Saturday, May 28, 2016

'Night Shift' Wraps the Midnight, Texas Series Up In a Neat Little Package


WARNING: SPOILERS! 

Midnight Crossroad Review
Day Shift Review

Charlaine Harris wraps up her Midnight, Texas trilogy this year with Night Shift. Since I can no longer look forward to new seasons of True Blood in the summer, I get my supernatural fix from the annual May release of these books. (What will I do next year?)

No, Charlaine Harris is not perfect. Yes, her characters are subject to an old-fashioned double standard that punishes women when it comes to sexuality. This volume contains blatant sexuality-shaming of Fiji Cavanaugh's sister Kiki. I'd hoped maybe Harris had learned, through public criticism, not to write sexism and racism into her novels, but she's still a work in progress.

That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy reading these books. The third book in the series was as hard for me to put down as the other two.

Hints have been dropped all along that Manfred, the novel's psychic, is something other than a plain ol' human being. In this volume, we finally discover what his non-human lineage is. It's demon. The new guy who took over running Midnight's gas station turns out to be Manfred's biological grandfather, and said grandfather had a demon father. Manfred's mother was a quarter-demon, so Manfred is an eighth-demon. No wonder his psychic powers aren't just a cheap trick.

(I know Manfred is a carryover from another Charlaine Harris series, but it's not one that I've read.)

Other satisfying developments happen on the romance front. For one thing, we learn that "hybrid" vampire Lemuel and bow-wielding assassin Olivia Charity are now husband and wife. They got the Rev (a tiger shapeshifter, as we learned in Day Shift) to marry them so that if Olivia were killed in the line of duty, Lemuel could inherit her share of the family fortune.

To be honest, though, they probably would have gotten married anyway. They genuinely love each other, and Lemuel can be surprisingly old-fashioned when it comes to the ways to physical love.

Speaking of physical love, we learn a slightly surprising thing about Fiji: she's a virgin. That's not too terribly unusual, given that she lives in a small town with only a handful of eligible bachelors, and she's only - what, 25? Maybe 26 years old? Not that there's anything wrong with being a virgin, or with not being a virgin. It's just that Fiji is interested in pursuing romantic and sexual relationships, but she just hasn't had luck in that department...yet.

Well, that all changes by the end of this novel, in an example of Deus Sex Machina, sub-trope Mate or Die. As the town's virgin witch, Fiji must engage in a public sex ritual at the Midnight Crossroad in order to avert the rising of Manfred's demon grandfather. For several chapters, it's left open who will volunteer to be her partner in the hieros gamos

But I don't think too many people will be surprised to discover that Fiji's longtime crush, Bobo Winthrop, returns her amorous feelings. And then some. Their ritual mating is oddly sweet; it plays out like well-written fan fiction.

A Caution: There is a major "squick" in this novel re: details of how Olivia was abused as a child. If you're sensitive to depictions of child abuse, you may want to skip this volume.

One loose end has not been wrapped up, though: Quinn the weretiger is still without a mate. Ms. Harris, will you please write another Quinn book? I thought he was the wrong guy for Sookie Stackhouse and the wrong guy for Fiji Cavanaugh, but he's the right guy for someone. So if we could have another Quinn novel, that'd be great.

Not too long ago, NBC announced it would premiere Midnight, Texas as a series this coming autumn. I'm likely to watch it, but reluctantly so. I like my zaftig heroines to be played by curvy actresses. Parisa Fitz-Henley, cast as Fiji, seems too thin for the part. No offense to thin women - I just don't think Fitz-Henley looks at all like the Fiji Cavanaugh in my head. If she's not at least a size 10, she's not MY Fiji.

I checked this book out from my local library and was not obligated in any way to review it. This review represents my own honest opinion.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

'Still Life with Bread Crumbs' #Fiction #BookReview

Still Life with Bread CrumbsStill Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't get the feeling that this was an actual novel so much as a novella or long short story stretched out by lots of short chapters and blank spaces by an enterprising publisher.

