Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review of Summoned to the Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones

Image of Summoned to Thirteenth Grave: A Novel (Charley Davidson Series)

Author: Darynda Jones
Release Date: January 15, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 304
Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper extraordinaire, is pissed. She’s been kicked off the earthly plain for eternity, which is the appropriate amount of time to make a person stark raving mad. But someone’s looking out for her, and she’s allowed to return after a mere 100 years in exile. Is it too much to hope for that not much has changed? Apparently it is. Bummer. She’s missed her daughter. She’s missed Reyes.

She’s missed Cookie and Garrett and Uncle Bob. But now that she’s back on earth, it’s time to put to rest burning questions that need answers. What happened to her mother? How did she really die? Who killed her? And are cupcakes or coffee the best medicine for a broken heart? It all comes to a head in an epic showdown between good and evil.

In Summoned to Thirteenth Grave, New York Times bestselling author Darynda Jones brings the beloved paranormal Charley Davidson series to a satisfyingly brilliant conclusion. The winner of numerous literary awards, Jones has penned over two dozen novels that includes the wildly successful YA Darklight trilogy series.

Charley Davidson is back from exile after “One hundred seven years, two months, fourteen days, twelve hours, and thirty-three minutes.” She’s been tormented by dreams of a husband she could not touch and a daughter she could not protect. Davidson finds upon her return that an evil force has emerged out of the hell dimension. A portal that she unintentionally opened and it’s taking over Albuquerque. “. . . did we just start the zombie apocalypse? Is the extinction of the human race going to be on our heads?”

How appropriate is it that this is the 13th and final installment. A brilliant and fitting ending to a wickedly adored series. It is choke full of everything a reader of the genre would want, humor, suspense, and most of all, the ultimate love story between Charley and Reyes.

What is most impressive is how Jones balances wit, suspense, and sultry sexiness, while adding crazy new developments to the plot. She effortlessly manages to tie up the loose ends for the each of the main characters, which is a daunting task, but Jones does it easily and effectively. Charley Davidson and her snappy and often sarcastic sense of humor will be missed.

“...bring one person back from the dead and bam. Banished for all eternity. Exiled to hell with no light, no hair products, and no coffee.”

Davidson is an amazing character augmented by a cast of extraordinarily engaging secondary characters. The entire series hasn’t been solely about resolving mysteries or fighting evil, it was about building bonds of friendship. These relationships are at the center of the series and this is the essential reason why these novels have been so successful.
With a whimsical plot and is an astonishingly bitter sweet, yet satisfying conclusion, Summoned to Thirteenth Grave does not disappoint. Fans of this series will be delighted and while the number 13 is considered by some people to be unlucky, the only unfortunate ones will be those that don't pick up a copy of this book.

This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on January 15, 2019 -

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review of Children of God by Lars Petter Sveen

Image of Children of God: A Novel
Author: Lars Petter Sveen
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Pages: 256
“Jesus turned to all the others gathered there. He raised up his hands and said, Demons have occupied this land, they’re the army of darkness. A legion of them is moving across the land . . . Their evil fills us until we can’t take any more, until we carry out the most abominable acts. Their darkness makes abode in us, their evil becomes our evil . . . I will drive out those demons. I say to you, I will push them out, I will throw them into the abyss.”
Lars Petter Sveen was named one of Norway’s ten best authors under 35 and has won numerous literary awards. Children of God is his first book to be translated into English (Guy Puzey) and was first published in Norway where it won the Per Olov Enquist Literary Prize. Thought provoking and reflective, Children of God sheds light upon obscure stories and people of the bible who have been marginalized. It gives voice to those living on the peripheries of the New Testament such as thieves, Roman soldiers, prostitutes, lepers, healers, and the occasional disciple. Sveen delves into well-trodden territory but delivers a marvelously refreshing and unusual fictionalized literary interpretation that’s devoid of judgement or preaching.
In 13 easy to read chapters Sveen explores such poignant story’s such as the detachment of Roman soldiers who question and hesitate to carry out King Herod’s decree to kill all the young male children of Bethlehem. Other accounts include a group of thieves who encounter no good Samaritans but themselves on the road to Jericho. While another follows a woman searching for her dead lover but cannot find comfort.
At critical stages throughout each of these stories evil appears, urging each of the characters to give in to their shadowy impulses. The battle between good and evil is never ending and as each of these uniquely intertwined accounts unfolds, the moral and ethical dilemmas never fail to surprise. 
“We’d stared off counting all the children, but lost track of the number as the night went on. Our orders were hopeless: this wasn’t what we were fighting for . . . we’d been sent to this place at the edge of the Empire, where everything was so mixed up, so confusing . . . The chorus of wails had not died down and could still be heard like a wind blowing from the wilderness . . . but this was something different . . . It belonged to the wind or the rain or the sea or whatever grows in the depths below . . . We did whatever we could to put off having to shut our eyes and be left alone in the dark.”
Children of God brings the stories of the New Testament into a fresh light by focusing on the importance of storytelling as it relates to religious interpretation in the 21st century. Sveen is convincing and conclusive as he reflects on the challenges of traditional religious beliefs as they pertain to the neverending fight between good and evil. A truly spellbinding and original read that captures the chaos and confusion, as well as the fear and uncertainty that followers of Jesus experienced.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and the award winning author of eight nonfiction books.
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on October 23, 2018 -

