Annabel Scheme ~ Robin Sloan

  • Title: Annabel Scheme
  • Author: Robin Sloan
  • Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Annabel Scheme is a detective story set in an alternate San Francisco where the digital and the occult live side-by-side. It’s a short, snappy read — about 128 pages/128,000 Kindle locations — and perfect for people who like Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Adams, ghosts and/or the internet. Finally, it makes a great Kindle gift. In Scheme’s San Francisco, an indie rocker’s new tracks are climbing the charts, even though the rocker herself is long dead. A devout gamer has gone missing, and the only trace of him that remains is inside his favorite game, the blockbuster MMORPG called World of Jesus. And the richest man in the city, the inventor of the search engine called Grail, might just have made a deal with a devil. Meanwhile, Annabel Scheme has just hired herself a Watson, an A.I. assistant who’s now learning the ropes on a case that will quickly transform into Scheme’s biggest — and possibly her last.

Come on. Fog City is waiting.

Review:  I’m not sure what I think of this Kindle novella. It’s too weird. It starts as a PI comedy. It proceeds as an odd kind of mystery, on the intersection between the internet and demons. It ends in a tragedy, with an assortment of loose ends still dangling. And in between, there are too many unanswered questions. But all the same, it was an absorbing read, very much 21st century. Although I’m not sure I liked it, never once did I want to abandon the book, so I can’t give it less than 3 stars.

The protagonist Annabel Scheme is a PI in an alternative version of San Francisco. She has an assistant – a computer server named Hu. His video and audio interface is located in Annabel’s earrings, so he can see what she sees and hear what she hears. He can also process information at the server speed and he has an unlimited extension capabilities. The story is told from his POV.

Their client is a young musician complaining of illegal distribution of his recordings that don’t exist – with his former partner who is deceased. From here, it’s a helter-skelter gallop by Annabel and Hu, involving a super-powerful digital search engine Grail (note: not Google), an online game World of Jesus, dead people, quantum computers, falafel, and a sinister website where body parts are for sale.

The writing is good though, the descriptions vivid and often scary, and the writer’s imagination and sense of humor seem boundless if slightly warped. One of the locations he describes is a coffee shop that doubles as an incubator of internet start-ups. The barista asks Annabel:

“What can I get you? Espresso? Drip coffee? Articles of incorporation?”
The baristas here all have law degrees.

Later, in conversation with Hu, Annabel states that some of her conclusions are just a hunch. Hu thinks:

Just a hunch. Note to self: find software for that.       

Grail’s quantum computers offer an advance variation of a search engine, one that doesn’t need a search box, just a button.

You pressed it, and it simply gave you what you were looking for. It worked even if you didn’t know what you were looking for. It worked even if you couldn’t admit, not even to yourself, what you were looking for.

This reads like a horror version of a search engine. Perhaps this book belongs to the horror genre.

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.)

 

Sneak Peek: On the Lips of Children by Mark Matthews

Mark Matthews is a SSV reviewer whose new novel, On the Lips of Children, has received numerous reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 average rating. It was nominated by one blogger as the Best Small Press Horror Novel of 2013. SSV is happy to give our readers a chance to read the prologue of the novel.

~~~

Meet Macon. Tattoo artist. Athlete. Family man.

He’s planning to run a marathon, but the event becomes something terrible.

During a warm-up run, Macon falls prey to a bizarre man and his wife who dwell in an underground drug-smuggling tunnel. They raise their twin children in a way Macon couldn’t imagine: skinning unexpecting victims for food and money.

And Macon, and his family, are next.

~~~

Between 2008 and 2012, US authorities discovered at least seventy-five drug smuggling tunnels along the length of the 1,950-mile border between Tijuana and Southern California.

This is the story of one of them.

Prologue

Particles of cave dust stirred in the air. Lupita felt them hit her nostrils, damp bits of subterranean soot going through her nose and then in and out of her lungs. The darkness was thick and impenetrable by sight, but movements of others were felt, and one of the hostages had just shifted. The tourists hadn’t tried to flee or she would have felt a small sandstorm in the dust. Even their breath made shadow particles move. They were still tied up and could only inchworm across the floor. They were done begging for help now; only small whimpers remained.

Dante had stabbed one who wouldn’t stop his begging and be quite. The high-pitched words of the captive screeched, and she could still hear them echoing forever in this cave. Now he was quiet and may have bled out. He could even be dead.

Hours went by, or days, or maybe months since the whole place had gone dark. The tunnel was shut down, caved in on the Tijuana side, and her husband was off to look for the way through. That was days ago—or hours. It was unclear. It had been long enough that the flashlight batteries were
dead.