Still, it was an enjoyable read with a relatable heroine. Rebecca is 60, and it's always nice when fiction shows us older adult protagonists who continue to grow, learn, and change. Being a romantic at heart, I was satisfied with the love story - but you certainly don't have to be a romance reader to appreciate the low-key pleasures of this book.

I purchased this book with my own funds from a library used media sale. I was not obligated in any way to review it. It was on my Grandma's TBR list, so she read it and then passed it along to me.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Sunday, May 8, 2016

'The May Queen Murders' by Sarah Jude


The May Queen MurdersThe May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the book for you if you like:

- Young adult books that deal with mature themes, including death and sexuality
- LOTS of plot twists
- Books with a dark, tense, and moody atmosphere
- Authors who can capture the feeling of first love
- Latina heroines
- Tense, suspenseful scenes
- Books set in the Ozark Mountains
- Stories set in modern times, but in settings in which the characters lead old-fashioned lifestyles

This novel is compulsively readable from the first page. While it hooks the reader from the start, the tension builds slowly but steadily to a hectic, harrowing finale. This is a well-crafted example of the mystery genre for young adults.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'Phantom: The Immortal:' A Writing Collaboration from Bestselling Authors Mitzi Szereto and Ashley Lister


Release date: Spring 2016
Now available in e-book; coming soon in trade paperback
Price: USD $5.99 (digital edition); USD $9.99 (trade paperback edition)
Digital edition: 174 pages; trade paper edition: 202 pages
Genres: Erotic Romance, Gothic Romance, Paranormal Erotic Romance, Romantic Suspense

Sexual desire and soul-searing need fuel this contemporary erotic sequel that relocates the original character from Gaston Leroux’s classic novel The Phantom of the Opera to present-day Paris…


While attending an auction of music memorabilia, young soprano Christine Delacroix bids on some letters written by another young soprano, Christine DaaĆ©, who lived during the 19th century. Here she meets the handsome Compte Rezso Esterhazy, who immediately sets out to court her. Despite his attentions, Christine becomes obsessed with the DaaĆ© letters and her namesake’s mysterious “Angel of Music”—a masked man who lived beneath the Paris Opera House.

Seemingly immortal and frozen in time, the Phantom is condemned to life below the opera house and in the shadows…until Christine Delacroix auditions for a minor role in Faust. Convinced the Christine from his past has been returned to him, he sets out for her to have the lead female role. He visits her in her dressing room to give her singing lessons, all the while remaining hidden from view. Insanely jealous over Christine’s budding romance with the Compte, the Phantom abducts her and takes her to his underground lair, where the singing lessons continue. Only this time they are far more depraved and sexual in nature.


Visit the book’s website at: http://mitziszereto.com/phantomtheimmortal

About the authors:

Mitzi Szereto (mitziszereto.com) is an author and anthology editor of multi-genre fiction and non-fiction. She has her own blog of humorous essays at Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog (mitziszereto.com/blog), and a web TV channel Mitzi TV (mitziszereto.com/tv), which covers the quirky side of London, England.

Her books include Rotten Peaches (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles) and Normal for Norfolk (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles)—the cozy mystery/satire series co-authored with her sidekick bear Teddy Tedaloo; The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray; Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts; Darker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance; Love, Lust and Zombies; Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire; Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance; Getting Even: Revenge Stories; and Dying For It: Tales of Sex and Death.


Mitzi has pioneered erotic writing workshops in the UK and mainland Europe, teaching from the Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands, as well as lecturing in creative writing at several British universities. Her anthology Erotic Travel Tales 2 is the first anthology of erotica to feature a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Ashley Lister (ashleylister.co.uk) is a prolific writer, having written more than two dozen full-length novels and over a hundred short stories. His most recent titles include the Sweet Temptation series from HarperCollins and the horror novel Raven and Skull, due to be released mid-2016.


