Monthly Archives: June 2015

Review: Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan

Where did I get this book? The library!

Where did I get this book? The library!

Let me start by saying how much I love the straightforward simplicity of this book’s title: Werewolf Cop. No ambiguity there. It’s about a cop. Who becomes a werewolf.

If, like me, you are delighted by the title, you should probaby skip this review and just go read it already. If you require a little more convincing, I’ll do my best.

Werewolf Cop is at heart a police procedural. Agent Zach Adams and his partner Martin Goulart work for the highly secretive Extraordinary Crimes Division, also known as Task Force Zero. Their mission: to root out a mysterious crime organization known as die Bruderlichkeit, or BLK (one quibble: I think this means “brotherhood” as an abstract concept, and maybe it should have been called Die Bruderschaft. Just saying.) The BLK has already wreaked havoc in Europe, where rioting and sectarian violence have brought civlization to its knees.

As the novel opens, the brutal murder of a well-known fence and his family are the latest sign of something evil at work in the city. Adams follows a lead to Germany and gets a big surprise in the Black Forest. It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal what happens next (hint: Werewolf Cop!)

Originally from Texas and known among his peers as “the Cowboy,” Adams is an unflinchingly moral man, a man of faith. He doesn’t share his wife Grace’s deeply held religious beliefs, but he willingly accompanies her to church every Sunday and counts himself extraordinarily lucky to have her and their two children in his life. This makes it even harder for him to reconcile his changed nature and the tally of his sins with his incorruptible conscience.

Unlike Jake Marlowe in Glen Duncan’s brilliant and bloody The Last Werewolf, Zach Adams finds little sensual pleasure in life as the wolf, and while they both experience existential crises as a result of their wolfly state, Adams is first and foremost an officer of the law. Even the wolf can’t change that.

Genre: Supernatural police procedural.

Read it if: You like stories that aren’t afraid to grapple with the essential nature of good and evil; you love both Michael Connelly and Stephen King; you can’t resist a book that references Goethe and the Gretchenfrage (yay, Faust!).

Skip it if: You don’t want to read graphic descriptions of crime scenes; you are expecting a campy send-up of the standard cop novel; you only like sexy werewolves like Alcide in True Blood.

Movie-worthy: This could be a deeply creepy movie.

Review: The Nurses by Alexandra Robbins

Where did I get this book? The library!

Where did I get this book? The library!

Because of my son’s medical condition, I have had far more interaction with nurses in the past several months than in my previous adult life. Reading this engaging and eye-opening book gave me new insight into the world of nursing and an even greater appreciation for the crucial role nurses play in patient care.

Author Alexandra Robbins follows the stories of four pseudonymous nurses: Molly, Juliette, Lara, and Sam. These nurses face unique challenges in their respective hospital environments: condescending doctors, nasty cliques, understaffed and disorganized ERs, demanding and disrespecful patients. Their personal lives intertwine with their work, as Molly struggles with infertility, Lara resists giving in to her narcotics addiction, Juliette copes with social isolation on the job, and Sam ignores the baseless rumors that follow her. Yet all four love nursing and derive great satisfaction from the meaningful actions they take every day.

The Nurses is a compulsively readable book because of the narrative force of these stories, but it also examines the systemic challenges nurses face. The statistics are sometimes sobering (you do not want to go to the hospital in July, for example) and raise questions about hospitals that put profit ahead of both patients and staff. This book argues that providing nurses with good working environments, ongoing training, and genuine respect is the true key to improving patient care. After all, when you’re in the hospital, it’s the nurse you see, the nurse who talks to you, the nurse who helps you when you’re in pain.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in nursing as a subculture, a calling, or a vital part of our health care system.

Genre: Highly readable nonfiction.

Read it if: You are a nurse, know a nurse, or expect to someday need the help of a nurse.

Skip it if: You are easily grossed out; you prefer to view nurses as angelic healers instead of human beings; you do not expect to ever need health care.

