Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: A Light Against The Darkness

A Light Against The Darkness
A.R. Hill
Available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble on line.

Good morning constant reader.

If you like a fresh look at the vampire mythos, with lots of action, great characterization, some splatter here, there and everywhere and a captivating plot, then this book is for you.

Our tale starts by introducing us to Oni, a Japanese vampire.  He isn't pleasant in any sense of the word.  We are then introduced to his catch, Oreno, a young girl who obviously doesn't know what she's been transformed into until later.  We flash backward to meet Oreno before her turning and capture, when she was known as Samara Takeshi.
The action brings us to her fateful turning, some other business I won't give away, which in turn sends her out into the world as a vampire, learning from the ground up so to speak.  She settles for a brief time in a dockside bar/brothel where she brings her sword skills and preternatural speed to bear as a bouncer.  After some unfortunate events involving the Yakuza, she moves on to boarding a ship and sets sail for Hawaii, ending up finally in Los Angeles, and settling in Phoenix.
It is her run in with another brothel and her wholesale destruction of the operators that gets the attention of the wrong folks.  You see, this brothel is owned by some of the local vampires...and they are not pleased with the damage done to their business.
Their council convenes and it is decided Samara must be dealt with.
She ends up aligning herself with John Doe and Sir Jakob and then the action really starts.

In the character of Samara, we're shown the abject horror of becoming a vampire, what it can and will ultimately cost you when you lose your humanity, how you can rise above the monster you've become and how you handle the change that's been forced on you.
The council of vampires is many and varied, each with their own agendas and personal politics.  I found there were times I wanted a more extensive side story into all the ins and outs and interrelations going on in the background.
There's lots of blood and guts and gore, enough to satisfy the gorehounds in the audience, and tons of action, explosions, sword fights, gun battles...it's all here.

The climax was a shade rushed for all the build up, but was satisfying nonetheless.

A.R. Hill has crafted an original take on the vampire story and I'm hoping the follow up, Dark Side of The Sun will see the light of publication ASAP.

My only complaints with A Light Against The Darkness:
The cover...don't let it put you off.  No, it doesn't even hint at the fact it's a vampire novel, but trust me, the fangs are quite present. It does however, make me think of a metaphysical book rather than a horror one.  Because of this, a casual browser seeing this on the shelf is going to pass a great vampire story right on by.
The second concern, and it's a graphic complaint, not one about the writing, was the excessive use of italics, indicating when we were in the present action and when we were inside a particular character's head.  I would  have preferred section breaks within the chapters, numbered to separate them from one another and set in the regular font.  The italics after a while were tedious to read.

All in all, A. R. Hill has the story-telling skills in spades, and I look forward to more work from this author.

For more on A.R. Hill:
A. R. Hill on Goodreads

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: Fleshbags

Gerald Dean Rice
Available through Smashwords,
Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Good afternoon constant reader.
If you like quick and dirty zombie tales, then this book is for you.

Fleshbags romps and stomps it's way through a grueling 6 hour day, during a zombie apocalypse.
The novella unfolds by following several groups of people, caught up in different situations, vying for survival.  We've got a wife and husband, said husband performing his neighborly duty, by checking on their next door neighbor; a child care worker who starts out with one objective that turns to another, a cop, a man trying to collect his child from daycare, a young man in the right place at the wrong time, and a young lady home health care worker.

Something has happened.
What that something is?
Well, what ever it is, turns folks into rather mindless automatons who want to stagger around naked, biting (but not eating - there's a blessing of sorts) other people and/or dousing them with a clear liquid that...well, read it, you'll find out.

It's suspenseful, it's gory, it's gross, and reminds me of the splatterpunk wave that came about in the early mid '90's. Wait til you read the description of one of these things. Ick.

Gerald Dean Rice has crafted an interesting take on the zombie motif, which jumps from character to character, detailing their travails and triumphs.  The action moves quick, the situations are harrowing and gut-churning, and I found myself rooting for the characters, even though I sort of knew it might be a hopeless exercise.

I like it.
I recommend it.

And yes, the title is explained...oh yes, is it explained.

Review: Sprinkle With Murder

Sprinkle With Murder
Jenn McKinlay
Available at Barnes & Noble online,
Amazon, Barnes & Noble brick and mortar stores,
and as an e-book for the Kindle or Nook.

Good evening constant reader.
In a nutshell, if you like a good who did it, with believable characters in believable situations, with a tasty culinary background, then this is the book for you.

Melanie Cooper and her best friend Angie DeLaura are the owners and operators of Fairy Tale Cupcakes, a cupcake bakery in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Business is good and the two young women couldn't be happier.  They are joined in this business venture by Tate Harper, their friend since grade school.

It's Tate's upcoming nuptials that start the cupcake crumbling, when his caustic fashion designer bride to be, Christie Stevens, wants to contract Melanie to create 5 original cupcake flavors for their wedding.
When I say contract, I mean contract, as in, the cupcakes become the bride's property and Melanie may not make them for sale in her shop.  As it turns out, Bridezilla has extended the contract business to her gown designer and photographer.
Understandably, this has all the creative types fuming, yet they are reluctant to take Christie on, as her name can mean bigger and better things to their futures.  Who wants to go on record as turning down her business?

