Friday, May 27, 2016

The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child

Jeremy Logan, an “enigmalogist” who specializes in solving mysteries that often border on the supernatural, returns in this quirky and impossible-to-put-down page turner. I purchased the hardcover for this one, but the book is now available in paperback. Lincoln Child has written yet another exciting adventure story. There are some plot elements here that are reminiscent of some pulp science fiction tales, but Lincoln Child makes it all seem plausible. After the presumed suicide of an old colleague, Logan ventures to Newport, Rhode Island where cadres of scientists are working on their programs inside an old complex that borders the sea. The erratic behavior of several members, in addition to Logan’s sense that other, sinister forces are at play here, lead him into a labyrinthine maze of intrigue and terror. When he discovers a forgotten room, sealed for decades, he search focuses on some scientific apparatus that may very lead him to his own grave. What were they experimenting with and why is it relevant today? The elements of fantastic fiction, scientific secrets, and deceptively tangled web of those interested in exploiting those secrets for their own benefit, rushes along at a pulse-pounding rate. Lincoln Child is on his game with The Forgotten Room. His previous Jeremy Logan adventure, The Third Gate, is also still available in paperback. As most of you know, Lincoln Child also writes novels with Douglas Preston. All of their books, either solo novels such as this one, or their co-authored titles, are worth your time. The Forgotten Room should make your list of best recent thrillers.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lawless by Ed Gorman

I am long overdue in discussing an Ed Gorman novel on this blog. There was a time when he had books coming out from Leisure and Berkley and I bought whatever I could afford. If any of you are ever fortunate to meet my wife, she enjoys telling a story about giving me “lunch money” when we were first married (over thirty years ago) and then discovering I wasn’t eating lunch. You’ve already guessed what I did with the money. That’s right – the paperbacks piled up. They continue to pile up. Gorman is one of my favorites. Lawless dates from 2000, published by Berkley, a tough western. Gorman writes with an economy of style that still fully realizes the scenes, dialogue and characterization. His westerns are always rugged, exciting page-turners. Sam Conagher grew up wanting to be a train robber. But when he meets up with Earl Cates he ends up in Yuma prison. Fast forward a few years and once out of prison Conagher drifts about until he discovers that Cates is now the sheriff of a town that doesn’t much care about his past. Conagher isn’t certain if Cates on the level now. Subplots involving past loves and a new love add a rich texture to the story. Something else is cooking in the town of Templar, and Conagher soon discovers he doesn’t much like it. I don’t like revealing extensive plot details, but I can say that Lawless didn’t play out the way I expected. The fate of two characters – Nora and Callie – came as a surprise. Track down a copy of this one and you’ll see what I mean. These days I don’t have to worry so much about lunch money, and I’m glad I picked this one up. Lawless falls into the category of being pretty damn good.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Haymeadow by Gary Paulsen

My unbridled enthusiasm for Gary Paulsen’s books and my respect for his storytelling skill surpass anything I feel about so many other writers. Gary Paulsen is a literary treasure, and The Haymeadow is but one of many great books that he’s written. The Haymeadow is a coming-of-age story, told in a straightforward manner, and captivating in its presentation. John Barron is just fourteen years old and presented with the task of caring for several thousand sheep in the haymeadow, just as his father and grandfather had before him. He must handle this immense task with only two horses and four dogs for company. Left to fend for himself, Barron’s summer in the haymeadow turns into a long and difficult learning experience. Plagued by floods, coyotes, a bear and a constant string of bad luck, he learns to rely on his wits and ingenuity to extract himself from the difficulties that life has thrown at him. Paulsen is a master of characterization and The Haymeadow puts you right into John Barron’s boots every step of the way. I enjoy Paulsen’s books because he is always able to handle interesting topics and fascinating characters without making it seem like he’s preaching. His down-to-earth style and vivid prose add depth to everything he writes. The Haymeadow is exciting and swift, with an ending that handles an interesting plot twist with care. I own a nice stack of Paulsen’s books including The Winter Room, The Monument, Hatchet, Popcorn Days & Buttermilk Nights, Harris and Me, The Beet Fields and more. His books generally fall into the “Young Adult” category but don’t let the label stop you from reading his great books.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Writers of the Future 32

The stunning cover for Writers of the Future 32 was created by Sergey Poyarkov and captures the imaginative worlds represented in this best-selling anthology series. Also included in this volume are full color reproductions of the artwork gracing each story. The Illustrators of the Future is an integral part of the annual Writers of the Future series. Represented here are illustrators extraordinaire Killian McKeown, Paul Otteni, Talia Spencer, Irvin Rodriguez, Maricela Ugarte Pena, Elder Zakirov, Rob Hassan, Adrian Massaro, Preston Stone, Vlada Monakhova, Brandon knight, Jonas Spokas, Daniel Tyka, Dino Hadziavdic, Camber Arnhart, and Christina Alberici. Each piece of artwork is rich with imagery and imagination, all the result of these artists putting their talent to work creating a representational scene for each story.

