The Bitch ~ Les Edgerton

  • Title: The Bitch  
  • Author: Les Edgerton
  • Genre: Crime Noir
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Netgalley
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Ex-con Jake Bishop is several years past his second stint in prison and has completely reformed. He’s married, expecting a child, and preparing to open his own hair salon. But then an old cellmate re-enters his life begging for a favor: to help him with a burglary. Forced by his code of ethics to perform the crime, Jake’s once idyllic life quickly plunges into an abyss. Jake soon realizes that there is only one way out of this purgatory . . . and it may rupture his soul beyond repair.

Review:  First off, I should note that the title “The Bitch” is in reference to the main character’s fear of being labeled a “Ha-Bitch-ual” criminal.  More on that later
.

Ex-con trying to fly straight and be a family man gets called back into the lifestyle. Sure, you may  have seen this done before: But this author does it so well that it never gets trite. Feels like true crime, with a language that is never forced.

The tension escalated beautifully. Unpredictable, yet always getting higher, like the tick, tick, ticking noise you hear the roller coaster make as you climb that first hill. You weren’t sure what twist it was going to take, only that the author showed so much skill you would trust it would be somewhere interesting. You get to know the main character so well, that it’s hard not to take him out of the book and back home with you.

As far as the title referring to the legal implications of being labeled a “Ha-Bitch-ual” criminal, I don’t think the author would mind you thinking otherwise. In some ways, the main character lets his past make him his bitch, so to speak, by trying to live by the code of his old world and be happy in the new. Likewise, his wife, tries a ‘cross-over’ with similar results. There is moral ambiguity here and a value system that the main character has that you don’t have to admire, but you will certainly feel it along the way. As the main character, Jake, goes rifling through what to do next, you want to scream out to him, “Dude, did you realize you just ((spoiler alert)) how are you going to shoot a move through this one?”

I have to believe that crime fiction speaks to the voyeur in all of us. The part who want to know how criminals live and what they think. And the best crime fiction makes us realize they are one of us, or we are one of them. We find ourselves identifying with the character at some parts, wishing they had more of a moral compass at other parts. We may get disgusted at their choices, other times we may just wish they’d be more slick and get away with it. All of these things and more crossed my mind as I committed crimes alongside Jake and Walker.

Read this for the story, for the plot, for the characters, and for the concise as a concrete slab prose. If you are lucky like me, you can read it at your parents cottage, isolated, surrounded by snow, which was exactly the setting the characters found themselves in as they tried to cover the tracks of their misdeeds. I was able to go home and live happily ever after with my family. The characters of this book may have not been so lucky.

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The Humans ~ Matt Haig

  • Title: The Humans    
  • Author: Matt Haig
  • Genre: Literary Sci-Fi
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: $11 purchase
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  The critically acclaimed author of The Radleys shares a clever, heartwarming, and darkly insightful novel about an alien who comes to Earth to save humans from themselves.

“I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Review:  The world is divided into those who have read this book and those who have not.  Those who have read this book are shaking their heads in the affirmative right now.

It is not so much the story, but read it for that.  It is not so much the characters, but read it for that too.  It is for the statement it makes on the flawed yet wondrous nature of humans. This book will resonate with you long after you read it. (if not, we can’t be friends.)  You will be convinced the author himself is from another world, sent here to give us some wisdom, but perhaps also fearful if we can handle it.  I liken it to “Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach

Yes, I loved this book and I am a better person for it. A beautiful book that made me cry. At times I feared it would become predictable, but there was just enough variance and certainly more than enough genius. A wonderful range of emotions. The prose was both beautiful and simple. How many times have we all wondered, “What would an alien think if they came to Earth and experienced this?” Well, this book provides an illuminating answer.

Highly recomended. Get ready to highlight on your kindle or dog-ear your  paperback.

-Mark Matthews

The Sacrificial Man ~ Ruth Dugdall

  • Title: The Sacrificial Man    
  • Author: Ruth Dugdall
  • Genre: Dark Fiction/Thriller
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Netgalley
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  What I want to say is that suicide is my choice. No-one else is to blame. Man seeks beautiful woman for the journey of a lifetime: Will you help me to die?’