Movie-worthy: It would make an interesting documentary, but it might be tough to maintain anonymity for the actual nurses involved.

Review: The Swimmer by Joakim Zander

Where did I get this book? The library!

Where did I get this book? The library!

This intense thriller by Joakim Zander does not read like a first novel; the blurb on the cover compares it to John LeCarre at his best, and that’s no exaggeration.

The swimmer of the title is an unnamed operative, telling the story of his career from Damascus to Langley, from Iraq to Afghanistan, following the shifting allegiances of his employers. One memory haunts him: the baby daughter he left behind when he fled Syria for his life.

The perspective shifts between this nameless first-person narrator and a number of other unwilling players in an intricate and deadly game. In Brussels, Klara Waldeen works for a Swedish member of the European Parliament. Her old boyfriend, a PhD candidate, has become something of an expert in the legalities of war, in no small part because his unusual background–he was a Muslim paratrooper in the Swedish military before attending law school–lends him a unique authenticity. A third Swede, a high-powered young lawyer at a prestigious PR firm, is lured into ethical gray areas with promises of wealth and status.

Zander brings emotional depth and complexity to his characters, and he has a flair for vivid description and unexpected twists that still feel grounded in reality. (I did find it a bit funny that he refers to types of furniture as if every reader knows a Hurdal bed from a Malm dresser. It might be handy to have an IKEA catalog handy if you want the full visual.)  The Swimmer is not the type of generic thriller you zoom through and forget when the final page is turned. It’s the type that stays with you and leaves you wondering when the author’s next book comes out.

Genre: International spy thriller with European flair.

Read it if: You love vintage LeCarre and exceptionally well done thrillers; you enjoy international intrigue that ranges from Washington DC to remote Swedish archipelagos; you like moral complexity and antiheroes.

Skip it if: You expect all Swedish thrillers to be The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; you are a serious and easily offended k.d. lang fan; you prefer to avoid profanity and ethical gray areas.

Movie-worthy: Oh, I’ll bet someone’s working on that already.


Review: The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James

Where did I get this book? I won it from Karielle at Books a la Mode!

In The Tusk That Did the Damage, Tania James employs multiple perspectives to tell the story of the Gravedigger, a wild elephant with a history of murder. He has earned his name by his predilection for crushing his victims and then burying them beneath a shroud of leaves.

Manu, a teenager in Kerala, India, loses his cousin to the Gravedigger and becomes entangled in his brother’s poaching business. Emma, a young American woman, has come to India with her partner Teddy to film an elephant rescue operation headed by a charismatic veterinarian. Both perspectives reveal the human side of the equation: to some, elephants are dangerous animals who ravage crops and threaten lives; to others, they are a source of easy wealth for those who have no honest options. To the filmmakers, elephants are soulful creatures capable of profound love, even gratitude, all of which they hope to capture in a career-making documentary.

The most compelling point of view comes from the elephant himself. Gravedigger learns from a young age the cruelty and occasional kindness humans can inflict. Orphaned by poachers, the Gravedigger is captured and sold. He becomes a temple elephant known as Sooryamangalam Sreeganeshan, trucked from festival to festival for the profit of his owner, until the events that lead to his descent into madness.

The Tusk That Did the Damage is not a long book, but the story it tells is powerful and poignant. When I lived in Thailand, I’d sometimes see elephants led down the streets of Bangkok and wonder what kind of life that could be. In Cambodia, we rode elephants in a circle around Angkor Wat and again it seemed impossible that such large and powerful creatures could agree to follow human orders. The Gravedigger serves as a cautionary tale, an elephant so warped by contact with the worst impulses of humanity that he comes to embody the damage done, and lives only to bury his pain.

Genre: Multiple-perspective contemporary elephant fiction.

Read it if: You loved Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen or Elephant Company by Vicki Croke; you are open to fiction written from animal perspectives; you are looking for a book that packs a punch but fits comfortably in your backpack or purse.