Friday, October 19, 2018

Review of Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Image of Bridge of Clay (Signed Edition)
Author: Markus Zusak
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 544
“In the beginning there was one murderer, one mule and one boy, but this isn’t the beginning . . . Yes, always for us there was a brother, and he was the one—the one of us amongst five of us—who took all of it on his shoulders.”
The five Dunbar brothers are living with their menagerie of pets in the perfect chaos of a house made by their own rules. Today, the father who walked out on them long ago walks back in. And so, the life of Clay, the quiet one with a harrowing secret, is about to change forever. He is the one who will build a bridge, for greatness, for his sins. A miracle and nothing less. From a grandfather, whose parents’ passion for the ancient Greeks still lights up their lives, to a mother and father who fell in love over a mislaid piano, to the present day, where five sons laugh and fight and reckon with the adult word.
Bridge of Clay is an extraordinarily brilliant but tragically poignant tale of family secrets and how one boy risks everything to save it all. New York Times bestselling author Markus Zusak makes his much-anticipated return with this powerful and deeply genuine story. He is the author of six novels including The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger
“Let me tell you about our brother. The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay. Everything happened to him. We were all of us changed through him.”
Bridge of Clay is an enormously ambitious undertaking and Zusak’s views about the power of love are refreshing and inspiring. A novel of contrasts, it shows a world that is both kind and loving but also cruel and hateful. The character development is intricate and extraordinary, allowing for a deep understanding of all that is possible within the realm of the human spirit—an animated and heartfelt journey that is filled with moving descriptions of family and loss and the quest for a miracle.
Be advised this novel is not an easy book to read and takes a tremendous amount of effort and stamina, but the completion is phenomenally rewarding. Interwoven with touches of romance and wit: it is obvious that Zusak was bound and determined to celebrate the quirks and idiosyncrasies of flawed people living in an imperfect world. Beautifully written and thought provoking, Bridge of Clay will tug at your heart strings; and at the essential core of the novel is the delightfully uplifting message that life tends to find a way to make things right in the end.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and the award winning author of eight nonfiction books. 
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on October 19, 2018 -

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review of No Good Deed by Victor Gischler

