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.

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The American Craft Beer Cookbook ~ John Holl

  • Title: The American Craft Beer Cookbook
  • Author: John Holl
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Net Galley ARC
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  The pleasure of going to the local pub or craft brewery for a pint and a delicious meal can now be recreated at home with John Holl’s collection of 175 recipes that all taste amazingly great with beer. From pub grub and barbecue to regional specialties and even breakfast fare, many of these dishes use beer as an ingredient, and all of them can be paired with your favorite brews. The recipes were contributed by brew pubs, craft brewers, and other beer lovers across the United States, and you’ll love the new twists on traditional favorites, such as Slow-Cooked Dopple Bock BBQ Meatballs or Chicken Wings with Bacon BBQ Sauce, as well as wildly unexpected recipes like Beermosas, Beer Ice Cream Floats, and Chocolate Jefferson Stout Cupcakes. Holl even includes 12 recipes for brewing your own beer at home.

Review:  This is a bit of a departure for me to review a cookbook, as I typically review fiction. However, being a bit of a foodie and a total beer snob, I was eager to get an advanced look at this title and throw in my two cents. I got to opportunity to get my hands on a digital advanced review copy through Net Galley.

My first impression is that the images in the book are stunning. Does this say anything about the content of book? Not really, but in a way it does. It says to me that this book is a labor of love and someone put in the effort to do it right. Oddly, the cover presented on the ARC is only so-so, considering the quality of the imagery throughout the book. My main problem with the cover is that the visual impact says “super bowl party,” whereas the contents of book cater to the connoisseur.

Don’t let the premise of this book fool you. The author may be sharing recipes from brew pubs, but they are far from standard pub fare. The result is that the beer suggestions AND the recipes both have true foodie appeal. From breakfast to dessert, sauces to side dishes, the book covers all of your major dining categories. Some of the recipes use craft beer as in ingredient, but many are just a great compliment a tasty brew.

There are so many recipes that sound great, but here are a few that really make me salivate:

  • Beer-mosa – just as it sounds, a spin-off of the popular mimosa replacing champagne with beer
  • Bourbon Sweet Potato Tarts with Imperial Stout Sauce
  • Arrogant Bastard Ale Avocado Tacos
  • Curried Pumpkin Chicken Soup
  • Imperial Meat Pie
  • Truffled Potatoes – they had me at truffle
  • Pale Ale Pineapple Brown Sugar Cupcakes

The layout of the book is both visually appealing and easy to digest. Each recipe has information that is distinctive, so you can tell whether it is an ingredient list, instructions, beer suggestions, or general information about the recipe and/or brewer. The beer suggestions are particularly nice, offering specific brand suggestions as well as broad categories for each recipe. The profiles for the brewers/brewpubs provide great information providing in a witty tone of voice.

The book ends with some great reference information for the craft beer lover. The reference to all of the brewers and chefs featured in the book provides and easy way for readers to look up their favorite beer and recipes when travelling. There is also a fun road trips section, although a true craft beer travel guide could fill volumes. The beer festival list is a bit weak, there are SO many festivals and so few referenced in the list. I was hoping to see a recipe index included in the back of the book, fingers crossed that they include one in the final version that goes to press.

This is the first cookbook in a long time to peak my interest. These days, I am much more likely to look online for cooking ideas. The American Craft Beer Cookbook appeals to more than just my inner culinary genius, it also engages my interest in craft beer. The book has enough also has enough visual appeal to become a coffee table book, rather than just being relegated to my cookbook shelf. The suggested price of $23.95 is a great value.

*DISCLAIMER: This book was provided to me at no cost by the publisher as an advanced review copy through Net Galley.*

 

Contrary Erica’s Pet Peeves

As a brand new Guest Reviewer for Silk Screen Views, I think it’s no more than fair to give readers an idea of what kind of a person I am. My nickname on SSV is Contrary Erica and it should give you a bit of a clue already–I’m one of these people who will go against the grain just for the sake of it.

A prime example:  When I was about to go to university, all my classmates expected me to study English Language & Literature. It was one of the main reasons why I didn’t, and studied Slavonic Languages instead.

Another thing to know about me is that I am very, very easily annoyed. It is much easier to get me to go on forever about something I dislike than about something I like, just ask my husband. At one point he swore he was going to compile a list of all the things I hate and make me rate them, like some sort of perverted review system. He never did, but I can only say one thing: don’t get me started on pandas.

Anyway, that’s not to say that I don’t have many things I really really like, I’m just not as likely to get very passionate about them. Being a Guest Reviewer here is one way in which I hope to be able to change that.