Skip it if: You can’t suspend disbelief when faced with animal thoughts and feelings, no matter how well done; you only like animal stories that are happy and uplifing and end with the animal being adopted by loving humans; or you prefer hefty doorstoppers.

Movie-worthy: This would make a fascinating movie, but I don’t know how you’d convey the elephant’s thought processes on camera.

And a final thanks to Books a la Mode for giving me the opportunity to read this book!


Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

Where did I get this book? The library.

Where did I get this book? The library.

In The Fever, Deenie Nash is a sophomore at Dryden high school, where her father teaches history and her older brother Eli is a star hockey player. Deenie’s mother has been out of the picture for years, since an affair led to divorce. She lives three hours away, but those three hours might as well be an ocean.

Deenie has two best friends, Lise and Gabby, but the friendship dynamic has changed since Gabby has grown closer to a newcomer named Skye. Meanwhile. Lise, once the pudgy tag-along friend, has blossomed into a stunning beauty over the summer. When Lise collapses in class, struck down by a frightening seizure, her case is the first of a building wave of terrifying sympoms that seem to target only the younger girls at Dryden. As one girl after another succumbs, panic spreads among parents and the community demands answers.

Lise’s mother vocally insists that the recently administered HPV vaccine is to blame. Others claim the vivid green algae bloom on the off-limits lake is the cause. As the crisis spreads, Deenie finds herself at the center of the drama.

Which, let’s face it, is where every teenage girl’s life takes place anyway. Even within the swirling panic, Deenie is mostly concerned with the state of her friendships, the choices she’s made, the secrets she’s keeping. For me, and probably many other readers of my generation, the name Deenie instantly triggered memories of Judy Blume’s novel of the same name (the scoliosis reference later in the book clinched it.) Like Blume, Megan Abbott explores the shifting relationships between flawed parents and children, between siblings and friends, at a time when every choice seems pivotal and life-changing.

Presumably to help relieve the suffocating crush of teenage girldom, the novel’s point of view alternates among Deenie, her father, and her brother. Her father, Tom, refuses to give in to the rising anti-scientific hysteria yet has deep-seated fears of his own, stemming mostly from his experience with Deenie’s mother, Georgia. Eli, meanwhile, watches the girls around him from a bemused distance, uncertain what to do with their unsolicited advances, the anonymous photos on his phone. He tries to focus on hockey to the exclusion of all other distractions, but he is a part of their world whether he wants to be or not.

At times, The Fever feels like a nightmare as murky as the algae-carpeted lake, a high-school crucible of communal madness. The ending provides clarity, but speaking as the mother of a future teenage girl, not much in the way of reassurance.

Genre: Pyschological teenage thriller.

Read it if: You loved Megan Abbott’s earlier novel, Dare Me; you like your Judy Blume with a big dash of Lois Duncan; you enjoy an atmosphere of dread.

Skip it if: You are looking for confirmation of your wildest anti-vax fears; you prefer to avoid reading about teenage sexuality; you have a teenage daughter and you’re easily freaked out.

Movie-worthy: In the right hands, this would make a great thriller.




Review: Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez

Syndrome EHow do you say The Ring en francais? Actually, although this French thriller revolves around a mysterious and devastating film, the resemblance to the horror movie is fleeting. Nothing supernatural lurks behind the celluloid monstrosity; the evil in this novel is purely human in nature.

Solving the horrifying puzzle behind the film falls to Franck Sharko, an emotionally damaged and mentally ill behavior analyst, and Lucie Hennebelle, an ambitious police detective with young twin daughters. As a character, Sharko comes from a long line of detectives with dark pasts and tortured souls. His torment manifests in the form of a recurring hallucination, a little girl named Eugenie who demands candied chestnuts and cocktail sauce. Hennebelle, meanwhile, shows signs of obsession in her relentless pursuit of the case; she is on vacation when she first becomes involved, and she leaves the bedside of her hospitalized daughter to travel wherever the case takes her.

