Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review by Becky – The Training House: Girl by Eden Bradley

The Training House: Girl by Eden Bradley

Every once in a while you have an author that stretches themselves into something just a bit different. There’s a moment when you start reading this new direction that you hope for the best, but wonder if it will hold to the standard of previous works. It was with this in mind that I started The Training House: Girl by Eden Bradley. Now let me take a moment to tell you that this is not your standard romance, nor is it an erotic romance. This is literary erotica not for the faint of heart along the lines of The Story of O by Pauline Reage, The Sleeping Beauty Series by A. N. Roquelaure, or the works of Anais Nin.

Holy fluffy bunnies Batman! The writing is exquisite, encapsulating the reader in the experience of ultimate submission as Girl discovers herself at The Training House. This is not a romance in the traditional sense, but it is a love story. Girl, through the view of a single character, is a literary love note to the kink community. By the same token it is also an open invitation into understanding the group psyche of the community itself and an invitation to discovery without judgment. While portions of the narrative may be uncomfortable for some readers at times the underlying depth of beauty and truth throughout the story is phenomenal. I would highly encourage readers to go to the author’s website via this linkwww.edenbradley.com to read the contract, which is also the prologue to the book, and if you find yourself longing for more click as fast as you can to  the button above this that says Buy Books & E-books  for your copy of Girl. (Or just click this handy link to take you right there  The Training House: Girl !)

– Becky
The Book Pimp

BOOK REVIEW BY C.A. YOUNG – The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s work since around 1993, when a friend shared some of her Sandman comics with me. Since then I’ve formed lots of fond memories around his work: the time I found a first edition of Good Omens in a second-hand shop, the way Anansi Boys helped me really dig into the idea of creativity as a salvific force, the way my friends and I identified with characters from Neverwhere in my twenties, etc.

Gaiman has remained one of my go-to reads. Somehow, though, I’d managed until this month to miss that his short story, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, has been republished in an illustrated edition with art by Eddie Campbell.

It’s a satisfying thing, reading Gaiman’s illustrated work. He comes from comics — Sandman, The Books of Magic, etc. — and while his unaccompanied prose is still fantastic, his work shines with an accompanying visual, especially given that he’s well-enough connected to find the right artist for the job.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is not a kind or gentle story. It is hard, like old fairy tales and myths are hard. It’s setting, too, is harsh. Gaiman utilizes the folklore and terrain of Jacobite Scotland, specifically the Isle of Skye. Think rough land, tough people, and short lives.

The narrator begins his story with an admission of guilts for which he is able to forgive himself — “For where I left him. For what I did.” — but also the one he can’t. For a year he hated his daughter for disappearing.

He doesn’t explain these guilts right away. Instead, he reveals them over the course of the story, which begins with how he sought out a man named Calum MacInnes to guide him to the Misty Isle. On the Isle, it is said, that there is a cave filled with gold, from which one can take as much as can be carried. MacInnes, it seems, knows the way.

MacInnes is suspicious at first — most interactions in this story are fraught, as in such a setting strangers are always considered dangerous — but he agrees to the journey. Over the course of their travels we learn more about the men, as well as the nature of the Cave. They meet other travelers, householders, and a ferryman. Over time, MacInnes speaks more about the Cave itself, and warns his client of its unusual price: It strips away a little bit of the person who enters.

Gaiman deftly weaves these details into a larger story that reveals both men’s secrets, both forgiveable and terrible, and like any good folk story it delivers an ending that fulfills its beginning. Campbell’s illustrations complement the story well. Like the rugged terrain of Skye, they are rustic: mainly rough paintings and jagged illustrations. The art is not pretty so much as it is haunting and harsh, more emotional than naturalistic.

While this book is slim and illustrated, don’t mistake it for a children’s book. Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains contains some mild coarse language, more than a little bit of death, and mentions of violence against women and children. The narrator, who is a little person, recounts experiences of being injured or treated badly on account of his stature. The story also contains mythological elements that are consistent with the tropes of the genre, but that some might find problematic in terms of ability and body types.

If you enjoy traditional folklore, or Gaiman’s dreamier stories, you’ll likely enjoy The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. The hardcover edition is a nice pick for collectors, or readers who want to round out their graphic novel shelf with books that straddle the boundaries of genre.

My rating: Four unfortunately placed Scottish dirks of Five.

Bob Binges On…. Greg Rucka & Susan Krinard

Bob has been off experiencing the joy of literature. Now that he has pulled himself from the pages he decided to grace us once again with a few reviews.

Here are both a quick summary and reviews for Alpha by Greg Rucka and Mist by Susan Krinard.  (Please remember that Bob’s book reviews and opinions are offered freely by the bearded one himself.)

