The Stone Wife, Peter Lovesey, Soho Crime, ISBN 978-1-61695-393-5, $26.95, 368 pgs.

During an auction in Bath, a large slab of carved stone draws a lot of attention, some of it unwanted.  The stone turns out to be a carving of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and the attention it draws involves large sums of cash being bid and a trio of masked gunmen.  When it is all over the stone remains in the hands of thestone wife auction house and one of the bidders is dead.  Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond, and his team, are soon called in to sort things out.  But things don’t add up.  The gunmen, apparent thieves, leave empty handed.  The shot bidder, who dies from his wounds, is a university professor who is a Chaucer expert but who also has a history of bad luck.  The assailants appear to be there with little reason.  As the team begins to try to put things together they end up raising more questions than they can answer.  Pretty soon they’re investigating people with the most unusual connections and what first seemed a fairly simply case of theft now looks like more of a case of gun running and revenge than robbery.

This is Lovesey’s latest entry, the 14th, in his Inspector Diamond series and it is as stylishly crafted as the others in the series, perhaps more so since this one carries forward the history of character.  Lovesey has once again built a mystery that seems almost unsolvable and then has Diamond manage to put it all together through what seems more sheer determination than anything else.  Along the way there are amusing interplays between the investigating team and some seriously puzzling interventions required.  The cast of characters is wide and diverse and any one of them seems capable of having been involved in the deed.

The Stone Wife is a fun and entertaining read giving you bits of English history along the way and introducing you to a cast of characters who are just as they should be for the roles they fill.  Diamond and his team seem almost world weary with their lot but they manage to press on anyway.  Lovesey presents all the clues but holds the resolution until right at the end as Diamond plays his hand in front of his team and the reader.

Recommended and if you would like to get a copy of your very own, click here: The Stone Wife (Peter Diamond #14)

Hidden Persuasion, Andrews, Van Leeuwen & Van Baaren, BIS, ISBN 9789063693145, 192 pgs., 34 Euros (about $40)

The subtitle of this book is 33 psychological influence techniques in advertising. Now, you may be wondering why I’m even looking at a book about advertising, never mind the psychological aspects of it, in what is essentially an SF, fantasy, horror, and thriller review blog with the occasional mystery thrown in. Well, believe it or not, a lot of what you read is written using techniques related to advertising. Besides, this is a pretty eye opening book and it’s very George Orwell in the way some of these techniques are described and implemented.

For example, there is the Disrupt and Reframe technique, the Promised Land technique, the Social Proof technique, God Terms, Loss or Gain, Doublespeak, projection, Door in the Face, and Foot in the door, among many others. Some of these are pretty obvious when you read the names while others are much less common. I have to say that there are also techniques that seem to appear more in Europe and Asia than the US so it’s interesting to see what’s happening elsewhere.

The nice thing about this book is that you not only get the technique itself but the psychological underpinnings behind it. So, you can read about what is being done and then get some understanding about why it is being done in exactly that way. for example, we have all heard that sex sells. But, so does authority, and fear, and scarcity, and humor, and guarantees, and acknowledging resistance. And they all work for different reasons. It makes looking at advertising much more interesting once you realize what they are trying to do to you.

Recommended if you have any interest at all in how things work or in how much your mind is being played with. and, if you want to get a copy of your very own, all you have to do is click right here: Hidden Persuasion: 33 Psychological Influences Techniques in Advertising

Red Rising, Pierce Brown, Del Rey, ISBN 9780345539786, 382 pgs., $25

The comparisons of this book to The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Ender’s Game makes one wonder whether those who make the comparisons have any actual knowledge of those other works or if they just wanted to compare this book to books that had the word game in the title. Are there similarities? Well sure, all four use words and punctuation and have protagonists whored rising go out and do things and have things done to them. So, I guess the comparisons are accurate after all. My bad.