Aside from regularly blogging about writing, Ashley is also an occasional performance poet and teaches creative writing. He has hosted creative writing workshops at Eroticon, the annual conference for sex bloggers and erotica writers, and is the editor of Coming Together in Verse, a charity anthology of erotic poetry. Ashley is currently studying for a PhD in creative writing, focusing on short fiction. He lives in Lancashire in the UK. Visit his blog at ashleylisterauthor.blogspot.co.uk.

http://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Immortal-Mitzi-Szereto-ebook/dp/B01BN4G0RI/

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Thriller Book Review: 'The Payback Assignment' by Austin Camacho


The Payback AssignmentThe Payback Assignment by Austin S. Camacho

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like the action/adventure type of thriller novel, you really can't go wrong with this one. It's as fast-paced and absorbing as a Dan Brown novel, but with more sensory details and less awkward phrasing. Hero Morgan Stark and heroine Felicity O'Brian are multi-dimension characters, and well-matched ones at that. True, they would make a good couple, but their bond is even more profound than that of lovers. They have an almost paranormal sense of when the other is in danger. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the other two books in the series.

Full disclosure: Although I do not know the author personally, he and I were social media friends for a few years on Gather.com. He did not ask me to review this book. I purchased it with my own funds at a discount bookstore and was not obligated in any way to review it. This review represents my own honest opinion.



View all my reviews on Goodreads

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

J.K. Rowling, Writing as Robert Galbraith, Doesn't Fear the Reaper

I started a new audio book today. So far I've heard 1 of the 15 discs of the audio version of Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil. Beginning Career of Evil by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith forces me to consider a post I wrote many years ago, one that has to do with, of all things, the rock band Blue Oyster Cult (BOC).


Although the two previous Cormoran Strike novels (The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm) were filled with references to classical English poetry and Latin texts, this one is different - it's filled with BOC song lyrics. The book opens with our heroine Robin receiving a grisly package containing a human leg, with some lyrics included in the package. Strike soon tells Robin that his own mother, "super-groupie" Leda Strike, admired the BOC above all other rock groups, although she was never able to hook up with lead singer Eric Bloom.

Eric Bloom, in a Creative Commons image
I recalled immediately that Rowling was not the first person in the media to associate the BOC with creepiness. I recalled a 4-part blog post series I had previously mentioned in my Buddy Holly/Imbolc post in 2012:

How the Music Died Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

The posts are quite long and detailed, but I will attempt to summarize as briefly as I can. The overarching theme of the 4-part post series is that from approximately 1959 - the year of Buddy Holly's death - to 1969, the commercial rock music industry in the U.S. was heavily influenced by "sinister forces." The post author, known as VISUP, contends there is a parallel between such a shift in the music industry and a similar one in U.S. politics.

Public domain image of Buddy Holly
Part III is an overview of the Blue Oyster Cult. Part IV deals specifically with a song called "Dominance and Submission." Some points made by VISUP in Part III are:

1. Essentially, BOC were a "biker bar band" until "scooped up" by Sandy Pearlman, a manager/producer who had previously been a music critic. Pearlman wrote some of the groups' song lyrics.

2. 1990s music critics used the term "heavy psych" to describe the type of late 1960s/early 1970s hard rock that BOC played. Although not commonly thought of as such, the BOC -according to VISUP - can be firmly placed within that circle of heavy psych bands that contributed to the early proto-punk movement.

3. Pearlman himself was attached to proto-punk in that he was friends with Lenny Kaye and Patti Smith of the Patti Smith Group. Smith wrote a number of songs for BOC, including "Career of Evil."


4. Pearlman was also interested in the occult, which influenced his songwriting for the BOC.

5. In his pre-BOC days, Pearlman is alleged to have written a series of occult poems (collectively referred to as The Secret Doctrines of Imaginos) about a group of eldritch spirit-beings he called The Invisibles, which might be thought of as akin to H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones.


