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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: June 2016

Nailgun Messiah by Jim Heskett

nailgun

Ticking off the wrong people sends Micah scrambling to flee Denver. But his hideout choice may not supply the sanctuary he craves. In the little Colorado mountain community of Nederland, he finds his sister, thinking he can disappear into obscurity with her. But she’s living in some kind of commune with a domineering and cruel woman named Lilah.
And Lilah doesn’t trust Micah from the moment he appears on the scene.
Soon enough, Micah becomes convinced that Lilah and her people are concealing scandalous activities. Activities that will bring the wrong kind of attention. FBI, DEA, CIA…maybe all of them at once. And if Micah can’t persuade his sister to leave with him before the bomb drops, they’ll both be torn apart by the explosion.

Thanks to the author for gifting me this review copy!

In this chapter of Micah Reed’s life, he has gotten on the wrong side of an angry drug dealer (purely by mistake, of course). He decides to kill two birds with one stone: leave town for a while until things cool off, and visit his sister in the meantime.

Unfortunately, his sister isn’t that overjoyed to see him –  and neither are her roommates. Apparently she has gotten herself mixed up with a religious cult. Micah is offered room and board there, and he immediately starts snooping around. What he finds is nothing but trouble. He has to un-brainwash his sister in time to save both their lives.

This book is truly action packed and funny. Micah is still asking the head of Boba Fett for advice, shakily remaining sober (even managing AA meetings in his newfound home), and missing his family. He is frustrated and confused by his sister’s lack of interest in him, and this lack of interest adds more information to his backstory. We learn more about why Micah had to go into Witness Protection, and we continue to see him as a somewhat reckless but always goodhearted hero.

I’ll admit, NAILGUN MESSIAH is a strange name for a book, but it all becomes clearer towards the end. Heskett’s knack for sly humor and off kilter action is front and center at the denoument. Also evident is the author’s knowledge of the Nederland area and the Frozen Dead Guy festival (it’s all true). Setting the story here provides an unusual and refreshing backdrop to the story; the things that happen here seem so much more plausible given the locals.

We also get to know his sister. Personally, I think she is way too hard on Micah – she treats him to stony silence and sneers, even after he apologizes for his past actions and gives her a thorough explanation. He loves her, though, and sticks to his rescue plan long after I would have given up on her and left her to her fate with the religious nuts.

But that is what makes Micah a wonderfully flawed leading character. As I mentioned in a previous review, he is clearly human, with a knack for helping people at his own expense. I think he is sometimes lonely but doesn’t really want to admit that. His relationship with his AA sponsor is the most multi leveled thing he has in his life, and it keeps him steady and grounded.

The ending of the story paves the way for many story lines; I’ll be eagerly awaiting to see what lies ahead for Micah in the future!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

Exclusive Interview with Author Serena Cairns

father of lies

Something unspeakable has lain beneath an ancient Norfolk church for centuries. Its discovery now forces an unconventional female priest to take on an ancient religious order and brave Hell itself – or are they one and the same adversary? What begins as a supernatural story evolves into a mystery that has stretched over centuries, and a hidden prophesy that completely re-shapes the Church of Rome.

 

 

We had an opportunity to score an exclusive interview with author Serena Cairns about her new book, FATHER OF LIES.  It’s a winner: Goodreads and Amazon have plenty of 5 star reviews about this thrilling novel.  Let’s see what she has to say:

How did ‘Father of Lies’ come about?

            It began as just something to read out at the writers’ group I was attending. As the weeks went by and the feedback was so encouraging, I needed to plan the storyline properly. Looking back at the original synopsis, I realise I had no clue as to the ultimate outcome of the book, nor the amazing journey it would take me on to get there. It begins rather like an old Hammer movie, but evolves into a Dan Brown-style conspiracy, only with far less running about. I had no intention of writing for that genre, but the story led me in that direction. I merely put it on paper. I have no desire to write great literature, but exciting page-turners, and grammar and sentence structure are incredibly important to me.

 

Would you term your book a horror story?

            Definitely not! There are elements to it that might be horrific, but I have deliberately understated some scenes. It was not my intention to go into gory description. Usually, such details are better left to the reader’s imagination.

 

Who or what would you consider has influenced your work?

Having been a lifelong lover of films, hours spent at the cinema in my youth gave me a foundation in ‘scene-turners’, and I see my writing in cinematic terms. I shift scenes frequently to keep the action going, drawing upon facts to keep the fiction credible. There is probably a long ladder of influences leading to each author’s style, no matter how original they believe themselves to be.

 

Your book involves the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Were you ever worried it might offend anyone?