“It goes to da USA, all da way. I know it; smuggled meth through here before. Smuggled people before. My brother went through before I did. And you and me, we’re going to go soon. Just got to hit one good lick.”

If they ever had a chance of getting anything for the hostages, it was over. One captive had proved promising after some cell phone calls. A family from the U.S. was to meet them at the duty-free shop. That was supposed to have happened already. She imagined them waiting there; maybe still looking, maybe gone, maybe they changed their minds and really thought the police might help.

The other ones were unclaimed, but stripped of all that they had and tied up tight.

Now she was buried alive with them in this dark tomb. This wasn’t one of those big tunnels, built like an elevator shaft with electricity; this was a pit, dug with barely a shovel, started but never completed, and now caved in, maybe on purpose.

All she knew was the flesh by her side, her babies, T and Q. Q, her little boy, hadn’t fed in a while and T, her girl, tried to suck at her breast, which had gone dry long ago. Q was starving and wasting away. Sometimes he shook, sometimes he gasped for air, but mostly he lay unconscious or asleep. She felt both of them disintegrating and eaten by the dark. Her and the bones of her two children lying side by side would be all that remained. They would never be found, but that might beat a life with Dante.

Their tongues were dry, her milk was gone, and the last bit of water in the plastic jug had evaporated. She wondered if her monthly bleeding would arrive to help her measure the time. She urinated often at first, had even lost count, but this had stopped, and there was little bowel to pass. Her fingers clamored over the flesh of her children, always feeling their skin, comforting every piece, holding them against her flesh, cradling them together. They may have been better off had their eyes never opened.

The cave was crude, but the room they were in had been given the most attention and made into a small chamber. There was space for belongings, a little table set up, and some crates of supplies. But it was now swimming in the dark pool of ink surrounding them and the voices of the hostages.

“Please, please, lady. Just let us go now. Please, let us out. We can all go together and get out of here.”

“I have children…”

“I’ll forget I saw you…”

“You don’t have to do this…”

They whimpered about wanting a Bible, made angry threats, and swore they could get money if they were just let go. They had that chance and failed. Then they cried and screamed for help from someone who would never come. They cried, and this made her babies scared and cry even harder.

After the light had gone away, Dante spent hours blaming her and then started stabbing the hostages. He was angry that his life was crumbling. It was the same way he had stabbed her and made these two children, the way he had ripped a knife through her old life when he took her from her garbage-picking family.

“You aren’t as dark as them. You’re half gringo. You learned English good. I can use you. Me and you together.”

She was seventeen then and ready to go with him. She never had a father, just tired men with skin full of dirt looking after her.

Yes, her father was a white TJ day-tripper. He came across the border with twenty-five dollars in search of Tijuana sex. Her mother told her so. She said, “I took twenty US dollars from him. I left him with five dollars, and he left me with you.”

Her father was just like one of these men they had cornered, maybe even one of them. All their captives had US money, and Dante had grand schemes of thousand-dollar licks, but the best they found was one man with a hundred on him. Most had under fifty and nobody who would pay to recover them. Now they were buried in this hole.

Lupita felt the fleshy heat on her palm start to get clammy and cold. Her child’s muscles seemed to be fading. A rub on the back, a fast rub as if to move her heart, did nothing. One started crying; the other was fading. Baby Q was going, slipping; his heart pumped so hard she was sure it would shoot light out of his eyes, light up this hell. Light it up! Going, her baby was going, and something had to be done.

She thought about smashing in her baby’s skulls and giving them a quick death, then finding a way to destroy herself, but their last thought would be that mommy killed them. This thought would stay with them into heaven. The orphanage told her all about heaven.

One baby was slipping, but the other baby’s tears echoed and crashed off the cave walls and sliced into her ears. Rocking back and forth didn’t soothe them. Hushing noises and melodies did nothing. Yes, both were still breathing but starving. Their tiny legs kicked, and it felt like holding the tiny little frogs she had caught as a child at the pond. Lupita closed her eyes and let an imaginary light shoot through her head. She saw a vision of her baby dying.

There was nothing left to give them. The only food was beef jerky. She chewed on a stick and mashed it up as much as she could, placing pieces in their mouths. Their tongues moved; she could tell they wanted to eat it. They needed it inside of them, but they just gagged, cried, and spit it out.

She tried foraging for food, rummaging through the old supplies, and then feeling her way with her hands blindly in front of her, inch by inch. Nothing was found that could be put in their stomachs, just some loose stones, more rope, empty water jugs, and one of Dante’s favorite weapons of choice: an X-Acto knife. She then blindly tried to return to her babies and had to follow the crying. She had lost them briefly in the dark.

