship isn't just about the sex -- there's respect there, too, as well as love.

Yes, Playing Charlie Cool features two gay men as its protagonists. But it's a love story for everybody.