With that in mind, this post will tackle the pet peeves I have about language that really bug me on a day to day basis. This can be spoken or written language, and they mostly happen in everyday life because thankfully they haven’t penetrated into the world of books yet.

Top of my list is the ever-increasing tendency for people to use both also and as well in the same sentence. I might be watching the six o’clock news, and the presenter, looking earnestly into the camera, says, “We have also asked this question of the Prime Minister as well.”

People, please get this straight: also and as well mean exactly the same thing! This is the worst possible tautology I’ve ever come across in my life, and it’s starting to permeate spoken language everywhere! (Well, in Britain at least. I have no idea whether Americans do this as well.)

The worst thing about this? Not only have I caught my husband doing this several times, it’s so all-pervasive that I’m starting to say it myself. I’m still noticing it when I do so, but I ask you – for how much longer? The thought sends a shiver up my spine.

Second on my list is a phenomenon of the written word, and no, it isn’t text-speak. Yes, text-speak annoys me to a certain degree, but it doesn’t drag its nails across the blackboard of my soul as much as does the expression ‘I could of done that’.

No, mister chav git! A thousand times no! You could have done that. Or, if you want to colloquialise it a bit more, you could’ve done that.

Of course, this more or less comes into the same category as people who cannot distinguish between it’s and its, or your and you’re, but at least those are proper heterographs. Okay, maybe could’ve and could of are also heterographs, but it’s just taking it a step too far, because ‘could of’ doesn’t actually mean anything, whereas its and it’s both do.

Number three on my list is a bit of a toss-up, in that I’m having difficulty deciding which of the next two annoys me more. However, after some deliberation I think it will have to be the incapacity of certain people to properly read and pronounce the word ‘mischievous’.

For the record, this is a three-syllable word with the stress on the first syllable: MIS-chie-vous. It is not a four-syllable word with the stress on the second syllable, like so many people seem to think. It is not mis-CHIE-vi-ous. It is derived from mischief, with -vous added to the end, just as grievous is derived from grief and nervous is derived from nerve.

So, a close fourth is the – again ever-increasing – tendency for people to refer to persons as ‘that’. As in, ‘the person that won the lottery last Friday’. Even a literary site such as Goodreads is falling foul to this phenomenon. I was trying to set up my author page, and Goodreads helpfully asked, ‘Are you the Erica Dakin that wrote The Ritual?’

‘No, Goodreads!’ I wanted to shout. ‘Last time I checked I was still a person, so I am the Erica Dakin who wrote The Ritual.’

During my year at Edinburgh University I was taught that this is actually a Scottish tendency, so it appears that it has worked its way south of the border and across the ocean. Well, much as I like the Scots, they can keep that particular linguistic fallacy.

At number five is that endless source of amusing internet photos which is the misuse of apostrophes, though in my case I’m particularly offended by apostrophes used to indicate a plural. Every day on my bus home from work I pass a dog-grooming parlour, and every day I somehow manage to look up from my book just long enough to see the notice in their window that says ‘Please take your dog’s to do their business before bringing them in.’

Please take my dog’s what to do its business? Why is it so hard for people to form a plural just by sticking an s at the end of a word? I mean, in English it’s pretty much the only plural that is left! It’s not even like Dutch, where if a word ends in a vowel the proper plural does include an apostrophe! Do people even know what the term plural means? Should I even bother pointing out that ‘dog’s’ is a possessive, or shall I anticipate the blank look of incomprehension at the word ‘possessive’ and just leave it?

Which brings me to another scourge of proper use of language: the inability of some people to differentiate between adjectives and adverbs. I don’t encounter it so much now that I don’t play World of Warcraft anymore, but the number of times I’ve seen people shout in general chat, “Looking for ‘blah’, paying good!”

And yes, I was pedantic enough every time to shout back, “No you’re not, you’re paying well!

Then we come to something which maybe shouldn’t be included in this particular post, but which annoys me enough that I have to get it off my chest. It concerns children.

Now, let me start by pointing out that I’m not very good with children. I don’t know what to do with them until they reach about age 15 and you can have a reasonably adult conversation with them. I’m not mother material, and I panic when someone hands me a baby and it starts to cry. Still, I appreciate that I’m a minority, and that there are many, many people who have children and are very happy with them.

That said, do you really have to let them address you as ‘mummaaaaaaaaayyyyyy’? I’ve lost count of the amount of toddlers on the bus, in the street, anywhere you like, who try to get their mother’s attention by uttering that elongated, drawn-out atrocity that makes me want to strangle a chicken. (Not the child. I know I could get into trouble for that.) I can handle ‘mum’. I can even handle ‘mu-huuuum’. But I cannot handle mummmaaaaayy. Is this another British thing? Do American children do the same? I’ll probably never know, nor do I particularly wish to find out.