Alpha by Greg Rucka

For the visitors to Wilsonville, the largest theme park in the world, the day begins with a smile. But, by the end, they start to wonder: will they escape with their lives? Undercover Delta Force operator, Master Sergeant Jonathan “Jad” Bell has been deployed to act as Wilsonville’s lead undercover security officer. The threat begins with the announcement of a hidden dirty bomb, but quickly becomes something far, far worse.

Trained since the age of 18 to save innocent victims from impossible hostage situations, Jad scrambles to assess the threat and protect the visitors. He will come face to face with a villain whose training matches his in every way—and presents a danger Jad may not be able to stop.

Jad Bell #1
Jad Bell #1
One of the benefits of living in this modern age is that I could look up every weapon mentioned in Alpha and better imagine the action. The downside is that if the NSA looks at my browser history, they may get the wrong idea about what I’ve been doing.
Greg Rucka takes us on a journey with a mustered-out sergeant from the U.S. Army. He seems to be content with life as a civilian, just drifting along, when he gets an offer that is more of an order.
The rest of the novel follows retired sergeant Jonathan “Jad” Bell as he starts a new gig as head of park security for Wilsonville, a rival of the Disney theme parks. Jad has to figure out if a fellow operator, jargon for a special forces operative, was killed for a reason or if it was bad luck. If there was a reason Jad has to figure it out and stop it before more people die.
I have to specifically thank Mr. Rucka. I am a child of a service member. There is a scene where Jad’s daughter is expected to react and the other characters involved can’t explain what she is supposed to do, they just have to trust her instincts. This scene brought up some emotions of following my dad in the military. I never had to be put to the test, but it was something that was present in my day-to-day life.
That is more than enough about me! Mr. Rucka has created a complex character who is going to be fun to watch as he grows and copes with his past. The next novel in the series, Bravo, comes out soon. Now is a good time to jump in on this series. You won’t regret it.
Mist by Susan Krinard

Mist lives a normal life. She has a normal job, a normal boyfriend, and a normal apartment in San Francisco. She never thinks about her past if she can help it.

She survived. That’s the end of it.

But then a snowy winter descends upon San Francisco … where it never snows. And in quick succession, Mist is attacked by a frost giant in a public park and runs into an elf disguised as a homeless person on the streets…and then the man Mist believed was her mortal boyfriend reveals himself to be the trickster god, Loki, alive and well after all these years.

Mist’s normal world is falling apart. But thankfully, Mist isn’t quite so normal herself. She’s a Valkyrie, and she’s going to need all her skill to thwart Loki’s schemes and save modern Earth from the ravages of a battle of the gods.

Midgard Series #1
Midgard Series #1
Mist is a Valkyrie. She and her sisters were sent to Midgard (Earth) with the treasures of the Aesir (Norse gods). They have been here for many years, at one point taking arms and participating in the Norse resistance in WWII.
The bulk of this story is set in the present day. Mist has settled into a routine that keeps her from thinking about the past and why Ragnarok didn’t seem to come, and yet no one has shown up to take her home or give her any new instructions.
Krinard works with the mythology like an expert cook. Keeping it to get the story just the right amount of flavor. Allowing, the action to come through without bogging down the story for a reader who isn’t familiar with the mythology.
If there were to be any complaint about the novel it would be that this is obviously the opening for a series. There is much setting of pieces in place and wheels in motion. Krinard is going to write a very good series, one in which I fully intend to get the rest of the books. There are some e-only short stories already available. I look forward to seeing Mist and the crew that she assembles thwarting Loki and his rambunctious band.

 

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Bob Beard

Book Review–“Scoville” by Marlene Lee

–Review by Linda Bethel–

 A copy of this book was provided for free and the review and opinions are mine alone.

Welcome to Brooks Beach home of Detective Scoville

Trade Paperback    256 pgs              List price $14.99    Our Price $11.25

So, Becky and Doug offered me the opportunity of a first read of a new collection of short mysteries and, of course, I couldn’t refuse.  The author lives here is Columbia and Holland House Books has published two of her earlier books, The Absent Woman and Rebecca’s Road, which have been well received.  However, Scoville is Ms. Lee’s first venture into the mystery genre.

The volume contains three short stories: Three Blind Mice is the tale of a mysterious disappearance; murder most foul is the core of Always on Thursdays; and the kidnapping of a child is central to Recesses of the Mind, but the plot of each is driven by loving relationships gone sideways.

