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Review: Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

Half-Resurrection Blues (Bone Street Rumba, #1)

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

“A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.”― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

Carlos Delacruz lives as an enigma. Well, half-lives. You see, when the New York Council of the Dead brought him back, they literally did a half-assed job. With only the faintest memory of having suffered horribly, the rest of his life before his half-resurrection is a blank. He thinks he is Puerto Rican (well, at least that is what they told him – and he has to admit, it does feel right) but other than that? His life began on the day he died.

Now Carlos works for the council, taking care of the unseen of New York, the maybe-sorta-might-be-dead and others collectively known as the inbetweeners, making them really dead with the sword concealed in his cane. Hey, it may not be much of a life, but it’s his. He gets his fun from pissing off the council members whenever possible, and he has a few close friends – even if most of them are ghosts. It is difficult, being so alone, so different. As far as he knows, he is one of a kind, the only inbetweener he knows of who exists in this half-resurrected state.

But that is about to change, because there really are more like him. And they are determined to take down the wall between life and death, to open the entrada to the Underworld.

I listened to Half-Resurrection Blues, which is narrated by the author, Daniel José Older. His delivery is, in a word, musical. The story caresses the ear in a flow of lightly Puerto Rican accented English with a Brooklyn tone that carries the soulful cadence of a Blind Willie Johnson tune. I would compare his writing to one of my absolute favorites, James Lee Burke (and if I did that, you know I enjoyed it), in setting a tempo that draws you into the life of not only a man lost in pain and loneliness, but also into the attitude and rhythms of the Brooklyn Barrio. The imagery is knife sharp, cutting away artifice and revealing the soul of the character, and of the world in which he lives.

Carlos is sarcastic, with a biting humor that often takes a moment to comprehend, something I totally enjoyed. He is the perfect noir hero, Malaguena cigar tucked firmly between his lips, sharply dressed, calm and collected. He strolls the barrio, sliding between the worlds of the living and the dead, always calm, cool and collected. The perfect Puerto Rican don, hat pulled low and shoes shined. The people he knows, and the people he meets, though some cannot really be called “people” any longer – they are ghosts, trapped in the world of the here-and-now – have their own quirks, worries, and existences, often beyond even Carlos’ comprehension.

Mr. Older’s story offers that edge of heartbreak and loneliness that gives his characters depth, while his own voice is the perfect vehicle for the narration. I loved it, and will be reading the others in the series.

Way Back Wednesday: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe By Robert Goldsborough

Archie meets nero wolfe by robert goldsborough 2015 02 24Everyone seems to be doing “special” days – so I thought I would do a “Way Back Wednesday” – books I enjoyed as a youngster and still enjoy today.

Nero Wolfe is the eccentric genius featured in 72 stories (33 novels, 39 novellas) published between 1934 and 1975.

Rex Stout stated that he is the literary agent of Archie Goodwin, who writes the stories in the first person. Nero Wolfe, along with his household staff of Archie, Fritz Brenner, the chef, and Theodore Horstmann, the “orchid nurse,” reside in Mr. Wolfe’s double-wide brownstone townhouse on West Thirty Fifth Street in New York City. Mr. Wolfe rarely leaves the brownstone. – http://www.nerowolfe.org

The Nero Wolfe stories are a big favorite of mine, and this introduction of the Archie Goodwin character, by Robert Goldsborough is the winner of the Lovey Award for Best Historical Novel and a prequel to the Nero Wolfe Mysteries. Enjoy!

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

A loving tribute to the celebrated Rex Stout by an award-winning author: When Archie Goodwin seeks his fortune in New York City, he finds nonstop adventure as an assistant to legendary detective Nero Wolfe. With over 170 five-star Amazon reviews.

$1.99 – or FREE with Kindle Unlimited
Originally: $9.99

Amazon B & N Google

Deal ends: March 31

Category: Mysteries

Review: Flash Blood by Joseph Hirsch

23501227I don’t do drugs. I am drugs. – Salvador Dali

It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience. – Julius Caesar

 

I was really torn over my read of Hirsch’s “Flash Blood”. It starts out so well. James Arklow is a former cop turned detective/criminology professor/PI potboiler author of a ‘certain age’ who is approached by an ex-junkie – an ex-junkie with tons of money, and an offer of hundreds of thousands of dollars if Arklow will locate a single person. Thaddeus Smith is an ex-soldier who Dan Maple is desperate to find. And he will do anything – anything – to find Thad. For Thad is very special, in a very terrible way.