The stories themselves are all highly entertaining, and each year I’ve come to rely on the WOTF anthology as a source of creative inspiration. The stories are fresh, original and wildly imaginative. There is no other anthology series that pleases me as much as the WOTF books. As expected, WOTF kicks off to a high-octane start with “The Star Tree” by John Lasser, a heartfelt tale about loss involving trading cards that hold the memories of entire worlds. This is followed by Stewart C. Baker’s “Images Across a Shattered Sea,” a short but provocative tale about choices and their ramifications; and then “Mobius” by Christoph Weber which is a startling and pleasing futuristic tale about life, death and something more.

The reader is invited to pause at this juncture with two pieces from the WOTF creator, L. Ron Hubbard himself. First is a bit of insightful whimsy titled “How to Drive a Writer Crazy,” followed by a vintage science fiction piece called “The Last Admiral,” all of which should whet your appetite for any of the vintage LRH reprints now offered by Galaxy Press.

Plunging onward, the reader will meet a story titled “The Jack of Souls” by Stephen Merlino, which, like its predecessors, is jam-packed with mood, imagery, insight and thrills. You’ll never think about card-playing the same way again. “Swords Like Lightning, Hooves Like Thunder” by K. D. Julicher is among the longer tales, but a fantasy so compelling I couldn’t put it down. I hope to read more about Yvina in the future. This is followed by an essay by Tim Powers (yes, that Tim Powers) called “Where Steampunk Started,” and this in turn is bookmarked with an original steampunk story by The Runelords author (and contest judge) David Farland. By the time I reached this page in the book (page 180), I was dazzled by the incredible energy and creativity evident in each selection.

“Squalor and Sympathy” by Matt Dovey is a brilliant tale about a factory worker named Anna, and then onward to “Dinosaur Dreams In Infinite Measure” by Rachel K. Jones which is an amazing tale about a girl whose mother created a dinosaur engine. By the time I finished reading the stories by Matt Dovey and Rachel K. Jones I was reminded yet again why this contest is called Writers of the Future. I can’t wait to read more stories by all of these authors. “Cry Havoc” by Julie Frost is powerful, bizarre and haunting; and “A Glamour In the Black” by Sylvia Anna Hiven is seductive and mesmerizing. Ryan Row’s “The Broad Sky Was Mine, And the Road” is a vivid, first-rate tale with a beautifully written final paragraph that encapsulates Row’s talent.

Celebrated best-selling author, and one of the contest judges, Brandon Sanderson offers a riveting essay on the craft of writing titled “The Fine Distinction Between Cooks and Chefs.” Then former WOTF winner and now best-selling author Sean Williams treats us to a delicious tale called “The Jade Woman of the Luminous Star.” The next story is “Freeboot” by R. M. Graves, a lushly atmospheric tale in the classic science fiction mode; and “Last Sunset for The World Weary” by H. L. Fullerton is a lyrical tale about the world ending, and finally “The Sun Falls Apart” by J. W. Alden takes us to an imaginative place where sunlight is something to be desired. All of these stories are sparkling with ideas, both enigmatic and entertaining. Writers of the Future 32 concludes with two short essays on art, one by Sergey Poyarkov and the other by Bob Eggleton. I didn’t simply just read WOTF 32, I devoured it. Congratulations to all participants!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Exotica Music with Gene Rains

This was after the war, when we were hungry for the way things were after the last war. Our lives are an endless cycle of going to war, hating each other, and then waking up in the yellow industrial dawn with a well-deserved hangover. I had stumbled into one of those magic places before midnight, the kind of place where the cat’s pajamas are still the groove, and that old occult yearning is like electricity at your fingertips. It was a place of saxophones and trumpets, a piano, and cigarette smoke making question marks and exclamation points in the air. I had seen the brunette across the room, and after some idle chatter with my friends, she joined us and we laughed. It was like a dream, and it all mostly faded away, except for a few snippets she tossed out like confetti from her perfect red lips. “Whatever happened to Gene Rains,” I asked, and she danced a little, like a sultry panther. Then she waved her hands like some character from Bell, Book and Candle. The lights flickered, and Lotus Land and Jungle Drums and Sayonara and Bangkok Cockfight all shimmered to life from hidden speakers. We all danced, and I was jealous when she danced with the beatnik in the dark turtle-neck and the artist’s beret. When I finally had her dancing with me she whispered in my ear with her delicious hot breath tickling me, “Oh, baby, I love Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, too.” Then it was my turn to laugh, and I gave her Stan Getz and Thelonious Monk. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. She gave me Les Baxter, and it was enough, more than enough. We had them all that night, but it was best with Gene Rains. The vibraphone and flute and percussion and piano and experimenting with martinis because it was the thing to do. Soshu Night Serenade reverberating long after the music stopped and she was a fading whisper that I desperately wanted to decipher. Her voice like wind-chimes. Her eyes molten. “I want you to know that I like it slow even if I don’t know if you’re going to come or go.” But that was a long time ago, and all of those people are gone now, but sometimes I still wake up at night sweating because I thought I heard something. I wonder, whatever happened to Gene Rains? Jasmine and Jade, baby, all night long.