Ms. Lee has taken an interesting turn on the familiar small town locale familiar in traditional cozy mysteries by placing her tales in Brooks Beach, Oregon, and introducing the reader to Humboldt and Maggie Denton.  Brooks Beach is not the usual upscale, often touristy locale so familiar now, nor are the Dentons, a retired couple, the expected upscale, often intellectual and always tasteful protagonists who reside in such well groomed small towns.  Brooks Beach has some grit and the Knotty Pine Tavern is the town watering hole-providing pool, shuffle board and illegal black jack in the back room.  Maggie Denton is a strong woman, the necessary counterweight to her husband, Humboldt Denton.  The title character, Scoville, is the town sheriff, who appears only briefly in the first two stories but whose laconic and often cerebral approach always cuts through the traditional red herrings to solve the crime.

Stylistically the writing is always good and often much better than good.  The author enjoys giving her readers short but resonant descriptions, instance on a dark and stormy night (what else): “Down at the harbor the voice of the disinterested for horn alternated with the wash of surf, systolic and diastolic pulse of Brooks Beach.”.  Her characters, not only the Dentons and Scoville, but the court reporter married to the town philanderer and Eppie Epperson who deals black jack every night at the Knotty Pine hold the reader’s interest for their very familiar qualities while suggesting of a darker back story.

I really hope that Ms. Lee will find the time to write a book about Brooks Beach and it’s residents.  She has created a wonderful twist on the traditions of the cozy mystery with the darker, less than tidy lives of her characters and the town, especially the Knotty Pine Tavern.  Both characters and location are appealing in these short stories, but I think they could be a great deal more given a larger stage on which to act.

 Be sure to drop by the store and see Columbia’s very own Marlene Lee on August 23rd from noon to 2p.

Fangirl Becky lovin’ on Nalini Singh

I’m a fan of Nalini Singh.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to meet her at the Romantic Times Convention.  Here was someone who I enjoyed tremendously who had traveled halfway around the world and I got to say thank you to them for being a very good author. I got to thank her on behalf of the many people who have bought her books from our store over the years (By the way she thanks all of you for buying the books too).  It was a pretty magical experience for me.

Early June saw the release of the latest Psy-Changling book Shield of Winter and I very much want to tell you about that, but for those of you that haven’t read the series I’m going to do a brief glance at the first book in the series Slave to Sensation as well.

Slave to Sensation

Slave to Sensation

In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of “rehabilitation”—the complete psychic erasure of everything she ever was…

Both human and animal, Lucas Hunter is a Changeling hungry for the very sensations the Psy disdain. After centuries of uneasy coexistence, these two races are now on the verge of war over the brutal murders of several Changeling women. Lucas is determined to find the Psy killer who butchered his packmate, and Sascha is his ticket into their closely guarded society. But he soon discovers that this ice-cold Psy is very capable of passion—and that the animal in him is fascinated by her. Caught between their conflicting worlds, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities—or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation…

If you’re a fan of paranormal romance and I haven’t at least had you look at Slave to Sensation then shame on me.  It is a wonderful world that combines romance with a dash of mystery, muddled into a delightful cocktail of characters from shape shifters of all sorts to a Psy race functioning on multiple planes of existance who have renounced emotions, served next to a chaser of what humanity may look like in the future.  Oh, and did I mention the serial killer?

Beginning with Slave to Sensation, released in 2006, the Psy-Changeling series has evolved beautifully through 13 books adding depth and color to the world building that only a master of the craft can accomplish.  All of which leads us from the beginning of a story arc with the first book to somewhat of a completion and a glimpse at where we may go next in the latest hardback release Shield of Winter.

Shield of Winter

Shield of Winter

Assassin.  Soldier.  Arrow.  That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch—if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion.  To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life.

For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake…

Having rebuilt her life after medical “treatment” that violated her mind and sought to suffocate her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption. But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness…

When writing a review the hardest question I tend to deal with is how do I say enough without saying too much.  Where do I go to avoid spoilers?  There are so many things I want to talk about, leaving me practically vibrating with untapped energy, yet unwilling I know that it’s unfair to give too much.

Having said that, what I can tell you is that, as with Heart of Obsidian, Shield of Winter helps pivot us into the next arc of the series.  How do you build and move on from the ashes of a system that’s fallen. These very concepts are so well suited to the lead characters in this book. By design or happenstance (and I’m willing to bet some really brilliant outlining by Nalini Singh) we are dealing with a hero and heroine who have both been terribly abused by the system yet have come out of all their personal pain devoted to making life better for their people. Within these 429 pages we are lead on a lyrical literary journey of not only what it is to love someone else, but more importantly how do you allow yourself to be loved.