And it takes both her and Sharko to some very dark places. The film holds long-hidden secrets that involve the very nature of evil, the trigger behind the human capacity for atrocity. The more they dig into the film’s history and origins, the more the bodies pile up.

While the psychological concepts underlying Syndrome E were fascinating, the novel didn’t always work for me. I am not a particularly squeamish person but the subject matter–violence involving children and animals–left me feeling queasy. The translation also created a sense of disconnection, like watching a movie with subtitles. Maybe this was intentional on the part of the translator, to maintain a flavor of the original French, but it sometimes distracted me. For example, everyone calling Detective Hennebelle “miss,” where mademoiselle might sound more normal.

Genre: Psychological serial-killer noir.

Read it if: Un Chien Andalou is your favorite movie; you like your noir extra dark; you enjoy staring into the abyss of the human soul.

Skip it if: You don’t want to read about children, bunnies and violence in the same sentence; you didn’t get Lasik surgery because that scene in Un Chien Andalou scarred you for life (like me!); you prefer depictions of mental illness that don’t involve whimsical touches like cocktail sauce.

Movie-worthy: Some things are better read about than seen.



Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

The BeesThe Bees is an amazing feat of imagination, somehow seamlessly combining fairy-tale timelessness and Game of Thrones-worthy power struggles, heart-stopping dystopian suspense and beautifully rendered details straight out of nature. Perhaps most impressive, author Laline Paull creates believable, sympathetic characters that are also, unquestionably, bees.

Yes, nearly all the characters in this book are bees, their elaborate society based in an artificial wooden beehive in an orchard. Each bee is born to serve the hive, behaving according to the motto “Accept, Obey, and Serve,” living for the life-sustaining Devotion of the Queen’s mother love.

When Flora 717 emerges from her cell into the world, she belongs to the lowest order of worker bees, a mute class assigned to sanitation duties. Yet Flora has the power of speech, the first sign that she will not follow the established order of the hive. In fact, her destiny will lead Flora 717 to achieve more than one of her kin should even be able to imagine.

I had heard this book was really good, but my first thought was: bees, really? It could have been a schlocky disaster, an anthropomorphic gimmick, a novelized version of that Pixar movie “A Bug’s Life” only with bees instead of ants. Instead, The Bees is a beautiful, unique, and deeply moving story.

In short, I loved it. And it made me want to start a flower garden.

Genre: Dystopian SF fairy-tale set in nature.

Read it if: You want a truly fresh take on dystopia; you love books that transcend genre; you enjoy stories that take you to worlds you never would have imagined otherwise.

Skip it if: You adamantly insist on human characters; you read Watership Down, Brave New World, and The Year of the Flood, and you didn’t like any of them; when wasps and bees battle, you root for the wasps.

Movie-worthy: Hard to see how that would work, what with all the wordless antenna communication and scent-following. Maybe a truly innovative animated film could pull it off.

Review: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away WorldThe end of the world has never looked quite like this. In Nick Harkaway’s novel The Gone-Away World, a pipeline filled with a miraculous substance known as FOX is the only thing standing between the last remnants of civilization and the “Stuff,” a mysterious and dangerous threat. The story begins post-catastrophe, as the narrator heads off on a job with his team, then restarts when he is a crying child in a sandbox, at the moment his pivotal friendship with Gonzo Lubitsch begins.

I was a bit disconcerted by the sudden leap backward into childhood, especially when our unnamed hero begins studying gong fu with Master Wu Shenyang, head of the School of the Voiceless Dragon. I didn’t expect this to be the type of book where ninjas might launch a secret attack, and yet, there they were. While this book is filled with what appear to be a series of digressions, these episodes are leading to a point. It wasn’t obvious or predictable, but it shifted the entire story and made everything leading up to it more meaningful in retrospect.