My last pet peeve is a little obscure, I’m afraid, but I come across it often enough that it bothers me. It is the misuse of Old English ‘thou/thee/thy’. I was reminded of it by one of those amusing lolcat type photos someone posted on Facebook. It was funny, but it was spoilt by the fact that they’d used ‘thou’ when they should have used ‘thee’. Or the other way around, I can’t remember. So let me clarify this for those of you who aren’t sure which to use when.

Thou is used as the subject: “Prithee, thou art a very handsome prince!” the fool cackled.

Thee is used as the object, either direct: “Verily, I thought I had warned thee!”

Or indirect: “Forsooth, had I known, I would not have given thee my dog!”

Thy is possessive: “Egads, thy britches are straining to contain thee!”

For completion’s sake I should mention thine as well, which is another possessive for which I don’t know the English term, but it’s the kind of possessive which you use independently: “Take us!” the nuns cried, “we are thine!”

Apologies for the overuse of exclamation marks there. Old English people were obviously very shouty.

Now, before anyone berates me for being very harsh on people, and points out that all this stuff can be pretty difficult to learn, please remember this: I am foreign, and I managed to learn it. I’m a stickler for correct grammar, and whilst I cannot claim that I always get it right, I damn well give it my best effort, and I am mortified if I get it wrong. To me it is only natural that I expect other people to make the same kind of effort.

This likely marks me as a very judgmental person, which I suppose I am, but I have been enlisted by the lovely people of Silk Screen Views to deliver judgment on the books I read, so I have justification. Please let me leave you with one last observation: this is probably the worst I can be, and I am normally much nicer.

o–o—o–o

This post was adapted from an entry on my own blog. Feel free to pay me a visit and read some less judgmental posts.

Fear Nothing ~ Dean Koontz

  • Title: Fear Nothing
  • Author: Dean Koontz
  • Series: Moonlight Bay #1
  • Genre: Horror, Mystery
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Emma, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Fear, compassion, evil, courage, hope, wonder, the exquisite terror of not knowing what will happen on the next page to characters you care about deeply—these are the marvels that Dean Koontz weaves into the unique tapestry of every novel. His storytelling talents have earned him the devotion of fans around the world, making him one of the most popular authors of our time, with more than 200 million copies of his books sold worldwide.

If you are already a fan, prepare yourself to settle into a novel Dean Koontz considers perhaps his best work to date. If you are a brand-new Dean Koontz reader, buckle up for what will be a most breathtaking ride through the long, enthralling night of…

Christopher Snow is different from all the other residents of Moonlight Bay, different from anyone you’ve ever met. For Christopher Snow has made his peace with a very rare genetic disorder shared by only one thousand other Americans, a disorder that leaves him dangerously vulnerable to light. His life is filled with the fascinating rituals of one who must embrace the dark. He knows the night as no one else ever will, ever can—the mystery, the beauty, the many terrors, and the eerie, silken rhythms of the night—for it is only at night that he is free.

Until the night he witnesses a series of disturbing incidents that sweep him into a violent mystery only he can solve, a mystery that will force him to rise above all fears and confront the many-layered strangeness of Moonlight Bay and its residents.

Once again drawing daringly from several genres, Dean Koontz has created a narrative that is a thriller, a mystery, a wild adventure, a novel of friendship, a rousing story of triumph over severe physical limitations, and a haunting cautionary tale.

Review:  Though I’ve read this book before, I really didn’t remember the details. I did remember Christopher Snow and I really like the parameters that Dean Koontz has set for this character. Night scenes in scary books are always more sinister, but having the protagonist be allergic to the sun is an intriguing proposition. Usually, the night creatures in books and films are the antagonist, where they can exercise their formidable, if somewhat vicious and sadistic, advantages over their poor unsuspecting victims.

Here, Koontz gives our protagonist the night, but he does not give him supernatural powers with which to defend himself against the sinister forces in the story. In fact, he gives him nothing other than a personality that we can admire and an emotionally sensitive dog (whom I love).

Though I do agree that he spends rather a lot of the book inside Snowman’s head, I like that. It is a constant reminder that Christopher Snow is alone in the world. He has his dog, his friend, and his girlfriend, but being alone is what has made Christopher Snow into the person that he is. His condition has always kept him on the periphery of what is perceived as “normal life” and, in this instance, I think it aids the haunting atmosphere of the story.