The story is very noir – the older detective, the sidekick, the gritty story line. The descriptive narrative is extremely well done, the character development is wonderful. That all works well, right up until the last few chapters. Then, in my opinion, it runs off the rails. There is no answer to some important questions – especially the question of how Thad’s blood wound up being so incredibly addictive. There is also a rather oddball twist to the ending that, to me, turned this from exceptional noir to something more akin to a 70’s model Batman cartoon. I found it disappointing. It almost felt like the author was on a roll – and then suddenly he ran out of steam, lost his concentration, and just gave up.

What could have been a 4-star dropped a full star for me, which is a shame. I read his Kentucky Bestiary and truly enjoyed it (Oddly attractive, oddly odd. . ., October 11, 2014). Possibly, at another time, I will give it another read and feel differently about the ending. Until then, I will stick by my 3-star rating as compared to my 4-star KB review.

I received the book from the author in return for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own. If you enjoy my reviews, please leave a “Yes” response on Amazon. Thank you!

Review: Hard Spell: Occult Crimes Unit Investigations, Book 1

hardspell“My name’s Markowski, a Detective Sergeant on the Scranton PD’s Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.”  – Markowski, Hard Spell

Death is when the monsters get you. – Stephen King

Scranton, Pennsylvania fifty years after WWII is a different place than one might expect.  When millions of Americans poured into Europe to fight in the war, they picked up a little something extra to bring back home besides war wives and interesting STD’s. Quaint little things like cases of werewolves and vampires and zombies (oh, my!) Needless to say, it changed the way life is lived in the good ol’ US of A. Instead of McCarthy going after ‘Commies’ he gets to do real, honest-to-goodness witch hunts – for real witches. . .

There is a lot to like about Hard Spell. There is humor and a great deal of creativity that I got a kick out of. Gustainis writes an engaging tale with a strong noir flavour which reminds me quite a bit of the feeling I get from the Nightside stories by Simon R. Green – one of my favorite series of all time. There is a feeling of reality in the very unreal situations of the book, which was pleasing. However, the role of women characters in the book was, well, I hesitate to say “demeaning” but it comes very close to the razor edge of treating women as lesser beings – something that I found less than enjoyable. Even the female SWAT team member was portrayed in a less than admirable manner – something that irritated me to no end. I wanted to shake the author and remind him that “noir” doesn’t equate with “testosterone poisoning.”

I listened to the book – the Audible edition. As much as I enjoyed Gustainis’ work, I cannot say the same for the narrator. He was, in a word, completely irritating. What narrator worth his salt cannot be bothered to check pronunciations?!?! The guy STINKS at pronunciation! Come on – you don’t know how to pronounce “were” as in “werewolf??” Weer (like a Bostonian we’re)  is not even close to correct, Peter. It is rather insulting to the author that you can’t be bothered to take a moment to learn pronunciations.  Especially for such common terms.

Overall, I knocked a full star off for poor narration. Another half star for some problems with trite characterizations (especially the handling of Markowski’s first partner) and with his tendency to treat his characters with something less than respect. Overall, however, this was a completely bad introduction to the series. I hope to find a more well rounded volume with the next in the series, Evil Dark: Occult Crimes Unit Investigations, Book 2 – though I won’t be buying the Audible edition. Five more minutes of Peter Brooke and I may have been forced to throw my reader across the room. . .

 

Review: Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco – A New Favorite!

unshapely
Mark Del Franco’s Connor Grey gives both John and Harry a run for their money!
Click to order!

Detail. Some readers don’t really care about it – they simply want a book that they can pick up, breeze through, and go on to the next thing. Oh, that has its place, certainly. However, that has never been me. Rich details, complexity, and compelling story lines are what call to me as a reader, and del Franco offers these up in spades.

