Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Carsten Stroud’

lexiconWord power! It’s way more than Reader’s Digest vocabulary quizzes. Words are weapons controlled by poets in Max Barry’s genre-melding, mind-bending novel Lexicon (Penguin, digital galley), the most fun I’ve had all summer.
The thrills begin in the first chapter when Australian Wil Parke is kidnapped in the Portland, Ore., airport, undergoes a quick personality test, survives a shoot-out and is whisked away in a van. The action switches to San Francisco where teen grifter Emily Griff is recruited to attend an exclusive academy outside Washington, D.C., where students study neuro-linguistics and the powers of persuasion. The most adept graduates take the names of poets, becoming agents for a secret society that uses words to control the minds of the unwitting populace. The enigmatic Yeats runs the organization; Eliot and Bronte are among the top agents, but Woolf has gone rogue. How is Wil Parke involved? It all has to do with a mysterious toxic event in Broken Hill, Australia, which killed thousands and wiped Wil’s memory clean. Emily’s connected, too, as is the discovery of an all-powerful “bareword.” Remember the Tower of Babel?
Barry’s smart, witty writing, well-defined characters and strong sense of place make his near-future world conspiracy of mind-hacking bizarre yet plausible. (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the bastards aren’t out to get you.) As Emily learns, words like “bewitched,” “fascinating” and “spellbound” were once literal magic. In Lexicon, they still are. Amazing!
homecomingThe fun continues in Carsten Stroud’s paranormal thriller The Homecoming (Knopf, digital galley), the sequel to last summer’s Niceville, in which a Southern town was beset by trigger-happy thieves, mysterious disappearances and Something Evil from beyond the grave. Detective Nick Kavanaugh returns to try and save the day from the treacherous thieves, possessed orphan Rainey Teague and the Something Evil, now appearing as a black miasma emanating from the Crater.
The story, which isn’t as far out nor as frenzied as the previous one, picks up two weeks after events in the first book with two mysterious plane crashes. Six months later, the mystery and mayhem intensify to include a shoot-out in a mall outdoors store and ghosts from a plantation past. The antique mirror, hidden by Nick’s wife Kate, exhibits its weird through-the-looking-glass characteristics, and strange “bone baskets” found in the Tulip River hint at more nastiness at work in Niceville. Happily, a fast pace and snappy dialogue encourage readers not to think too much and just go with the flow. Hang on, though, whitewater ahead and a third book.
starwars“In time so long ago begins our play/ In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.” If literary snark’s your thing, don’t missWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars (Quirk Books, digital galley), a five-act mash-up, “Verily: A New Hope,” in iambic pentameter by the clever Ian Doescher. He borrows from familiar Shakespeare passages — C-3P0 taking off from Richard III: “Now is the summer of our happiness/ Made winter by this sudden fierce attack;” Luke Skywalker doing Hamlet: “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew you not;” Princess Leia singing a “hey, nonny, nonny” variation from Much Ado as Alderaan explodes.
Yes, it’s silly, especially when R2D2 beeps in and Jabba speaks jibber-jabber, but the Chorus has an Elizabethan field day: “Mos Eisley now is left behind at last/ While newer scenes come into view apace/ As Han’s Millenn’um Falcon flies far fast/ The action of our play moves back to space!”
May the forsooth be with you.

Read Full Post »

In last summer’s best-seller, A Discovery of Witches, author and historian Deborah Harkness introduced readers to Diana Bishop, an American scholar with witch DNA, and Matthew Clairmont, an Oxford geneticist and centuries-old vampire. The two came together in the search for an ancient alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, that may explain the origins of the supernatural world and its witches, vampires and daemons. After pages and pages, Diana and Matthew were left calling on her untapped powers as a timespinner to go back to Elizabethean England.

I liked the first book for the most part, with its often heady mix of history, science, romance and fantasy. But  I soon tired of supernatural yoga classes and squabbles, and I resented the cliffhanger ending, which tempered my enthusiasm for a sequel that would also be the middle book of the All Souls trilogy. Really, another 600 pages and then wait for the third book a year from now?

Yes, yes, whatever. Shadow of Night (Viking Penguin, digital galley via NetGalley) may be the fastest 600 pages I’ve read since Harry Potter. Harkness’ dynamic duo interact with historical figures, a number of whom have their own supernatural secrets (Christopher Marlowe is a jealous daemon), and journey to London, France and Prague in search of a tutor for Diana and the lost manuscript. They are threatened by witch-hunters, meet up with Matthew’s powerful father, and make true friends and more enemies while trying not to trip up the past and thus change the present. Oh, they also get married, even though witches and vampires aren’t supposed to. As for what the future holds, we’ll just have to wait.

Happily, since paranormal is the new normal, there are other books of mystery and magic to enjoy. Carsten Stroud’s Niceville (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley via NetGalley) is all over the place and over the top with its energetic story of a small Southern town beset by trigger-happy thieves, mysterious random disappearances, a bloodsoaked past and Something Evil from beyond the grave. Detective Nick Kavanaugh isn’t sure what’s going on, even though his wife Kate is from one of Niceville’s founding families, but he dutifully charges forth into the murk and mayhem. I followed and tried not to overthink, or even think.

Sadie Jones’ The Uninvited Guests (HarperCollins, e-book borrowed from library) is altogther different, a wicked delight and/or delightfully wicked. The Edwardian country-house setting and class-conscious characters reminded me a bit of Dodie Smith, P.G. Wodehouse and Muriel Spark, but Jones’ pen is more poisonous. Emerald Torrington’s 20th birthday dinner party is disrupted by news of a train derailment and the arrival of a group of survivors. All are from the third-class carriage with the exception of one peculiar gentleman, who quickly insinuates himself with the family and their few invited guests, claiming old acquaintanceship with Emerald’s mother. She is appalled by his presence but also curiously afraid, and the mystery deepens as he orchestrates a parlor game that sets the players at odds with one another and can only end in tears. The story won’t be everyone’s cup of tea — too strange and bitter — but the shenanigans of Emerald’s young sister Smudge provide needed levity, and really, all’s well that ends well.  At least for some people.

Read Full Post »