6. The Invisibles were associated, albeit vaguely, with the star Sirius.

7. In this aspect, Pearlman was not alone; a number of writers in the 1970s associated extraterrestrial beings with the Sirius star system. In fact, if you go into the pseudohistory category on Wikipedia, you'll find an example: The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple.


Although the cover says "scientific evidence," the Wikipedia entry lists a number of critics, including Carl Sagan, who have debunked the theories it presents.

8. The band's name, Blue Oyster Cult, comes from the Imaginos series. The fictional BOC were the human servants of The Invisibles, aiming to help their overlords achieve world domination.

9. Pearlman and the BOC originated from Long Island.

10. The religion of Wicca entered the United States through Long Island, specifically (at least in some part) through the Warlock Shoppe in Brooklyn.

11. Peter Levenda, described as a "rogue historian," associates the Warlock Shoppe with something called the Process Church of Final Judgment.


12. The Process Church of the Final Judgment is associated by some writers with murderers including Charles Manson and David Berkowitz. It's alleged to be a nationwide "death cult." The Wikipedia entry describes it as an offshoot of Scientology. The Wiki author says in his book Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi claimed that Charles Manson "may have borrowed philosophically" from the church.


The Process Church began in London...which is precisely where the fictional Robin Ellacott and Cormoran Strike live.

13. VISUP is drawing no firm conclusions from any of this, but at the very least, the BOC's music circa 1972 was created in the atmosphere of motorcycle gangs, the Wiccan goings-on of the Warlock Shoppe, and potentially the doings of the Process Church, which may or may not be nefarious.

Part IV: The "Dominance and Submission" Post

1. The 1974 song - co-written by Pearlman and two members of the band - seems to refer to a shift in consciousness.

2. A character named "Susie" is mentioned in the song. Supposedly, Susie was an ex-girlfriend of Sandy Pearlman's. VISUP interprets the name in several ways, including as a symbol for the "vibrant rock scene."

3. A second character in the song is called Charles, referred to as Susie's brother. Through elaborate flights of association, VISUP suggests Charles represents an initiate into a new way of life. Another association VISUP makes for Charles is as a sacrificial victim.

4. One indicator, and possible cause, of the shift in musical consciousness between 1959 and 1969 was The Beatles and their meteoric rise to fame.

5. "Charles" is The Beatles.

6. Charles/The Beatles are an example of the price musicians pay for their fame - the "submission" to the "dominance" of corporate interests.

In conclusion, both Don McLean's song "American Pie" and the BOC's "Dominance and Submission" chronicle the shift in American music, and in American consciousness, over the 1959-1969 period.

When I was in high school, I took a course called Media. My teacher, the late great Tom Gerencher, covered rock 'n' roll/rock music when we talked about the history of radio. He mentioned several calamities that happened around 1960 that helped end the reign of rock 'n' roll songs (with the typically AABA chord structure the form shares with blues music, as typified by Buddy Holly and Fats Domino), making way for rock music, rock 'n' roll's more complicated descendant.

As I recall, The Day the Music Died (February 3, 1959) was part of it, as were:

- Elvis Presley being drafted into the army (March 1958)
- The revelation to the public that Jerry Lee Lewis's wife was underage (May 1958)
- The payola scandal and disc jockey Alan Freed's being fired from his radio and TV shows (November 1959)
- Chuck Berry's arrest for an alleged violation of the Mann Act (December 1959; he subsequently served three years in prison)

Chuck Berry - public domain image in the United States
With all those rock 'n' roll stars being taken off the market, so to speak, from 1958 to 1960, it's easy to see why the American music-buying public would be primed for a new sound by the time the Beatles hit the American shores. Therefore, I tend to believe VISUP when he says there was a huge shift in the music industry between 1959 and 1969, approximately. Whether the songs "American Pie" and "Dominance and Submission" exemplify that shift is more speculative. Still more speculative is a link between BOC, the Beatles, and various conspiracy theories.