 Unshapely Things is an urban fantasy, to be sure, with fairies and elves, gargoyles and monsters, and a damaged Druid hero, Connor Grey. Connor puts me in mind of both Simon R. Green’s John Taylor and Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. Like Harry, Connor pretty much lives hand-to-mouth, taking the jobs he can get from the police. With his brain damaged and his Druid powers pretty much non-existent, Connor has been fighting a losing battle against depression and ennui as he slides from a life of power and wealth into the “The Weird,” the fae neighborhood where the dregs of both the fae and human worlds reside. You won’t find vampires in this world, but you will find dirty politicians galore – isn’t it the same thing?

 When his human police partner, Leo Murdock calls him to the scene of a brutal murder of a male fairy prostitute, Connor has no idea that this murder could be a signpost to the end of the world – with Boston as the center of the maelstrom. What follows is a story that I found to be something quite special. This isn’t just an urban fantasy. Instead, it blends alternate history with suspense, mystery wit terror, and ties it all together with a huge dose of political intrigue.

 In 1900, on this alternative Earth, there was “Convergence” – an event which brought the world of Fairy and the Earth into alignment, pulling Fairy creatures onto this planet, effectively blocking them from their own. Battling between themselves, they drug the war between fairy and elf onto this world, battling it out through the World Wars, with some siding with Hitler while some sided with the Allies. The time of the story lands right into modern day, during the Fey Summit, an attempt by both sides to extend an uneasy peace and avoid all-out war. As the bodies pile up, is there a possibility that the deaths are connected to the Fey Summit? Or is there something even darker and more dangerous going on?

 Mark Del Franco writes exceptional characters. Connor was damaged during his work for “The Guild” the policing agency for the Fey on Earth. Broken, and with limited powers, he is living in poverty on a small disability check, pondering his losses and the wasteland he sees as the rest of his life. His partner, Murdock may be human, but with all of the bad feelings, jealousies, and hatred of most humans toward the Fey, he is curious and open to learning of the Fey and their ways. He cares what happens to them, and relies upon Connor as his instructor.

 Del Franco’s female characters are both strong and likable, with individual strengths and personalities that I am very much looking forward to learning more about. This isn’t by any means a “paranormal romance” but if you are a PR reader who likes strong, adept women characters who still follow their hearts as well as their minds, these women will be right up your alley. The story is rich in detail, both in the world building and the characterizations, and holds the attention until setting the book down and remembering you have to do things like eat and sleep will be impossible to accomplish.

 Overall, this is a series sure to appeal to a number of different genre readers, and a new-to-me author who goes immediately to the top of my “must” list.

I purchased this book on my own. My comments are my own opinion.

 Reading order for the series is:

delfranco
Mark Del Franco
Click to go to his website

UNSHAPELY THINGS

UNQUIET DREAMS
UNFALLEN DEAD
UNPERFECT SOULS
UNCERTAIN ALLIES
UNDONE DEEDS

 Mark Del Franco is also the author of the books:

SKIN DEEP

FACE OFF

Set in the Connor Gray alternative reality, these books feature the adventures of Laura Blackstone.

Review: Play Him Again: A Matt Hudson Roaring 20’s Crime Novel

play him again
Click to look inside.

Note: I was originally asked by the writer to review this book when it first came out March 17, 2012, and received a copy for free. Before I was halfway through, I went back to Smashwords and purchased the book. This great a read deserves a payment to the author!

The Essex Super Six Coupe rolled over the redwood planking, shattered the wooden railing at the end of the Sunset Pier, and plunged into the Pacific Ocean.

 

I am not normally a student of American History. While the great histories of Egypt and the Mesopotamian regions are well within my purview, possibly my Native American history makes the history of the US after the arrival of the white man more painful than I care to think about. However, the period of this book, the 1920’s, the age of the Volstead Act and some of the bloodiest of the country, other than the Civil War, is admittedly fascinating. And Jeffrey Stone does an incredible job of making you feel like you are there, in the period, and know these people he is writing about.

The thing I totally admire about the book is Mr. Stone’s grasp of the period. His research was flawless. The main characters of the book are `rumrunners,’ those brave (and, of course, criminal) purveyors of `distilled spirits’, which were made illegal by the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This act of hubris, brought on by the efforts of `temperance societies’ in the US, created an atmosphere of violence and greed across the country unseen at any other period. Billions of dollars in tax revenues were lost (could the Great Depression have been foreshortened by the taxes from legal liquor sales?) while gangsters turned the country into a shooting gallery, and thousands died from imbibing bootleg liquors laced with wood alcohol and other chemicals. Embalming fluid, anyone?