Image of No Good Deed: A Thriller
Author: Victor Gischler
Release date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Tor Forge Books
Pages: 256
"Francis could see only the vague outline of her in the darkness, but it seemed as if her head was cocked, listening. A few seconds later, she blew out a sigh, seemed satisfied, and flipped on the light switch. ‘I need my suitcase.’ She wasn’t what Francis had pictured.”
Francis Berringer is a minor cog in a corporate machine. His girlfriend just left him. He can’t tie his tie straight. His life takes a sudden turn when he’s running late for work one morning and stumbles across a suitcase full of women’s clothes and an odd business card with only an email address on it. He knows he shouldn’t get involved but can’t resist. He sends a message to the email address and arranges the return of the suitcase. The way Francis’ life is going, he could use a little karma, so why not do a good deed?
“A blinking red flag on his computer monitor caught his attention, a message in his in-box. I have your office address. I’m coming for the suitcase. Do not contact me via this email again. Ghost Girl. He sighed. You have a way with the ladies, Francis.”
And then the girl shows up, a slender good looking blond, nose ring, tattoos, bomber jacket, army boots, and all. Berringer is intrigued by the attractive stranger and soon finds himself dodging bullets and doing his best to stay alive, wishing he’d never bothered with that suitcase in the first place. A muscle car, automatic pistols, and a girl with a secret. Francis doesn’t have a lot of experience with these things, and all he knows is that the bad guys are after him and the good guys are, too.
Victor Gischler’s writing spans multiple genres—crime thrillers, satirical science fiction, and epic fantasy. Gischler’s debut novel Gun Monkeys (2001, Dell) was nominated for the Edgar Award, and his novel Shotgun Opera (2006, Dell) was an Anthony Award finalist.
No Good Deed tells the story of a regular guy who tries to do the right thing but finds himself in an unexpected situation. Who doesn't root for a down-on-his-luck, reluctant good guy protagonist who’s unwittingly mixed up in a mystery? Toss in a good-looking woman who’s filled with secrets, throw in a gang of criminal hooligans, and a cold-hearted antagonist government agent and you’ve got the recipe for a fun and rewarding read.
“The squeal of tires and the roar of an engine drew Francis’s attention. His head snapped around to see a black sedan rounding the corner behind him. It gunned the engine again, bearing down with alarming sped. ‘Run!’ The girl sprinted ahead, not even waiting to see if Francis followed.”
Overall, Gischler’s writing style is fast-paced, humorous, and loaded with thrills and chills. The plotline is dynamic and chock full of edge of your seat surprises. This gripping, free-wheeling joy ride of a whodunnit invariably leaves the reader unabashedly cheering for the heroes and jeering the villains.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and the author of eight nonfiction books.
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on September 10, 2018 -

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Review of Monster City by Michael Arntfield

Image of Monster City: Murder, Music, and Mayhem in Nashville’s Dark Age
Author: Michael Arntfield
Release date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Little A
Pages: 300
“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe.” —Henry Davis Thoreau, “Winter”
Nashville is a hub for hopeful musicians and a magnet for country music fans. It’s often referred to as Music City, and by the time Pat Postiglione arrived there in 1980, it had already borne witness to a string of brutal unsolved sex slayings. These murders would serve as a portent to worse things to come. As Postiglione was promoted from Metro beat cop to detective sergeant in the elite cold-case unit “Murder Squad,” some of America’s most heinous, elusive, and violent serial killers were calling Nashville home. Over the next two decades, the body count continued to climb.
From Vanderbilt University to dive bars and out-of-the-way motels, Postiglione followed the blood-stained tracks of these ever-escalating crimes—each perpetrated by a different killer who had one thing in common: the intent to murder without motive or remorse. But of all the investigations, of all the fiends Postiglione hunted, few were as frightening, or as game changing, as the Rest Stop Killer: a homicidal trucker who turned the interstates into his trolling ground. His next stop was Nashville, but Postiglione was waiting.
“. . . he hadn’t returned to Music City for the pedal steels, fiddles, or line dancing . . . He was awake now. His eyes wide open. When it was all over, they would use newfangled terms like activated psychopath and malignant narcissist to try to capture the essence of his malevolence—to clinically classify and quantify his pure evil . . . He’d inevitably fooled just about everyone . . . But there was one person he couldn’t fool. It was the one cop who’s caught him—the same cop who’d solved his first murder and who’d lock him up . . .”
Michael Arntfield is a true crime broadcaster, university professor, former police detective, and author of over a dozen books and articles that include the bestselling Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada's Serial Killer Capital, 1959–1984 (2015, Friesen Press). In his captivating new book, Monster City: Murder, Music and Mayhem in Nashville’s Dark Age, Arntfield examines the true accounts of the serial killers who terrorized Nashville during the last decades of the 20th century and the elite police squad that was determined to bring them to justice. In it he contends that the characteristics of the serial killings committed during this time frame were perpetrated by “the hedonistic-thrill killer . . . a special breed of psychopath with an insatiable desire for stimulation.”
Throughout Monster City Arntfield does an excellent job of detailing the investigations, forensics, and theories behind the motivations of these brutal murders. It is a powerful expose that studies the deep dark nature of the criminal mind.
Although at times Arntfield’s writing style tends to be a little bit sensational and there’s some repetition, overall this book is informative and shines a spotlight on some of Nashville’s most brutal and long forgotten crimes. It also does an excellent job of describing the heroic police detectives who put themselves in harm’s way. These brave men and women through countless hours of self-sacrifice to pursue these heinous criminals to make our streets safe for everyone. Their steadfast resolve and persistence must be honored and applauded. Monster City will make an excellent addition to any true crime enthusiast's library.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of eight nonfiction books and a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.

This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on September 7, 2018 -