Is there a special reason why Rowling would choose to incorporate the band's occultish lyrics into a book that has already featured a gruesome murder and mutilation? I'll have to finish the book to find out.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why You Should Watch ’11.22.63’ on Hulu


First, a confession: I’ve never read a Stephen King book. Not a one. I’ve read a short story from the Salem’s Lot universe in a vampire anthology, and I’ve read an excerpt from On Writing. I did not read 11.22.63. I didn’t even pay much attention to the Under the Dome miniseries when it was on, although I have seen Misery more than once.

I wanted to watch 11.22.63 because the gal one cube over from me at the Day Job recommended it. I soon discovered there are many reasons to watch this Hulu miniseries, reasons that make it much better than Under the Dome.

1. James Franco. I enumerated the reasons I appreciate the older Franco brother one Hanukkah night. He’s still my favorite film Allen Ginsberg. (Yeah, I still haven’t seen Kill Your Darlings. I’m behind on my writer biopics.) He may be one of my people, one of the bi/pans, but that remains undetermined. He’s definitely a cute Jewish boy with curly hair, though.

In this miniseries, he plays a high school English teacher. He does so convincingly. I think James Franco might actually make a good English teacher in real life. He would be a distraction to the students who like boys, but still.

2. Lucy Fry is Marina Oswald. You may remember Lucy Fry as the Moroi princess Lissa Dragomir in the Vampire Academy movie. Here she plays the physically and emotionally abused wife of Lee Harvey Oswald. She warms to the advances of historically fictitious character Bill Turcotte, played by the lovely young English actor George MacKay, a Kentucky farm boy enlisted as a helper by Franco’s character Jake. Sadly, Bill and Marina are not destined for the happy ending that Lissa and Christian Ozera enjoy.

I read in a Goodreads discussion group that the character Bill did not appear in the book, but was added for the miniseries.

3. The plot is genuinely intriguing. It has a wrinkle in time – a magical closet that takes a person back to a specific date in 1960, and no matter how long they stay, only two minutes have passed in the modern world. Diner owner Al, losing a battle with cancer, recruits Jake to use the portal to go back in time and follow Lee Harvey Oswald to determine if Oswald is, in fact, the sole killer responsible for the murder of President Kennedy. If he is sure of Oswald’s guilt, Jake is supposed to kill Oswald so that the president lives and, Al hopes, the Vietnam War will end much, much sooner than it did historically.

4. Al is played by Chris Cooper. I enumerated in the In Cold Blood post the film projects that make Cooper such an important character actor. It helps that he kissed Kevin Spacey. I mean, I don’t know if it helps his career, but it helps me, personally. It’s not a positive example of lgbtq+ media representation, but in the 1990s, we were lucky to see same-sex kisses on the big screen at all.

5. Speaking of kisses, this Stephen King-derived material is surprisingly romantic. Bill/Marina is only the secondary romantic plot; Jake finds love in the past with Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon, the heroine of Dracula Untold), a librarian. Of course, as Al warns Jake, if you push against the past, the past pushes back. Jake’s pursuit of Oswald places Sadie in grave danger, causing Jake to wonder if his true mission is to live a long, happy life with Sadie, and the president be damned.

6. Sadie’s favorite book is From Here to Eternity. When Jake first lays eyes on Sadie, she’s sitting on a park bench, reading From Here to Eternity. The dust jacket photo of James Jones appears prominently in the scene. The two discuss the book, mentioning that the book is better than the movie. (It is. It is much, much better. And the movie’s still great.) Later, when Jake thinks all is lost, he hallucinates or imagines Sadie sitting on a bench in a bus depot, reading From Here to Eternity.

All 8 parts have now been released, so if you have access, check it out. It’s science fiction, and there’s a touch of Kingly horror, and there’s even a touch of a dystopian present, but don’t feel bound by any one genre. It’s much more interesting stuff than Under the Dome, although maybe not quite as spectacular as The Shining.