Every instant in the darkness became the moment just before Dante returned, but the moment never happened. Her nails were worn down from the scratch marks she left on the plank of wood above the hatch, but did little damage. She smashed rocks against the wood until her shoulder ached. Her screams were heard by nobody but her children. Nobody was there, and nobody was coming.

These hostages were her only adult company; they were all she had.

“My father was someone like you, someone just like you,” she said, speaking to one who was tied up securely, yet still struggled off and on to break free. His breathing was heavy and labored, and his skin was sweaty with fear. He had soiled his shorts, and the stench surrounded him.

“Why don’t you have sex with women on your side? Why do you come here? Are you my father? Did you do this and leave me with my mother? She left me too, left me to the orphanage nuns, and then to the smell of garbage that is still in my nose… Are you him?”

She grabbed the man’s calf, felt the thick muscle, and thought of a turkey drum stick. He tried to jerk away, but before he could move her knife shredded his pant leg and delved into his flesh, twisting and turning. She felt an incredible life-force in him flinch. A shriek came from underneath his gag, but she was surprised and thought it would be more. His fight was gone, but the blood was coming. She could feel it trickle onto her fingers, let it cup into her hands, and then placed a drop on her child’s tongue.

Baby Q’s tongue took moments to notice anything, but soon the tiny mouth of the babe began to suck on her finger. She pulled the finger out of his mouth, dipped it back into the pool of blood puddling in her other hand, and then tapped it back on the child’s tongue. Q’s tongue lapped,
became wet, and then he swallowed, coughed twice, and somehow found enough energy to cry. Then he cooed.

She wouldn’t let them die; she couldn’t. All that had been done at birth to keep them healthy and alive, and now they were near death before their eyes had barely seen the light of day. In each of them was a promise that part of her would go on living, instead of feeling like she did, just grey meat
that had died long ago.

She sliced the captive’s leg a bit more with the knife. His screams echoed, but he was too tied up to struggle. The others fought against the cutting when it was their turn. Dante could tie anyone up securely; he could trap anyone, and now it was easy to draw blood. Cut the flesh, wait for the warm spurt of blood, make a nice pool in her hand, and then dip a finger
into the thick fluid before placing it on her baby’s tongue.

Just a bit more until Dante comes back. She would survive this; she would see to it that her children were fed and cared for. And they would live… because it was working. Three hours later, after more feedings, she felt Q pass urine. And then T.

During her days of garbage picking, they had eaten worse: meat with flies on it, animals captured in wreckage, dogs that had died, soup made from bones with maggots.

She found she could feed alongside her children. Q and T needed their mother, and she would eat and nourish with the same meat and blood, just as they had. They clawed at her with their new energy, and she had some to give back.

They sat and waited for Dante’s return. Her baby’s life depended on him; all of their lives depended on him. Her whole life revolved around if this man was strong enough and cared enough to come back. She waited. They waited. He’d left them, found a way out and left them… or just forgot about them. She would have felt it if he was coming back. His orange booted feet, the scent of his breath, the glare of his eyes, all of it would have been picked up by her senses in advance. The metal edges of the knife became an extension of her hand.

Her babies started to move. Tiny limbs started to reach and stretch, heads turned side to side, and they cooed when fed regularly. Only three of the five bodies in the chamber were still alive, all three of them making noises behind their gags, but none of them mattered. She picked the ones
who moaned the most, the ones closest to dying, and drained them carefully so as not to push them over the edge. Small cuts bled them, but kept them alive.

Bloody fluid started to cover her precious children. She couldn’t see it, but could feel it thick and spread all over. Her shirt was sticky with it, and Q and T had it on their chest, their hands, and their lips. She tried to keep them clean, but was unable. Nobody was to see them again, she knew, and
these moments were her last with them. People like her don’t get to be with their children forever, but their bodies can rest here and remain.

These children, these bits of flesh pulled out of her, now as bloody as the day they were born, were being kept alive by the blood of these TJ men, who didn’t deserve the organs inside that kept them alive day after day.

So she pulled tiny bits of flesh off of the TJ day-trippers, chunks she could sliver off and chew herself, like the beef jerky before, but mashing and mashing and mashing until it was almost as smooth and liquid as the blood.

Bowels came and went, sleeping patterns become regular, playtime was moving their fingers together, playing Itsy Bitsy Spider, letting the twins feel the flesh of each other, telling them stories, pulling them as tight together as they had been inside her womb.

And the darkness in the air seemed to be lifting.

Then the noise came.

And soon after… the light.

-=/-\=-

You can find more information about the author, Mark Matthews, and his work on his website.