Stone’s little band of `heroes,’ led by Hud, a rum runner and all around nice guy (yes, he is a criminal, but in those days, you took your `criminal’ by degrees) are devastated as the book opens by the murder of their friend Danny, a `big con roper’. As I got deeper and deeper into the book, the reality and the spirit of the period drew me in, and refused to let me go. Hud is a rumrunner, but he is also very involved in another story so integral to the period – the advent of `talkies’ – motion pictures that featured sound.

In this day and age of Blu-ray, surround sound and 3D, it is hard to remember that, in the first two decades of the 20th century, movies were filmed with no sound at all, and were viewed strictly in theaters. Stone’s research into the period provides fascinating background. While 1927’s “The Jazz Singer”, the first movie produced and distributed with actual spoken dialog, was hailed by audiences of the time, Warner Brothers Studios head, and others, considered `talkies’ a passing fad, and were reluctant to invest in the technology. Stone’s Hud, fascinated by the process and seeing the possibilities in the field, spends time during the book planning his own talkie production, thereby giving us deep insight into what I consider to the hysterically funny limitations of thought of the studio heads of the time. (Yes, you CAN buy a three-disk special edition of “The Jazz Singer” at Amazon. Personally, I am waiting for the 3D version – ROFL)

Overall, this is one of the best books I have ever read set in the period. I am a huge fan of Dashiell Hammett and his ilk from that period, but this is a different animal. Steeped in the actual history of the period, Stone’s Hud and his friends are a more accessible group, with a minimum of the angst present in Hammett’s work. With even the slightest interest in the period, the development of the movie industry, or human nature as a whole, this is definitely the book for you. I mean, who can’t love an author who starts out his story in the front seat of an Essex Super Six Coupe? I do love me some antique cars!

This book is free at Amazon! Get your copy today!

Raised in Ohio, Jeffrey M. Stone moved to Santa Monica, California, in his early twenties. He now lives in Sonoma, in the Northern California wine country. Santa Monica beach was two blocks away but now it’s forty miles to the coast, the water is cold, and the rocky shoreline not conducive to body surfing. These days his favorite pastimes are playing tennis and riding his bike. As a reader, Jeffrey’s preferred genres have always been mystery/crime and historical fiction. As a writer, he aspires to write well researched, entertaining crime stories that transport readers into a different era.

Review: Play Him Again (A Matt Hudson Roaring Twenties Crime Novel)

play him again
Click to purchase

I am not normally a student of American History. While the great histories of Egypt and the Mesopotamian regions are well within my purview, possibly my Native American history makes the history of the US after the arrival of the white man more painful than I care to think about. However, the period of this book, the 1920’s, the age of the Volstead Act and some of the bloodiest of the country, other than the Civil War, is admittedly fascinating. And Jeffrey Stone does an incredible job of making you feel like you are there, in the period, and know these people he is writing about.

The thing I totally admire about the book is Mr. Stone’s grasp of the period. His research was flawless. The main characters of the book are `rumrunners,’ those brave (and, of course, criminal) purveyors of `distilled spirits’, which were made illegal by the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This act of hubris, brought on by the efforts of `temperance societies’ in the US, created an atmosphere of violence and greed across the country unseen at any other period. Billions of dollars in tax revenues were lost (could the Great Depression have been foreshortened by the taxes from legal liquor sales?) while gangsters turned the country into a shooting gallery, and thousands died from imbibing bootleg liquors laced with wood alcohol and other chemicals. Embalming fluid, anyone?

Stone’s little band of `heroes,’ led by Hud, a rum runner and all around nice guy (yes, he is a criminal, but in those days, you took your `criminal’ by degrees) are devastated as the book opens by the murder of their friend Danny, a `big con roper’. As I got deeper and deeper into the book, the reality and the spirit of the period drew me in, and refused to let me go. Hud is a rumrunner, but he is also very involved in another story so integral to the period – the advent of `talkies’ – motion pictures that featured sound.