            My original draft was much more controversial. In fact, I rang Dan Brown’s UK agent to ask if they’d had any trouble with the Vatican. After all, I didn’t want the Opus Dei knocking on my door. Although the man I spoke to said he couldn’t discuss Dan Brown or his books, when I told him about ‘Father of Lies’, he just said, ‘Don’t go there – not unless you have a lot of money behind you’. I went into meltdown. The book was finished and, as far as I was concerned, ready for publication. However, as is often the case with seeming disasters, it turned out to be beneficial. I merely made some changes, all of which added to and improved the original, and I am far happier with the finished story. I certainly have no wish to offend anyone, and must stress that ‘Father of Lies’ is a work of fiction. Funnily enough, I’ve had positive feedback from members of the Church of England, even clergy.

 

The book is very character driven. Where or how did you come up with those characters?

            I never seem to have a problem introducing new characters. In fact, I have to be quite strict with myself not to over-populate a story. I probably had most difficulty with the Rev. Laura Coatman, as I have little experience of priests, female or otherwise. It was difficult for me to empathise with her until the final draft, where a few small changes made all the difference. I have never understood why I find it much easier to write from a male perspective. The most interesting character, from my point of view, is Monsignor Benvenuti. In film terms, he was introduced as an ‘extra’ to fulfil his given task and fade into the background. He was having none of it, and became a major player. There was one instance where I typed his words, and then sat back, shocked, saying out loud, ‘Well, I didn’t expect that’. I love it when characters seem to take on a life of their own. It is the interaction between my characters that made ‘Father of Lies’ a joy to write, and seems to strike a chord with its readers.

      

Did ‘Father of Lies’ require a lot of research on the Vatican and the supernatural?

            Very little on the supernatural, as it has always been a fascination of mine, although I did look up a few serpent references. I came up with far more than I could use, and had to keep reminding myself I was writing fiction, not a reference book. I read up on the Vatican and the history of the popes, but again, the amount of material I could use far outweighed what I should. I knew the final chapters had to be set in Rome, but was horrified when, halfway through the book, two of my characters decided to go to the Eternal City. ‘Come back’, I called, but they didn’t listen, so I was forced to research Rome. A writer needs just enough facts to flesh out and make a story credible, without swamping the reader with information that has no direct bearing on the story. I didn’t want to sound like a guide book, but needed to give a flavour of the city. A fine line. I have since found a book that gives a lot of information on the everyday life of a pope, but hopefully I can draw upon it to colour the sequels.

 

So there is going to be a sequel?

            Most definitely. ‘Father of Lies’ stands alone, but there has been feedback that suggests people want more, and my characters have more to tell. I am currently writing ‘Set in Time’, which takes place in Rome and Egypt, and hope to complete the trilogy with ‘Leviathan’.

 

Do you think the Pope would enjoy ‘Father of Lies’?

            Maybe. I’d like to think he might chuckle.

 

serena

 

 

 

 

 

You can check out the author’s webpage here.

If you are ready to grab your own copy of FATHER OF LIES you can get it here.

When Bunnies Go Bad by Clea Simon

bunnies

Winter is hard in Beauville, where the melting snow can reveal much more than last season’s dead leaves. So when a wealthy, obnoxious tourist and his ski bunny girlfriend surface in Pru Marlowe’s little Berkshire town, she knows she should stay out of their way. The bad-girl animal psychic has to focus on more immediate concerns, including a wild rabbit named Henry, supposedly tamed and illegally living with an eighty-four-year-old lady in her home. Henry, who seems to be acting out and hiding, avoids responding to Pru. Yet when Pru discovers the tourist murdered and his girlfriend’s high-maintenance spaniel falls to her care, she gets dragged into a complicated case of crime and punishment that involves some new friends, an old nemesis, and her own shadowed past. A recent museum art heist draws the feds into the investigation along with a courtly gentleman radiating menace, who represents secretive business interests in New York and shows a surprising awareness of Pru. Her on-again, off-again romance with police Detective Creighton doesn’t stop him from warning her to steer clear of the inquiry. The spaniel, however, lures her in. Pru lives in a world where only her crotchety tabby Wallis knows the whole truth about her past, her flight from Manhattan, and her unique gift that surfaced abruptly one day. Fearing the worst, Pru now comes dangerously close to being exposed. With everything in motion, Pru, Wallis, and everyone they hold dear will be lucky to escape by a hare.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the author for the ARC!

The Queen of Pet Noir is back! BUNNIES is a little darker outing this time, with Pru choosing to do most of the work herself, with minimal input from Wallis. It also seemed that everyone was untrustworthy – whatever things seemed to be on the surface turned out to be the opposite.

Author Simon has a lot going on in this tale, and at times I felt it took a while for the plot to advance. Pru struggles with understanding the “why” and “who”, despite a seemingly simple murder. In the beginning, things appear to be just another murder. But just as snow will melt away, uncovering more detail underneath, the murder turns into two, Pru’s cop beau is taken off the case, and a mysterious gentleman gangster keeps showing up.