As an ongoing series I remain impressed with the depth of the world building and the attention to detail that Ms. Singh brings to her writing.  For all that this is a known series that I can pull around me with the familiar comfort of an beloved childhood blanket, there is still a freshness in the writing that consistently has me running eagerly to explore each shining facet. The only downside to finishing Shield of Winter is the wait for the next book.

Bob Binges on…. Stephen King

One of the things that we love is hearing what you think of books. It keeps interactions intimate along with helping us to find more literary lanes to lead you on. One of the things our friends hate is when we start nagging and begging for them to write reviews for us. Bless Bob’s heart though, after listening to us whine for longer than a person should have to, he has written us reviews on the last three Stephen King books he’s read. (On a side note he did try bribing us with sodas which did delay, but not halt the stream of whine.)

Here are both a quick summary and reviews for 11/22/63, Under the Dome, and Joyland. Please note we are not responsible for spoilers, so if you don’t want to know something then we recommend that you don’t read beyond the book blurb. When you see the title followed by the author’s name you are entering into the review itself, and the recesses of Bob’s mind.

11/22/63

Receiving a horrific essay from a GED student with a traumatic past, high-school English teacher Jake Epping is enlisted by a friend to travel back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a mission for which he must reacclimate to 1960s culture and befriend troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald.

“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” – Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

11/22/63 by Stephen King

For a retired man, Stephen King puts out an impressive volume of work.

11/22/63 takes the reader on the perils and pitfalls of stopping the most talked about assassination of the 20th century. As a man who lived through through the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination Steven King certainly has enough details to draw upon to create a vivid picture of what the world was like leading up to that fateful day in 1963.

The protagonist is given a charge to stop the murder by a friend of his. He can no longer physically make the arduous journey. The time portal that allows this to happen opens in 1958 and requires that any would be hero wait five years to be in place.

The main question of this story is can you prevent the assassination and if you, should you?

I don’t want to spoil the story, because the world is so rich. I especially appreciate that King does not gloss over the racism that prevalent during the time period. This is made apparent by a few clear scenes as the character moves south from Maine towards Dallas.

As a writer (Hey! I can pretend.) I love the way King creates characters and makes them live and breathe.

A special shout out to King for his acknowledgments. He thanked quite a few people and then thanked his son, Joe Hill (a fine fellow and an excellent writer) for his help with perfecting the ending.

Under the Dome

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away. 

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.

Under The Dome by Stephen King

Lord of the flies in a bell jar. That is the most succinct description that I can give people when they ask what I am reading.

Without warning the people of Chester’s Mill are cut off (pun FULLY intended) from Maine, the United States of America, and the world. The transparent dome cuts animals and people in twain, causes vehicles to crash (there are air planes flying), and wrecks havoc. People go through the five stages of grief.

While Chester’s Mill is only cut off for a week, oh yeah, spoiler alert, they get out! This is one of the truly transformational weeks there is. This is the equivalent of being stranded after surviving a shipwreck. You’ve survived, but you’re not out of danger.

As in all of Stephen King’s work, there is much going on below the seemingly calm surface of the small town and they are exposed in the most unseemly of ways.

I feel a word of warning must be given here. The television program is, by its very nature, a different story then the novel. Many of the characters are muted for the show. Junior Rennie is made much more palatable for the viewing audience.

Also, you cannot have the more definite ending that the novel has if you wish to continue on for multiple seasons. Having said that, many of the elements, themes, and ideas are present in the television series.

I enjoyed the name check. Stephen King refers, several times, to Jack Reacher as a character in the same universe. I find this funny as Lee Child, creator of Jack Reacher, has a featured quote on the front cover.

I agree Stephen King is a master of the craft. His characters are vibrant, vital, and real. His pacing and structure only get better the longer he writes.
Joyland
In a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.

Joyland by Steven King

Stephen King a behind the scenes view of what a regional amusement park in the early 70s. From what he shows us, I gather it was pert summer camp, part hell, and all hard work. The central murder mystery is not the focus of the tale. Instead, we follow our protagonist as he remembers having his heart broken, learning to recover and love again, and enjoys his time at Funland.

I had concerns about how well King, as if I should ever doubt the Master, would wrap up the mystery. The novel is short and he doesn’t dwell on the murder at all. But, Mr. King expertly weaves the threads of his tale to an exhilarating and satisfying conclusion.

I must confess I was somewhat disappointed Joyland, as the previous entry in the Hard Case Crime series [The Colorado Kid], failed to deliver. The novel is not a classic story of the hard boiled private eye slugging against all odds to solve the case. Instead we are treated to a lovely slice of life that shows us an Average Joe just trying to cope with the shift from adolescence into adulthood.
I enjoyed it and think you will as well.

To keep track of what Bob may be saying out in the ether of the webs you can check out @celticorca on Twitter.