Melanie creates the 5 flavors and they're picked up by Christie's assistants.
The next morning, Melanie has an appointment at the crack of dawn to meet with Christie to see if her creations past muster.  She arrives at Christie's design studio to find it quiet...too quiet...and discovers Christie's dead body, with one of Melanie's cupcakes at hand.

Thus begins Melanie's efforts to clear herself and find out who did Christie in and why.
There are numerous suspects, all with an ax to grind, and some clever hey-I-bet-it's-this-guy moments, that may or may not prove to be true.

Jenn McKinlay deftly weaves a compelling tale, combining realistic dialogue and character actions that were very refreshing.  I hate it when characters don't sound convincing and do dumb things, most especially in a mystery.
Melanie, Angie and Tate form a great triad of friendship that obviously has stood the test of time and is put to the real test with Christie's murder.
Supporting characters are well drawn and come and go as needed, including Melanie's mother and Angie's over-protective brothers.

Have I mentioned the cupcakes?
Oh, the cupcakes!
4 recipes are included at the end of the book that sound divine.

This is a brilliant start to a continuing series.
The second book in the series, Buttercream Bump Off is available now. (And I went out and bought it as soon as I finished Sprinkle), with #3, Death By The Dozen due in October 2011.

For more information on Jenn McKinlay, please go to:
Jenn McKinlay on Facebook
Jenn McKinlay's home page

Thursday, August 4, 2011

13 Questions with..Margaret Taylor

1. You’re hosting a dinner party. What is the menu, and do you cook it yourself, or do you call a caterer?
I'd cook it myself, and it would be roast chicken with root vegetables in the bottom of the pan, because I don't get the chance to make that very often.  Maybe some really good bread on the side.

2. What is your beverage of choice?
Coffee from the instant coffee powder.  Black.  Water boiled in a pan on my stove because I don't have a teapot right now.

3. Physical book Vs an E-Reader. Your preference and why?
I prefer physical books for a lot of reasons.  You can drop them, bend them, and smash them, you can get them from the library, and the paper smells nice.

4. What kinds of books make up your personal library?Let's see…  Random sample from the bookshelf by my desk: the Gormenghast trilogy, Catwings, The Golden Compass, The Mind's I by Douglas Hofstader, a Spanish-English dictionary, a bunch of spiral-bound notebooks (some blank and some full of scribbled notes), a pop-up book with an illustrated version of The Jabberwocky, Perrine's Literature, Hero With a Thousand Faces, and a lava lamp.

5. How and when did you catch the writing bug?
I don't remember ever not having it.  I'd make up little dialogues between imaginary people since I was able to talk, really.  But I do remember the first time I sat down to actually write something.  I must have been in about the first grade.  My dad was working in the yard to remove a sapling tree, and when it finally came out, the hole in the ground looked like a tunnel to magicland.  So I ran back inside and started writing this story about a couple of kids who find a tunnel to magicland when a tree falls over in their yard, and the first thing they find when they get to the other side is a traffic light who says hello to them.  Then I got stuck because I couldn't figure out what happened next.

6. What is your writing routine?
Right now I'm a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.  What I do is I get up really early and sneak into the laboratory before anybody else is there.  It's quiet and air-conditioned in there.  I sit down and write for a while, then I go and get experiments ready for the day.

7. If you ever encounter writer’s block, what steps do you take to get past it?
If I don't know what needs to happen next, well, I sit down with a pencil and paper and I brainstorm.  What was I trying to accomplish with this story as a whole?  How is this scene going to get it there?
If I know what needs to happen next but I don't know how to say it, I sort of put (this thing needs to happen here) in parentheses and move on to the next part.  Usually by the time I get back to it on the rewrite it's become obvious how to say it.

8. Do you have a hidden talent?
A lot of people don't know that I make mean seven layer bars.

9. What was your best subject in school?
Well, I'll admit that I was pretty good at a lot of subjects, but my favorite subject was science.  I love slimy things.  One time in the seventh grade we dissected cow eyeballs, and that was just awesome.

10. As in any entertainment, there are current trends. How much do these “current trends” influence what you write?
YA literature is hot right now.  I like to write YA, but not because it's in fashion.  Teenagers make for really compelling protagonists.

11.Mac or PC?
Mac.  All the way.

12. Where do your ideas come from?
Oh, geez.  Song lyrics, misread road signs, other novels, nightmares, anything.  There was this one time I got a hold of a bottle of shampoo, and the label read, "Turns your dull straw into shimmering gold."  Holy crap.  People who grow metal hair, and then they trim it and sell it and it's a cottage industry!  I still don't know what I'm going to do with that idea, but it's kicking around until it can be useful.

13. What advice would you pass on to an aspiring author?
Write.  Write write write write write write.  The first thing that you write is going to suck.  The first several things, actually.  You have to keep pounding on your craft and beat the suckitude out of your work.  Then find some experienced writers to critique your work and they will point out some more suckitude that you missed.  Keep doing this obsessively for years and your stuff's going to get really good.