When Probation Officer Cate Austin is given her new assignment, she faces the highest-profile case of her career. Alice Mariani is charged with assisted suicide and Cate must recommend a sentence. Alice insists her story is one of misinterpreted love, forcing those around her to analyse their own lives. Who is to decide what is normal and when does loyalty turn to obsession? Investigating the loophole that lies between murder and euthanasia, Cate must now meet the woman who agreed to comply with her lover’s final request. Shocking revelations expose bitter truths that can no longer be ignored.

Review:  The story of a woman charged with murder for her role in an assisted suicide. Is this murder, or compassion?

Such is an ethical dilemma for our time, but here the implications are deeper for the woman consumed some of the dead man’s flesh.  Was this just offering a merciful helping hand or something more sinister? The question is not only if a crime was committed, but if so, is the culprit sane? and how much of a punishment does she deserve? It is up to her probation officer to recommend a sentence. The plot largely traces and reveals the motives of the characters involved.

The novel has so many secrets that get revealed. Some are subtle and made me grin at the author’s craft. At least one made my jaw completely drop to the floor

The point of view switches often from first person to third, to prose to chat messages to journal. Normally when I would see something written in this manner I would think it was too complicated and took too much work to read. Not so here. It blended together seamlessly and  I looked forward to each change of pace. It was like a multi-media experience.

The narcissism of the first person narrator is done with a cold, self aware style that you won’t soon forget, and offers flashbacks to her time as a child that is full of emotion. There was a sharp realism here that is touching, but none of it bubbled up from the suds of soap-opery moments.

I requested and was accepted this novel on Netgalley, partly because I was looking for a Gillian FLynn-like experience. (If Gillian Flynn ever goes missing, the first place one should look is my own basement.)

As I read I “The Sacrificial Man,” I first thought, ‘No, this isn’t Gillian,’ then I thought, ‘Heck yeah, this is Gillian’s twin,’ and then I found the author had a voice all of her own. Overall, this is a fantastic story, with writing that is lyrical, flowing, and eloquent, yet with an unmistakeable edge.

Sea of Tranquility ~ Katja Millay

  • Title: Sea of Tranquility
  • Author: Katja Millay
  • Genre: YA
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Purchased
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  “I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.”

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances

Review:  GREAT BOOK!

Characters were multi-dimensional. The prose was fluid, the dialogue witty, the surprises sprinkled in perfect moments along the way. The author never mentions a gun without firing it brilliantly down the line. ( Chekhov’s Gun: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.”)

All the guns go off blazing in this book, down to the last word. A character who doesn’t speak, but you don’t need her too because you want to stay trapped in her thoughts. The trauma she experienced is slowly revealed to the reader, and explains her behavior in high school. Her relationships are real, and she may be the only high schooler in the world who earns the “It’s Complicated” status on her facebook page. (the story does not say this, that’s me.)  As she notes, “People who have never been through any sort of shit always assume that they know how you should react to having your life destroyed.” 

As a runner, I loved the instances of  where running provides her some relief and some insight. It is when she runs that she meets perhaps the most important person in her life, and when she runs, she can strip down all the makeup and be close to her real self. My kindle was highlighted with some running passages:

“The first night I ever ran, I ended up throwing up all over my shoes. It was one of the best nights of my life.”
 
“…giddy with the thought of running out the past few days, pounding my aggression into the sidewalk”
 
“I want to tear down the road until I can’t breathe, until there is not enough oxygen left in the world to keep me from suffocating.”
 
 “…I have to run. It’s the only thing that keeps the frayed edges of my sanity intact.” 
 
 “..the running helps. It gives me something, or maybe more accurately, it takes something away. I don’t care. I know I depend on it too much but it’s one of the only things I can depend on. Exercise, notebooks, hate. The things that do not let me down… My mind has learned what to expect from the night I run in.” 
 
Despite some ‘soap-opery’ moments, (perhaps common to YA, of which I am not a regular reader) there’s no way I can give this less than 5 stars and two thumbs up and a recomendation and support and tell two friends and so on and so on…
 
In my never developed but should have been developed list of books that made me cry, this book would be in the top three. Yeah, I cried most of the last 10% of this one. Then again, I also cry everytime I finish a marathon.
 
Read it and weep.