Red Rising is the story of Darrow, who is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color coded society of the future.  He works on Mars, digging into the planet.  It’s dangerous work but Darrow is essentially a kid so what does he know from danger.  The Reds are, essentially, slave labor, used by the elite in control to get all the dirty jobs done.  Somehow, Darrow manages to fall in with the right crowd (at least for those of us who are reading the book) and finds himself becoming a secret agent with a new identity as a Gold, one of the elite.  Al he has to do is fool all the other Golds and survive a brutal, kill all training process that the other golds have spent their entire existence getting ready for.  Piece of pie for the boy.  Soon, Darrow is slicing and dicing with the best of them, raining carnage on the other Gold lads as if he were born to the position. Against all odds, Darrow wins which means he now has a job.  Excellent effort there son.  And that’s where the book ends.

Okay, sure, I make a bit of mock and while it’s fun to do it belies the fact that the book is a fun read and the only real problem I had with it was it’s ending almost in mid sentence.  Don’t writers know how to end things these days?  Yes, there are some plot holes.  Yes there are some inconsistencies.  Yes, there are one or two illogical set ups and situations.  But over the plot moves right along at a pretty good clip and provides a lot of entertainment in the process.

And here is where I eat a bit more crow.  Sure, if you liked Hunger Games and Ender’s Game you will probably enjoy this one too since the basic premise is close enough for comparison.  Game of Thrones?  Anyone’s guess how that one got in here.  Recommended and if you want to get a copy for your very own all you have to do is click here: Red Rising

Dreams and Shadows, C. Robert Cargill, Harper Voyager, ISBN 9780062190420, $24.99, 433 pgs

It’s human nature to compare. In Hollywood the first thing a producer wants to know about a script is what is it like, thus the once sentence smush–it’s like Diehard but with elves, or, It’s like Titanic but with meteors. So, it is inevitable that novels are compared to other novels and writers to writers. Cargill is compared to Gaiman and to others. I suppose this isdreams and shadows meant to help the reader who is wandering the forest wondering which next book to pluck from the shelves, metaphorically speaking since shelves are going away and the plucking involves atoms and electronics more than anything else.

What’s the book about?  In a nutshell, it is about two boys who are switched at birth, one taken to the land of fey and the other left in his place.  Obviously this irreversibly alters the lives of both and also binds them by this event.  Ewan and Colby are about to share adventures, and what adventures they will be for there is a better than even chance that one or both won’t survive.  With the help of a genie, some rogue elves, and more than one supernatural turn of events, the two try to reconcile their past with their present.

To his credit, and this may be where the comparison with Gaiman comes is, Cargill takes his time developing the book, and building the lives of the two protagonists.  Nothing happens fast or without purpose and there are consequences built on consequences build on treachery, built on lies and distrust enough for any one world never mind two.  But even with the time Cargill takes the book is a fairly fast read and interesting as all hell and get out.  It’s unusual and interesting and worth wading into.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes, well, Gaiman, but also to anyone who likes a well crafted story with history and strange characters all moving on their own paths which intersect each other in odd and meaningful ways.  If you’d like to go out and get your own copy all you have to do is click right here: Dreams and Shadows: A Novel

Red Country, Joe Abercrombie, Orbit, ISBN 9780316187213, 451 pgs., $25.99

Shy South’s family has been stolen from her and she’s intent on getting them back. Problem is, her kids have been taken by a group that’s out collecting children for a purpose far from where Shy lives. So, gathering her oxen and taking along her stepfather, Lamb, she sets off after them. She joins with a red countrycaravan heading more or less in the right direction and across the barren plains they go, ending up in a frontier town, just off the map. Soon she finds herself face to face with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his lawyer, Temple.  These, and many more people end up playing key roles in Shy’s quest to get her kids back.  But whether they are for her or against her or just waiting to see is pretty hard to tell and Shy doesn’t have the time to waste so she’s moving forward, consequences be damned.