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.

The Doorkeepers ~ Graham Masterton

  • Title: The Doorkeepers
  • Author: Graham Masterton
  • Genre: Horror
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Julia Winward, a young American woman, has been missing in England for nearly a year. When her mutilated body is discovered in the Thames, her brother, Josh, is determined to find out what happened to his sister during that lost time. But nothing Josh discovers makes any sense: Julia had been living at an address which hadn’t existed since World War II . . .


Review: 
This was a strange little tale. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I sometimes jump into a novel, knowing absolutely nothing about it, just to keep myself in suspense. I thought it would be a good idea to approach The Doorkeepers this way, since I did know that it fell into the horror genre. Early in the book, there is quick mention of the Abba song, Dancing Queen (one of my all-time favorite hits), and then character that mentions the song almost immediately orchestrates a rather vicious murder. It was almost as if Masterton chose that particular song to lull the reader into a false state of complacency so that when the brutality struck it would be all the more horrifying. Crafty boy.

The plot of The Doorkeepers follows the story of an American man and his girlfriend who journey to England to find out more about the murder of his sister. As they begin to investigate, they discover that his sister may not have been murdered in modern day England after all. It turns out that there are hidden doorways that act as portals between dimensions, and that she may have been living in another dimension at the time of her murder. No big deal, except that many of these dimensions are not happy, friendly places, and there are people willing to go to extreme and terrifying lengths to keep these doors open to maintain their warped version of the world.

I would have liked a little more detail in the world building – the author was kind of vague at times in his descriptions. For example, it was never quite clear exactly WHAT the Doorkeepers were. It also would have been nice to learn more about how/why Boudicca was able to create the doors in the first place.

The ending seemed rushed, almost like he could not think of a really good explanation or go bored or whatever. I is a pet peeve of mine when authors lack a solid conclusion. Nevertheless, overall, I’d say I enjoyed it. I like a good creepy tale. Some of the scenes were totally disturbing, but that is what I expect in a book like this. I hate when authors are writing about something horrifying and they shy away from actually making it so. So, I give Masterton credit for this.

The Passage ~ Justin Cronin

  • Title: The Passage
  • Author: Justin Cronin
  • Genre: Horror
  • Series: The Passage #1
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.
From the Publisher (Random House)


Review: 
Justin Cronin has taken it upon himself to tell a rather long and ambitious tale. The Passage, weighing in at 784 pages, is just the first installment of this saga, so be prepared to settle in for the long haul. The book requires patience, as Cronin weaves between different perspectives and time periods as he slowly and methodically lays out his tale.

The Passage tells the story of the rise of vicious vampire-type creatures that have caused the near destruction of the world. The first half of the book explains that circumstances surrounding the creation of these monsters and their subsequent infection of society. The second half of the book follows survivors of the catastrophe and their struggle to try to save what is left of the human race.

From the description, it sounds like this is an epic, action-packed story. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few action scenes and some of them are very well told. The scene where all hell breaks loose at the secret compound in Denver was very well-written. However, the action seems few and far between, as they are spread out among a lot of long-winded prose explaining all of the characters in great, and often, unnecessary detail.

For example, the book opens by telling the hard-knock life story of Amy’s mother. Amy is a vital character to the plot of series, not just this first book. However, the author could have given the mother’s background in a few sentences, rather than a few chapters. In fact, the writing style reminded me at times Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, seeming overly focused on everyone’s internal motivations and past history. This is not a compliment, I could not finish Frankenstein. Cronin’s opus is indeed slightly more enjoyable, I did make my way through to the end, after all.

The book often felt a little ADD, changing perspective AND writing styles. I am generally not bothered by alternating point of views, but Cronin took this a bit to the extreme. He would spend a lot of time focusing on a group of characters, then boom, he is off somewhere completely different. Oh, and he tells the story through a combination of narrative, letters, and diary entries.

The author was also guilty of committing one of my worst fantasy/sci-fi infraction, conflicting mythology. He has described that sunlight is harmful to his creatures and harms them. This premise is a key component to the survival of his characters. However, he has a scene where his characters flee the “sticks” (their derogatory name for the creatures) in broad daylight, and yet the creatures give chase. How is that possible? Further, his Mensa-candidate survivors decide to take refuge in a mall where there is plenty of shade to aid the sticks. It makes no sense! Gah!

Overall, the book wasn’t bad. There were compelling characters and the story was interesting. It probably would have been better told in at least 200 fewer pages. After hanging in there until the very end, I was rewarded with an ending that just kind of petered off. I am sure the author intends to pick up the thread in the next book, but the question is, will I care enough to read it? The jury is still out.