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

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

Star Corpsman: Bloodstar, Ian Douglas, Harper Voyager, ISDBN 9780061894763, $7.99, Paperback, 355 pgs

star corpsmanElliot Carlyle is a Navy Corpsman which means he needs to not only be able to manage all of the weapons and armor associated with off planet marines but he needs to be able to patch them together, and, when needed, get enough of their dead or mangled bodies back from the battle so they can be fixed back on the shop. Elliot’s first trip out is to the planet Bloodworld, a high temperature planet colonized by a fanatic sect of salvationists who picked that world in particular so they would suffer. When the alien Qesh showed up with guns drawn Bravo Company’s Black Wizards of the interstellar Fleet Marine Force are called in for extraction. The enemies have superior fire power, the residents don’t really want to be saved, and the marines are very aware that if the computer records on the planet fall, then the aliens could get the location of Earth.

Star Corpsman follows that fine SF tradition of marines in space or military SF.  They’ve got the technology and the will power and are usually outgunned but, on the other hand, they are the Marines.  There’s plenty of action, shooting, blowing up of things, and tense situations that could go either way, even though as readers we know the crisis on page 50 is not going to be all that decisive with all those pages left in the book.  But, hey, we’re not reading this kind of stuff because we’re looking for philosophical discussions about the meaning of human life in the universe.  No, we’re looking to kick alien butt, and to do so frequently and with finality.

Ian Douglas is the author of the Star Carrier series as well as a number of other books and this is the kind of stuff he’s good at so one walks in with expectations and they are, pretty solidly met. I enjoyed the book, perhaps not as much as the Star Carrier series but then this is a new one and it’s always a bit of an adjustment.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone out there looking to get their Marines in space fix.

And, if you’d like to get a copy for your self, or a friend, or an alien species so they can prepare, all you have to do is click right here: Bloodstar: Star Corpsman: Book One

Hellbent, Cherie Priest, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-52062-3, 338 pgs., $15.00, mass market paperback

The Vampire Deutsch: Der Vampir

The Vampire Deutsch: Der Vampir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raylene Pendle is a thief.  She’s also a vampire.  She’s also the keeper of a band of misfits who probably would not survive without her help.  One of the misfits is Adrian deJesus, an ex Navy SEAL/drag queen who assists Raylene on jobs totally for the purpose of getting her to help him find his sister who was part of a secret government experimental program trying to figure out how to gain the benefits from vampires without actually having to turn people into vampires. While Raylene is a thief she’s no ordinary thief, only pulling jobs that net a huge return in cash.  This time she’s on the hunt for a handful of dried werewolf penis’ that are currently in the hands of a schizophrenic sorceress  out for revenge.  As you can see, Raylene does not do ordinary snatch and grab.  While she’s on the hunt for the artifacts, she’s also trying to resolve some internal vampire politics involving one of the other members of her little band of misfits, a blind, older vampire, who is next in line to be the head of the San Francisco house but is blind and would not survive the inevitable fight for power.  Besides, his brother is currently running the house  and that just makes it all even more complicated.

As you can see, Priest weaves a fairly complicated plot, driving three or four different story lines at the same time.  She is adept at this, but then, again, she is no beginning author.  the story moves, partially due to the multiple plot lines, at a fairly fast past.  Priest writes with some humor as well, never leaving an inside joke alone.  In the end it all works.

You do have to suspend your initial belief that a vampire would ever need to be a thief or that a vampire who so insistently states that she works alone ends up with a houseful of broken beings needing her care.  So, either she’s not a reliable narrator–if you can’t believe her in this realm why should you in others–or there’s something else going on that is not evident yet.  But this is a niggling kind of thing that is just as easily ignored.

In the final analysis, which is really what drives one to either enjoy a book or toss it across the room, it all works out to a fun and fairly quick read.  Definitely recommended.  One of the better books out there in the supernatural/vampire/noir vein.  Heh, I made a funny.

To order your own copy, go here–Hellbent

Random Thoughts Raised While Reviewing

Novels in a Polish bookstore

Novels in a Polish bookstore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the focus of this blog is typically on books, occasionally things happen that seem to call out for the generation of some additional attention. For example, two weeks ago I received two packages in the mail from two different publishing companies. Both packages came on the same day and both contained books. The packages actually contained books that were frighteningly familiar. In this case western vampire novels. Even the covers looked similar. The two books in question were Blood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin and The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins. Both covers are done in blues and greys with the protagonist primary. In each case the protagonist is in a black duster and holding a large rifle. If you want to read reviews of the novels in question you can find them at SFRevu.com . I review for them as well.

Random thought jump.  So, I was reading a novel and the main scene in one of the later chapters involves the capture of a bad guy. The bad guy is tied to a chair in a room filled with members of the protagonist group, one of whom wants to shoot the bad guy in the head. The remaining members are not that different in their feelings. Then, there is an occurrence outside the room and everyone leaves.  Must have been some commotion because the bad guy who is tied to the chair is never mentioned again in the book. Guess he wasn’t that important.  Guess he’s still there, tied to that chair.  We’ll never know.

Random thought shift.  I was reading another novel and it seemed like every other page contained either a spelling or grammar error. In some cases words were repeated or there were words left after obvious changes made either by the author or an editor, while in others there were name shifts and word exclusions. If this had been a minor press, I would put it down to economics or time pressures. But this was a major publisher and a major author. Clearly the book had to have been copy edited prior to being published so it had to have passed under at least two sets of eyes–the copy editor and the author approving the copy edits–prior to publication.  This makes it very hard to explain. The occasional error, sure, that happens, but the error rate in this book had me wanting to pull my blue pencil so I could send the thing back to the publisher just to make a point. The bottom line here is that time spent identifying or figuring out errors is not time spent immersed in the story.

Random thought shift.  The last random thought I have, well, it’s not the last random thought I have but the last one that I am going to share with you here, is that I have noticed a trend on the part of publishers to not let you know whether a novel is part of a series or not. To my mind it would be helpful, prior to picking up a book, to know that it is the first in a series. It’s even worse if you pick up a book and don’t discover until you are mid way through it that it is the second or third book in a series. Now, some books don’t interconnect in such a way that this may matter. But, most series books do. I’m not sure what publishers are trying to do here. Either they are blatantly trying to fool you into buying a book that is not complete–as many first books in a series are not–or they are evidencing in one more way, that they have become sloppy and error prone.

These kinds of errors are not the kinds of behaviors we want to see from a business that claims it may be on the brink of ending. I, for one, happen to like books. Physically I mean. I don’t like reading off a screen and I don’t care that you have 1200 novels on your kindle. I have three books with me when I travel and that is usually more than enough. It is my belief that review copies will go entirely electronic in the next two years, which will spell the end of my reviewing career. I just can’t read electronic versions. Luckily, my 1200 books are on shelves where I can grab one or two whenever I need one and even if I read two a week I’ve got at least a decade’s worth sitting there.