As with Abercrombie’s other stories, there’s rich characterization here and a lot of commentary on life done through a filter of tired cynicism, none more tired than Cosca’s lawyer, Temple.  There’s plenty of space here for Abercrombie to develop all of his characters in a way that is much richer than most writers.  Even tertiary characters seem to have back stories and agendas here.  This create a rich tapestry within which the characters move and as a reader you are never sure how these individual tales will come together or act in opposition to each other.

I have to admit that I really enjoy reading Abercrombie. I put him in the same group with Erickson and a few others who write with a swatch of dark humor and optimistic cynicism.  It fits my own world view but it’s also fairly humorous which lightens up the fact that so much of the work is grim and death laden.  In some ways this book kept reminding me of a western.  Maybe because they wagon trained across the waste and ended up in a frontier town.

Highly recommended as I recommend all of Abercrombie’s work.  If you like character driven fiction then you’ll probably like this.  And, if you’d like to go out and get your very own copy all you have to do is click here: Red Country

Jocelynn Drake, Dead Man’s Deal, Harper Voyager, ISBN 9780062117885, 371 pgs., $14.99

This is the second book in Drake’s Asylum Tales universe. In this one, tattoo artist Gage, who has managed to escape the ivory towers to become a wizard in exile, now finds himself in debt to a local criminal who has control over Gage’s brother as well as information on Gage.  Gage finds himself forced to do what the crime boss wants or his friends will bear the dead manconsequences.  While this is going on, Gage is trying to stay alive while being hounded by some wizards with grudges, he’s trying to help the elves figure out why they have gone barren, and he’s managed to get himself in the middle of a rebellion against the ivory towers.

This is a lot for one guy, and it’s a guy who’s self esteem and sense of self worth is not all that high to begin with.  I did comment in the review of the first book that the protagonist read like a woman even though the character was male.  That has been fixed in this book.  But there are still some issues here.  first of all there’s just too much being thrown at this character.  No one, I don’t care who they are, becomes the pivot point for four or five major problems all at the same time.  And the guy is not superman so while I can buy his figuring out one I can’t quite grasp his figuring out them all.

The book essentially moves from one crisis to the next to the next and they are all life threatening.  And, to add to the indignity, none of them involve tattoos, which is kind of this guys specialty.

I don’t know. I liked the book enough to read it all the way through to the end but found myself getting poked in the eye each time I was asked to suspend disbelief one more time.  I can do it once, maybe twice but the third time is a bit jarring.

I’m going to recommend it because I think the series has potential if Drake can just ratchet it back a bit.

And, if you’d like to get your very own copy to see what I am talking about all you have to do is click right here: Dead Man’s Deal: The Asylum Tales

Into The Woods, Kim Harrison, Harper Voyager, ISBN 9780061974328, 513 pgs., $24.99

Kim Harrison is the creator of the Hollows series, a universe where magic and reality intersect just outside of Cincinnati. The Hollows, a place where elves and humans and warlocks and grandmothers and vampires and businessmen and werewolves and pixies all co-exist. Sort of. 10 novels make up the serieinto the woodss so far, each centering on Rachel, a witch in trouble and her vampire room mate. As the series has progressed characters have been added and grown and progressed as well.  A while ago a non-fiction book about the Hollows came out.  Now there is this anthology.

Eleven stories make up this book.  Seven involve the Hollows and the other four are supernatural additions.  The seven which involve the Hollows include a new novella and two new short stories.  The other four short stories have been published elsewhere but are collected here for the first time.

Needless to say, if you are a fan of the series this is a must read.  I would add that even if you have not read the series this anthology works as a stand alone since short fiction usually does not require a lot of background to work in the first place.  So, if you just like supernatural fiction there is actually no better place to go than here.

Harrison is a gifted writer with a very smooth writing style.  Her ability to create characters that you relate to is a genuine gift.  I do have to admit that I think she is in best form in her longer works but there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had here.

Definitely recommended for those who want to know more on the background of many of the characters and who want to fill in a few holes that were left in the novels.  It’s all here for the taking so go ahead and enjoy.

And if you want your very own copy all you have to do is click here: Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond (Hollows Story Collection)