For those that haven’t read the first few installments of the Pru Marlowe story, things may not make sense quickly. However, as you read, you will see Pru become more aware of where she is in her life, and what she has become due to her dubious “gift” of being able to communicate with animals.

She learns to accept that things don’t always go as they should; and becomes even closer in a way to those animals that identify as prey. Gangster Benazi continues to keep Pru off balance as he continually alludes to her “gift” – and refers to it openly, much to her dismay.  She is terrified of anyone finding out the truth about her, and through these thoughts Pru understands how prey animals must feel.

It takes a strong person to let your vulnerability show – and Simon shows us Pru in all her incarnations. We see not just a cute story about a woman who can talk to animals; we can see the character evolving and growing into someone more aware of her place in the bigger picture of the world.

Enjoyable as always are the regulars: Growler, Frank, and of course Wallis. We also meet a sweet spaniel who just wants to be next to the man he loves – if only Pru could figure out who he is!

Simon dangles some interesting things in front of us at the end, leaving things open for another book. I know her many fans will be grateful for this, including me!

Want  your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Ether Day by Julie M Fenster

ether

Ether Day is the unpredictable story of America’s first major scientific discovery — the use of anesthesia — told in an absorbing narrative that traces the dawn of modern surgery through the lives of three extraordinary men. Ironically, the “discovery” was really no discovery at all: Ether and nitrous oxide had been known for more than forty years to cause insensitivity to pain, yet, with names like “laughing gas,” they were used almost solely for entertainment. Meanwhile, patients still underwent operations during which they saw, heard, and felt every cut the surgeon made. The image of a grim and grisly operating room, like the one in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, was in fact starkly accurate in portraying the conditions of surgery before anesthesia.

With hope for relief seemingly long gone, the breakthrough finally came about by means of a combination of coincidence and character, as a cunning Boston dentist crossed paths with an inventive colleague from Hartford and a brilliant Harvard-trained physician. William Morton, Horace Wells, and Charles Jackson: a con man, a dreamer, and an intellectual. Though Wells was crushed by derision when he tried to introduce anesthetics, Morton prevailed, with help from Jackson. The result was Ether Day, October 16, 1846, celebrated around the world. By that point, though, no honor was enough. Ether Day was not only the dawn of modern surgery, but the beginning of commercialized medicine as well, as Morton patented the discovery.

What followed was a battle so bitter that it sent all three men spiraling wildly out of control, at the same time that anesthetics began saving countless lives. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Ether Day is a riveting look at one of history’s most remarkable untold stories.

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

ETHER DAY is meticulously researched; the characters are brought to life via the detailed descriptions of their lives and mental states.

To think that people were operated on with no care for their pain, yet Laughing Gas (ether) was used by non medical people for fun and escape, is mind boggling. No one made the connection between the two until William Morton, Horace Wells, and Charles Jackson “discovered” the other uses of this gas.

The fact that these three men’s lives overlapped was both good and bad: the discovery of ether as an anesthetic made both patient’s and surgeon’s lives better, but there was a lot of vitriol and ego involved as well. Each stood to make his fortune via ether, yet their lives were not always brightened by their actions.

Fenster has clearly done her research: there is both an index and endnotes, showing the comprehensive reading she did to recreate this story. She also includes a bibliography for further reading. The 1800’s come to life under her expert prose and background detail. I especially enjoyed the explanation of how the gas was delivered, and how the machines were tinkered with to provide a more accurate mixing of gas and air. The fact that these men experimented on themselves shows both folly and determination – in Chapter 14, Chlory, there is a section about scientists sniffing different concoctions of gases to figure out the best combination.

Every Thursday evening they would gather at the Simpson home, sitting around the dining table to inhale candidate chemicals. “I selected for experiment and have inhaled several chemical liquids of a more fragrant and agreeable odor,” Simpson wrote in a medical journal during the course of his research, “such as the chlorine of hydrocarbon, acetone, nitrate of oxide of ethyle, benzin, the vapour of chloroform, etc.”

One old friend, a professor named Miller, made a habit of dropping by at breakfast time every Friday, so he said, to see if anyone was dead. 

The lengths these men went to in the name of science is unheard of today. As the book jacket notes, Ether Day is a little known anniversary, yet without the actions of these men there would have been greater suffering in this world. They were not heros, either – just men trying to make money or a name for themselves, who fell into a bizarre chain of events that would send them all down a crazy rabbit hole and eventually break them.

Author Julie Fenster has brought the memory of these men out of the past and placed it firmly into our awareness with ETHER DAY. I commend her for choosing her subject wisely and keeping this discovery relevant, in a new way.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

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