In this day and age of Blu-ray, surround sound and 3D, it is hard to remember that, in the first two decades of the 20th century, movies were filmed with no sound at all, and were viewed strictly in theaters. Stone’s research into the period provides fascinating background. While 1927’s “The Jazz Singer”, the first movie produced and distributed with actual spoken dialog, was hailed by audiences of the time, Warner Brothers Studios head, and others, considered `talkies’ a passing fad, and were reluctant to invest in the technology. Stone’s Hud, fascinated by the process and seeing the possibilities in the field, spends time during the book planning his own talkie production, thereby giving us deep insight into what I consider to the hysterically funny limitations of thought of the studio heads of the time. (Yes, you CAN buy a three-disk special edition of “The Jazz Singer” at Amazon. Personally, I am waiting for the 3D version – ROFL)

Overall, this is one of the best books I have ever read set in the period. I am a huge fan of Dashiell Hammett and his ilk from that period, but this is a different animal. Steeped in the actual history of the period, Stone’s Hud and his friends are a more accessible group, with a minimum of the angst present in Hammett’s work. With even the slightest interest in the period, the development of the movie industry, or human nature as a whole, this is definitely the book for you. I mean, who can’t love an author who starts out his story in the front seat of an Essex Super Six Coupe? I do love me some antique cars!

—————-

Note: I was originally asked by the writer to review this book, and received a copy for free. Before I was halfway through, I went back to Smashwords and purchased the book. This great a read deserves a payment to the author!

On Unfaithful Wings (Icarus Fell, #1) by Bruce Blake


A Noir Urban Fantasy — FIVE STARS

on unfaithful wingsI first ran across Mr. Blake when I saw his second book, “All Who Wander Are Lost” in my regular daily “freebooksie.com” mailing. I am always thrilled to get those – I don’t always find all of the books to my taste, but the cover of that one grabbed me right away and the description sounded interesting, so I downloaded it. I started reading it this morning before noticing it was a second in series, after “On Unfaithful Wings”. After reading a few pages, I was hooked and downloaded OUF so I could start at the beginning. I am so glad I did.

The characters of the Icarus Fell novels are by no means bright and cheery ‘angels running around with wings saving souls’ and these are no bright and sparkly novels. They are dark, moody pieces with a deeply noir feeling and a sharp edge to the humour which abounds throughout the book. Icarus himself, the victim of vicious childhood abuse by a priest, finds himself lost and alone on the streets, deep into drugs and booze, traumatized past what he considers any sort of salvation at all. Murdered one night in the graveyard of the same church where his abuse took place, he awakens six months later in a nasty No-Tell Motel to find that he is a Reaper of sorts. And things get even weirder and darker after that.

It. Was. Awesome. The whole feeling of the book can be described by this quote from the early pages:

“And, let’s face it, if God existed, he probably looked down one day on the shite he created, packed up his tent and went somewhere else to give it another shot, hoping for better luck on the second go-round.”

Mr. Blake does a perfect job of skewering the ridiculous nature of religion when looked at from a logical rather than superstitious view. The angels are, at best, incompetent clowns more intent on their political games than on actually doing good. One of the ‘good’ angels is guilty of rape and another is more interested in proving a point than helping Icarus save either his son or a kind-hearted selfless nun.

Is Icarus really better off helping the so-called good guys? Or are the so-called good guys so far off of reality that they don’t even qualify as such any longer? Child molesting priests meant to go to heaven, nuns carted off to hell and one comment by an angel that really points out the weirdness of it all:

“Murder is a tool. Just because someone kills someone else, it doesn’t make them evil. You’re all instruments of God.”

Perfect! Murdered and abused children, rape, torture. It’s all good! Blake writes the story that I have always wanted to write – if there really is a God, it is removed far enough from our reality as to no longer exist, if it ever did at all. And he does it with a turn of phrase and intelligence that led me at warp speed through his writing.

Overall, this is a dark, moody piece which left me sad in places and laughing hysterically in others. A Reaper who has a solid body and can be shot, knifed and beaten – and can’t really afford a car to go pick up his next soul for delivery? Love it. I am so looking forward to the next installment. If you are a fan of the old noir detective stories, the Nightside novels, or similar you will these novels. Off to read the next one!

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