A wacky light-heartedness characterizes the tone throughout much of the novel, yet it was punctuated with moments of real grief and pain. It reminded me of Neal Stephenson with a dash of Jasper Fforde. I most enjoyed the profound existential questions The Gone-Away World raises, even if it did raise them in the context of mimes, ninjas and an entire taxonomy of pencil necks.

Genre: Post-apocalyptic existential fiction.

Read it if: You think you’ve read every possible way the world could end (you haven’t!); you love twists that don’t feel like gimmicks; you prefer the long and winding road to the straight and narrow path.

Skip it if: You have a strong antipathy toward mimes and/or ninjas; you like novels that get to the point; you are uncomfortable with the sense of growing unease that comes with an impending plot twist.

Movie-worthy: I could maybe imagine a Terry Gilliam version of this book, but otherwise it’s hard to picture.



Vote for me! Please?

Vote for me!

Vote for me!

I find self-promotion excruciatingly painful. “Yay, me!” just seems wrong, or at best, ironic. That’s why I have a pen name. And my alter ego, Erin Eastham, just launched a book campaign on Kindle Scout.

Kindle Scout is Amazon’s new crowd-sourced publishing program. Prospective readers can nominate up to three novels they’d like to see published, and the books receiving the most votes will ultimately be considered for publication. I had planned to self-publish Heaven Refused, as I had done previously with my other novels, but this seemed like a good opportunity to get a bit more visibility (and even a small but not insignificant amount of money!)

If you have a moment, please take a look at my book’s Kindle Scout page, and if you like what you see, nominate Heaven Refused!

Category: Uncategorized

Review: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

The Mime OrderIt had been a while since I read Samantha Shannon’s first book, The Bone Season, and I have to admit that for the first few pages of the new sequel, The Mime Order, I was totally confused. So many characters! Who were they all? I mainly only remembered Paige and the mysterious Warden.

Fortunately, once the story got going the details began to come back to me. Paige is a dreamwalker, a particularly gifted voyant trying to survive in an alternate London where clairvoyant abilities are common but those who possess them are harassed, imprisoned, and worse by the totalitarian Scion government. If you haven’t read the first book, you should probably stop here, read it and then come back. Spoilers ahead!

When we last saw Paige, she was on a train with other escapees from a terrible prison run by the Rephaim, the secret alien overlords pulling the strings behind the Scion government. While Warden, Paige’s personal captor, treated her much better than other unfortunate voyant prisoners, she is not clear where she stands with him or what has become of him after the prison break. Not all of the escapees survive the re-entry into London, and while Paige wants to break free of Jaxon Hall, her Mime Lord and employer, she realizes there’s no safety in solitude.

When someone murders the Overlord and almost all of his minions in a particularly gruesome fashion, Paige is suspect number one. Jaxon Hall plans to enter the melee, a contest to take the Overlord’s place, and preside over all of London’s voyant community. He expects Paige to fight at his side, forcing her to decide where her loyalties truly lie.

This is a fun series in many ways, but The Mime Order could be pared down considerably without losing much. The many, many words ending in -mancer also gradually wear the reader down. Hematomancer, cleromancer, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Warden still doesn’t seem like a three-dimensional character (in fact, there’s a slight Twilighty-y vibe to their relationship, minus the Edwardian stalker-level adoration.)

What kept me reading was the world building, the political structure of the voyant society, and the way the Mime Lords focus on their own petty interests while ignoring the greater threat looming overhead. Paige is an interesting character, even if those around her aren’t always quite as fully developed.

Genre: Dystopian urban fantasy.

Read it if: You would like a complete list of all the different words ending in -mancer; you prefer fight scenes involving spirit possession; you loved The Bone Season and really want to find out how the heck they got off that train.

Skip it if: You have difficulty tracking large numbers of characters (although this cute The Bone Season wiki might  help you there!); you haven’t read The Bone Season; or you were hoping for a clear, plausible explanation for why the Rephaim showed up in the first place.

Movie-worthy: Mmmm, yes, if the movie cherry-picked the best bits of the book.

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