With many other books, I may find this amount of telling as opposed to showing to be tedious, but the quality of Koontz’s writing keeps me immersed in the story, almost as though I am watching events unfold from just behind the Snowman’s shoulder. I’ve really enjoyed reading it again but, if I’m honest, it’s not one of my favourite Dean Koontz books.

Written in Red ~ Anne Bishop

  • Title: Written in Red
  • Author: Anne Bishop
  • Series: Others #1
  • Genre: Fantasy, UF
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Soo
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  No one creates realms like New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop. Now in a thrilling new fantasy series, enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

Review:  Anne Bishop is on my favorite authors to read. She was one of the handful of new authors I really loved “discovering” several years ago. When I found out that she had a new book out, I was pretty excited to see what it’s about. For the past few months, I’ve been following a frequently updated short list of books to read. It’s the best way to juggle the different books I’ve decided to read for various reasons. Sometimes I have to kick the list to the curb and just do what I want. That’s exactly what I did when I picked up Written in Red and it was TOTALLY worth it!

I really enjoy Anne Bishop’s writing style. Her ideas take something I’m familiar with and gives it an edge, perspective and tweak that makes it her own. She creates rich worlds with equal attention to detail for both light and dark elements. I always love the core characters that make up her stories. They are a believable mix of the subtle layers that makes up a person who they are. Now, I have a whole new world and cast to cheer, boo and discover. It’s great!

I read the book in one day. It wrapped me up in story arms and shook off the bad temper I had romping to snarl out. At first, I was a little reserved in what to think about the story but that quickly changed as events tumbled along and swept me up along the currents of the story. There were countless moments where I wanted to post a quote from the book on my favorite book discussion group but I didn’t because I realized it would be hard to quote the book without giving background info or spoilers. It’s all about context.

Close your eyes. Take even breathes in and out. Clear your mind of everything. Imagine an alternate Earth world called Namid. There’s the same climate, continents, passing of the seasons and time ticking away but it’s not our world. It just seems like it. For one thing, Namid is alive with what we would call supernatural. Filled with fictional beings and things that only exist in our stories and imaginations. In this world, the natives of the alternate America are the terra indigene and when humans set foot on the land with the intention to “take” what they have found. Well, they were eaten. The terra indigene tasted a new kind of meat, absorbed this new information and remembered. Eventually, adventurous humans with open minds came to the new land and established trading with terra indigene. They were given land to live on and the humans began to live amongst those they call the Others.

Time passed, the human population grew in leaps and bounds. The Others allowed the humans to integrate further in their lands and an uneasy bond of cohabitation formed. The Others maintained control of the land and water sources. The humans develop inventions, electricity and other goods that intrigue terra indigene. Though they live side by side, the years haven’t made it easier for the humans to understand the Others or for the terra indigene to see humans as much more than meat. It’s hard to see humans as something more when they smell like prey. In order to foster good will, terra indigene made small communities called Courtyards that have integrated stores that allow humans to buy terra indigene goods. It also the place where products purchased by the Others are delivered. A human Liaison works as the postmaster of incoming and outgoing deliveries. They’re the mini-ambassadors between the species. At least, that’s how it’s suppose to be.

H. L. D. N. A.

What does that mean? It’s rather simple: Human Law Does Not Apply.

Anyone with half a brain knows that the Others follow their own rules. Know that humans are considered weak prey and those who do not follow the rules are eaten. The Lakeside Courtyard has an opening for Liaison. On a wild winter night, Meg Corbyn stumbles into Howling Good Reads to apply for the job. It can’t be worse than freezing to death. She might be safe at the Courtyard. After all, it’s not the Others that are searching for Meg. It’s humans. But here, Human Law Does Not Apply. She just needs to stop shaking long enough to ask for the job. Piercing amber eyes rake over Meg before Simon Wolfgard tells her to go to the cafe that’s attached to the bookstore to talk about the job. The sign by the door states:

PAY FOR BOOKS BEFORE ENTERING A LITTLE BITE OR WE’LL TAKE A BITE OUT OF YOU.

On the other side of the connecting door is another sign:

SURE, YOU CAN TAKE THAT MUG. WE’LL JUST KEEP YOUR HAND IN EXCHANGE.

The words didn’t really register but Meg didn’t think the signs were a joke. They’re a warning.

Simon’s not sure why the human is lying about her name but that was the only lie he could sense in her words. She doesn’t seem dangerous but he still feels ill at ease around her. It doesn’t matter. She needs a job and he needs a Liaison or deliveries will stop coming to the Courtyard. The shivering monkey is a puzzle and he’s going to keep her around until he figures it out.

