Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dark River Road by Virginia Brown

Dark River RoadDark River Road by Virginia Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The write-up and prologue for this novel made me assume I'd picked a slick, Southern suspense thriller, dripping with sweat and molasses and dark family secrets. It seemed like the sort of thing you could read for cheap thrills on a train or plane, and that's exactly what I did. It took me two train rides, from Leeds to Glasgow and back, to read this dense, absorbing novel.

A cheap thriller this was not.

Chantry Callahan is a boy growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in his little Mississippi town. It's around the late 80's, early 90's, but thinking and social norm still seem to be stuck in the 50's. The entire town is run by one man, Bert Quinton, a soulless tyrant who has never had to face any opposition for his crimes until the day Chantry returns as a man to settle the score.

The beginning is very much a classic, borderline stereotypical Southern tale. Chantry goes about his day dodging his drunken stepfather, raising a magically devoted hunting dog, taking solace from the sage African American neighbor, exchanging punches with the town bully/pretty-boy, mooning after the golden-haired belle of the school, and bonding with his best friend who has dreams of achievement despite the restrictions set upon her race. I became so drawn into this part of the novel, that it easily could have ended halfway through with the plots involving the raising of the dog, his brother's illness, and the tangled youthful love affairs budding between Chantry and his peers being tied up.

Go two hundred pages beyond, however, and the plot barrels home. All of the characters are forced to face truth, and enemies are forced to make their final move. Through it all, Chantry remains a relentlessly likable tough guy with a heart of gold. Stubborn, and quick to violence, his fists remain clenched through the entire final act as he rips open the darkest secrets of his enemies and faces the uncovered truths of his own family. Along the way, his friends are drawn along and forced to go through new life changes of their own. Chantry Callahan is almost something more a force of nature than human, but man enough when needed.

I recommend everyone give this read a try.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Healing: A Novel by Jonathan Odell

The Healing: A NovelThe Healing: A Novel by Jonathan Odell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little girl named Violet, and her mother who is dying from a botched abortion attempt, land at the doorstep of an elderly mid-wife named Gran-Gran in 1933 Mississippi. Gran-Gran cannot save the mother's life, which leaves her in charge of Violet, a twitchy mute with a hunger for the tales of Gran-Gran's life story.

Gran-Gran's tale begins when she's snatched from her enslaved mother's arms as an infant, and raised as a sort of pet to the derranged Mistress of the house, Amanda Satterfield. As a result, Gran lives caught between the line of slave and spoiled, a child with no idea of the realities of disfavor and hardship. Her life is forever changed, however, when Polly Shine, a slave with uncanny healing abilities is brought to the plantation to tend the plague stricken swamp labourers. Polly makes it her job is to strip Gran of her lace and delusion and apprentice her to the ways of healing. It makes for a luscious, attractive story where all of the senses are catered to.

The overall theme is one of self discovery, and holding onto one's identity once it's been found. It's about the blood that connects mother to daughter and the generations before. Polly Shine's arrival onto the plantation turns everyone's notions about class and religion upside down, from Master to slave. These changes seem the stuff of magic initially but then as Gran begins her first tentative steps into womanhood, these changes also mirror a dark, bloody new future on the eve of The Civil War.

It took me a day to read this thick novel because the gorgeous imagery, great prose, and fascinating characters kept me hooked. My only real complaint with the novel was that at times, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the magic and sultry Southern secrets. That being the case, I realized how there was a nagging feeling I'd read all of the scenes in this book in other similar tales before. In fact, every element expected of this story appears: swamps, alligators, the magical slave kitchen with the Queen Bee cook, the plantation mistress who has lapsed into madness, psychic dreams, lecherous masters, poisonous vipers, healing potions, secrets, and revenge.
That said, the novel is highly enjoyable and readable, and the plot delivers a punch when Polly Shine reveals a rather ruthless nature in taking care of her own people. I found some of her actions unforgivable no matter the circumstances that led her to it, and I think that alone is worth the read for any reading group looking for a lively debate.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Story News.... stuff

First off an interesting experiment the24project has posted one of my old stories "Mothy Mae" . Read it now if you haven't before, as it will only be online 7 days before deletion, BUT if you've shared the story link with someone else who reads it, then that means you WON'T have to worry about that phone call that whispers "seven days...." in your ear. So get on it. Make me proud.

Secondly (as second off seems too odd a phrase) my short story "Maddie the Fool" is only available in print in the Literary Lab's anthology "Variations on a Theme". The story is a re-telling of Chekov's "The Huntsman" and the anthology is available for sale at the super cheap price of $8.56.

That is all.... I think....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: Sin and Sacrifice (The Daughters of Eve Series #1) by Danielle Bourdon

Sin and Sacrifice (The Daughters of Eve Series #1)Sin and Sacrifice by Danielle Bourdon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Evelyn Grant is one of four sisters, daughters of Eve blessed with immortality, and a divine secret so tantalizing the women live in constant flight from the all-knowing, all-seeing Knights Templar. Seperated from her sisters and on the run, her life lies in the hands of a mysterious CIA agent. For anyone who is a fan of high flying, globe trotting adventure, and conspiracy theories, this seemed like a pretty sure shot.

The novel opens up introducing the sisters as exotic, multi-cultural beauties who love night-clubbing, shopping, and sunning. Not much effort is put into establishing their characters other than quickly tacking on labels, a tomboy, a waif, a brain, etc... The main character, Evelyn, is described as a beauty who is a dead shot with a gun but faints at the sight of real violence... Oh boy.

The action strikes quickly, a murder, a kidnapping, torture, all vividly written I'll grant, and my hopes were high at that point. Evelyn is rescued from her tormentors, Knights Templars who treat her with all the tenderness of The Inquisition, by a hulking, leonine, green-eyed abs-monster named Rhett. He whisks her from her dungeon and into a car and on a breath-taking ride to safety. Rhett is CIA, he shows her his badge to prove it, and with all of her centuries of life experience, Evelyn takes one half hearted glance at the badge, accepts it, and proceeds to taunt Rhett's name. This of course sets it up so Rhett can taunt Evelyn's name, and they can banter, therefore establishing that sparks obviously are flying and we should be thoroughly amused.

My main problem with this novel, was the naive way Evelyn toddles through. She can't function emotionally without being behind Rhett's rock-solid V'shaped back, and she seems to fall into every trap and mistake in the book when not with him. I found it ridiculous a woman with her thousands of years experience would be so helpless. Even the one talent she is reputed to have, a dead-shot with a gun, is undermined by the scene in which she has to learn how to shoot a gun from Rhett as an excuse to get their yearning bodies pressed together.

Even more incredible, are the scenes in which supposedly seasoned Knights Templars, defenders of God and Faith, are clueless about bible history, and flip through it with ignorant wonder. Actually, even more incredible than that, is the assertion that the Templars are allied with the Church, considering it was The Church that had them excommunicated and destroyed some centuries back. A little historical research and flair would have seasoned this story at the very least.

The action scenes are written nicely, and the story itself certainly moves along without miring down, but overall I could not find myself enjoying this book, or even recommending it.

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