NOS4A2 ~ Joe Hill

  • Title: NOS4A2
  • Author: Joe Hill
  • Genre: Horror
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Purchased for big bucks
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 3.89 out of 5 stars

Description:  NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Review:  I am a big believer that reviews are entirely subjective. That’s why I kind of hate giving them a number rating (and thus my 3.89 rating is meant to cause a glitch in this matrix).  A literary novel I rate a 4 star isn’t worse than the light-hearted or irreverent piece that I give 5 stars. They just have different intentions. It also seems reviews are skewed by expectations of the author, as well as hype over a book.

As for Joe Hill’s NOS4A2: well, with great genes come great responsibility. If I had downloaded this book as some freebie from an Indie author, I may be screeching a different tune. But I did not. In fact, I think I paid 13 dollars for the kindle version. But I did so waiting for some excellent reading.

For me, NOS4A2 was a great book, but not an excellent one. It was an excellent world, with excellent characters, and excellent parts, but of all the kindle downloads that I’ve broken my “never pay over $9.99” vow, this one is the closest I have to a regret.

That all sounds so drab! Wait. It is a smart, clever, and wonderfully blended world of horror and fantasy dripping with angst an emotion. While the book was long, I could have read another 500 pages of dialogue from Charlie Manx. I loved his voice. An unforgettable villian, and it was the best part of the book for me. I wanted to be in his head more. ‘Bing’ is the misfit character lulled by evil seen in so many of Stephen King’s novels, and was another show stealer.

However, I found myself skimming at some trite cop scenes. I found the psych ward references and obligatory AA references for the adult Victoria unconvincing. Also, the climax just didn’t give you the money shot you hoped for. I did love the denouement very much, and in fact, love the word denouement and never pass up a chance to use the word.

Joe was blessed with a birthright and cursed by it as well, since his novels will be compared and contrasted to his dad’s forever which is an impossible standard. (They say that the son bears the burdens of the father. But it’s the mother who’s left to clean up the mess.)

If this novel were part of his dad’s collection, it would be a middle of the packer.  If I had paid $4.99 and this been any other author, then I would probably rate it a 4.746 out of 5 stars.

Weird, huh. I probably shouldn’t be reviewing books at all. Come to think of it. This is my last book review ever. Explosions behind me as I walk away in slow motion  (because I needed a Denouement.)

 

Die, You Bastard, Die! ~ Jan Kozlowski

  • Title: “Die, You Bastard, Die!”
  • Author: Jan Kozlowski
  • Genre: Thriller/Horror/Dark Fiction
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Claire is a first-rate paramedic, with a heroic devotion to saving lives. She is also a survivor of unspeakable abuse, who has rebuilt herself entirely, as far from home as she could get.

But when her aged father is hospitalized, after a crippling fall, Claire is dragged back into a brutal nightmare of sexual depravity, and deepest betrayal. Where the only question left is, “How can I possibly survive?”

And the only answer is, “DIE, YOU BASTARD! DIE!”

Review:  Wow. How to describe this book? It blew me away. The experience reading it was powerful. Much like the title, this book makes no apologies, and after reading it, I certainly don’t need one.

It started out as a great novel with distinct, interesting characters and intense enough action scenes. I fully trusted the author and entered into her world, ready to partake in a great thriller.

What I wasn’t ready for was a hand to shoot out of the pages and suddenly put a knife to my throat, but that was basically what happened. My eyeballs started to bleed and my heart shed tears.

This is not so much horror as it is ultra-realism. The horror isn’t what is happening in the book as much as what can happen at the hands of humans. Things we want to dismiss. This is a great piece of work, not some gratuitous bit of shock horror. I didn’t ever get that feeling that the author was smirking behind the page, just happy she grossed us out. Characters under pressure had their essence squeezed out of them, and with each bit of action and dialogue these people were brought to life. The sickness that existed in their hearts never wavered, which made the story all that more terrifying. The journey of the main character was riveting, never cliche, and never certain.

But there were moments where I looked away from the pages, thinking, if this continues, I don’t know how much more I can take. The author turns up the intensity and lets you boil for a while, but always seems to gauge where the reader is at and turns the story to a place you can continue. It demanded breaks, but commanded your attention. I became like a kid covering my face with my hands but peeking thru my fingers. This book is no escapism like some horror or dark fiction, but it is a fantastic piece of art.