In a haze of quick questions and orders, Meg lands her first job, fed, shown to her own apartment, ordered to clean up, given clean clothes and falling asleep in her new bed from exhaustion and the knowledge that Death will find her at the Courtyard. This is the place from the prophecy. He’s the one she’s seen. This is the place she’s dreamed about and this is the place she’ll die but for now she’s safe.

No one at the Courtyard is exactly what they seem to be. If you stop measuring the Others by human standards, it’ll be much easier to take in and understand. It’s a good thing Meg is like a blank canvas ready to be drawn upon. She may be in her mid-twenties but she has the experience of a young child. Everything is new and familiar. Knowing the concept isn’t the same as knowing how to apply the idea. Meg doesn’t know what a person is suppose to be like. She only has her own experience to measure by. To her, everything is new. Everything is bright, colorful, bizarre and wonderful to experience for the first time. To her careful gaze, the whole world is dangerous and different but she’s game to find out what the world is really like.

A host of mismatched characters are just waiting to be discovered in the book. Tess with her wild hair that changes colors and style with her quick temper moods. Just stay away from her when her hair changes to black. Gentle Henry that creates amazing things out of wood with his hands. The rascal ponies who are more than cute beasts that help to deliver the mail. A beautiful woman that skates alone in a fluttering white dress in the midst of winter. Teasing Jester that loves to share his font of wisdom and quick to laugh with the knowledge he didn’t. Lush Asia that dreams of being a star of her own TV show. Honorable Officer Monty that just wants to keep the peace. The talkative Crows that watch everything and talk about everyone. A scared little wolf pup that finds shelter in a cage.

Dive into a new world, get to know the people that call Lakeside home, see if Simon manages to figure Meg out and be ready to roll with the many feelings you’ll feel as you come along for a zany ride.

Is it terrible that I laugh every time Simon talks about the humans as monkeys? I know, I know. I’m a terrible person! Hah! If anyone feels like Asia deserves a few kicks in her ample rear, I’m in.

I really loved reading this story and I can’t wait for the next one! This book is definitely one of my favorite books of the year. I think a large part of the reason why I love the story so much is due to the fact that I was able to experience the story as it happened and learned a lot by characters interacting with one another. I didn’t feel like story was told at me. It’s great to be able to sink into a story and have it happen around me. Thanks, Anne, for a wonderful story to lose myself in for a while.

4.5 Stars for Written in Red

Balloon Animals ~ Jonathan Dunne

  • Title: Balloon Animals
  • Author: Jonathan Dunne
  • Genre: Literature, Fiction
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Emma, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  BALLOON ANIMALS is a pilgrimage and road-trip of unusual dimensions.

Follow me, Jonny Rowe, on a wild goose-chase from Ireland to the USA with my American grandfather’s remains in my red birthday balloon. I use ‘remains’ in the loosest sense of the word: my grandfather, 45, puffed his last breaths of air into my birthday balloon before suffering a massive heart attack right there at my birthday party which becomes my deathday party.

Feeling responsible for 45’s death and as a thank-you for filling Clinical Dad’s void after leaving that questionable suicide note, I make it my quest to return 45 to his birthplace amongst the corn of Iowa, USA, suspended inside his soul-bubble. This journey might also help me with my identity-crisis … I’m a genealogy student, by the way. And who knows, maybe I’ll find love. I tend to find things when I’m not looking for them. I have more detours than I had planned because 45 isn’t the man we thought we knew … if we ever knew him.

Join me on a desperate race against time to unveil the truth as my birthday balloon begins to deflate and loose 45 forever to the wind.

Review:  The book starts funny and just kept going. I frequently found myself laughing out loud at “Mrs Brown’s Boys” type Irish humour which, I have to say, Mr Dunne captures beautifully with his observational writing.

The book is very clever in that it lulls you into a false sense of complacency. Leading you to think the book will be one farcical episode after another, which I quite like. However, the book is much more than that. Once you have a clear sense of who Jonny Rowe and his back-up cast (Cha, The Reiki Mistress and Vera), the story suddenly bursts forth amidst the humour and grows into itself. It still maintains its humour but the adventure really promotes curiosity in the reader and the book then takes on the mantle of “Mystery”. That’s when I found it really difficult to put the book down. I just had to know who 45 really was!

My respect for Jonny Rowe grew through the story. I do believe that was Mr Dunne’s intention as Jonny Rowe himself matured and grew to respect himself through the ups and downs of his adventure. This book is a story of personal discovery, written under the guise of humour, but with a genuinely emotional backbone that, in my opinion, provides the foundation for the humour to work.

I doff my cap to you, Mr Dunne, and thank you warmly for the laughs (and the tears).