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AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

UPDATE! Lilith Saintcrow: GALLOW AND RAGGED TRILOGY

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Lilith Saintcrow with a review of Wasteland King, the third novel in her GALLOW AND RAGGED TRILOGY

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

UPDATE! Jennifer Estep: ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Jennifer Estep with a review of Unraveled, the 15th novel in her ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

NEW NOVEL! Ben H. Winters: "Underground Airlines"

Author:  Ben H. Winters
Series:  Underground Airlines (7/2016)
Plot Type:  A genre blend of alternate history, thriller, and noir detective mystery  
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality1; Dark Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Mulholland Books (Little, Brown and Company)

                        PUBLISHER'S BLURB                          
     It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.

     A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't rightwith the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.

     A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of allthough his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.

     Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost. Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe. 

                        WORLD-BUILDING                          
     The key premise in the novel's mythology is that Lincoln was assassinated (in Indianapolis) in 1861—before his inauguration to the presidency, before the Civil War broke out. In the initial shock over the assassination, citizens and politicians alike were so shaken that they came to a compromise in which five states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Carolina—a single state combining North and South Carolina) would be allowed to buy, sell, and own slaves within their borders and that the 18th Amendment would be passed with the ironclad stipulation that no future amendment or congressional action can "abolish or interfere with slavery in any of the States by whose laws it is, or may be, allowed or permitted." Later, Georgia voted to outlaw slavery, so that leaves the "Hard Four" as the remaining slave states.

     In the modern plantations within the Hard Four, the white bosses have honed their skills over the years and have designed a highly efficient system of slavery that relies heavily on technology (particularly for security) and pop psychology (slaves are forced to sing songs pledging their loyalty to their owners). All slaves wear a corporate brand tattooed at the base of their necks above the collarbone. 

     Most of the free states are Clean Hands states, with laws prohibiting hotels and restaurants from serving anything exported from the Hard Four, but the big corporations find ways to bypass those laws, and—unsurprisingly—corruption abounds. Many countries around the world have signed agreements to block imports from the Hard Four, but others have no problem with accepting consumer goods produced through slave labor.

     Although black citizens living outside the Hard Four are legally free, their freedom is not without limits. For example, every free black citizen must carry papers that prove his or her free status because under the Fugitive Person laws, U.S. marshals serve as slave hunters and are required to capture any black person without the proper papers. (This brings to mind Arizona's S.B. 1070, which gives police the right to stop people without cause and ask for identification that proves their immigration status.) All escaped slaves who are caught without the proper papers are returned to their owners in the South. Every American city has one or more Freedtowns. Some of these are neat little neighborhoods, but many more are crisscrossed with pot-holed streets that are lined by decrepit buildings. (Some of the descriptions reminded me of photographs of Detroit taken during the recent Great Recession.) 

     Winters has created a marvelously disturbing mythology, with every horrifying element painstakingly worked out. How's this for a stomach-churning detail: The federal marshals' service field guide includes a pigmentation taxonomy of 172 varietals of African American skin tones. A fugitive slave named 
Jackdaw is "late-summer honey, warm tone, #76." The book's hero, a slave hunter named Victor, is "moderate charcoal, brass highlights, #141," and he finds himselfto his annoyance and uneaseautomatically classifying every black person her meets. In an example of how history is different in this alternate America, instead of a war in Vietnam in the 1960s, America had to deal with the Texas war of secession. And Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird," is a story about an "Alabama runner hiding in a small Tennessee town, [and] the courageous white lawyer who saves him from a vicious racist deputy marshal." And then there are the alternate lives of famous people, like Jesse Owens, who, in this world, defected to the Soviet Union after winning his Olympic medals in Berlin. And James Brown, who had been part of a slave band touring the free states when he snuck out of his hotel room and escaped to Canada and who now tours the world's concert stages (but not in America).

     Winters gradually inserts the various elements of this dystopian mythology into the narration, building a horrific picture of a society that has many of the same characteristics of the one we live in today. Take, for example, the unspeakable horrors of the slaves' lives. And then, take a look at the conditions endured by factory workers in Indonesia and China in our own world. You may not call it slavery, but I'm sure that they would have a different opinion. Yet, we wear clothes and buy colorful electronic gadgets made in Asian sweatshops and never give a second thought to the horrendous lives of people whose hard work made them possible.

     I don't want to give the impression that this is a dry, fact-filled book about the ills of modern society. No...it is a compelling thriller—a noir mystery driven by the narration of a fully realized character who takes us on an incredible journey. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. 

                        MY REVIEW                          
     This novel is currently at the very top of my "Best Books" list for 2016. Winters has created an unforgettable main charactera man whose sardonic outlook, fierce determination, deep anguish, and tenacious resilience will remain with me for a long, long time. "Victor" (fake name) is a free black man who remains free only so long as he continues to hunt down fugitive peebs (aka PB, Persons Bound to Labor—a euphemism for slaves). To ensure his cooperation, the government has inserted a GPS chip at the base of his spine near his brain stem. "They...told me I would not feel it, but I could feel it, I always felt it, I always heard it, though it made no sound. When I was too quiet for too long I heard it singing in me: humming, taunting, burning. A hook. An anchor. A leash."

     As a child, Victor was himself a peeb on a poultry plantation, shoveling manure and working ankle deep in blood on the kill floor, and his memories of those years continue to haunt him, no matter how hard he tries to repress them. 

     Victor is good at his work and takes advantage of the perks that come with his job. He travels the country in a nice car with a trunk full of disguises, criminal tools, sets of papers that establish multiple identities, and enough cash to stay in decent hotels and eat in nice restaurants. Victor enjoys his semblance of a free life, but the guilt of what he is doing eats away at him:  “That’s the problem with doing the devil’s work. It can be pretty satisfying, now and again." At times, Victor feels as if he has lost himself within his various identities, unsure as to who the real "Victor" really is (and we never do learn his true name).

     The plot centers on Victor's search for a fugitive slave called Jackdaw (not his real name, but his "service," or slave name). Victor has come to Indianapolis to infiltrate the Underground Airlines organization, the metaphorical name for a group that has put together a loosely woven network of like-minded individuals, some who go into the Hard Four for rescues and others who hide the escapees as they wend their way to safety in Canada.

     The deeper Victor gets into his search for Jackdaw, the more this case seems wrong to him. His government handler, Mr. Bridge, is behaving strangely, and Jackdaw's intelligence file is incompletethe first time this has ever happened. Also, the local Airlines folks are nothing like he expected them to be. In fact, when Victor poses as a free black man searching for his slave wife, the priest in charge of the Airlines turns him down, but a local policemanalso part of the groupdefies the priest and offers to help Victor. The early chapters spool through a series of seemingly unconnected people and events, but don't be fooled. Winters is a masterful writer who has meticulously crafted a story with an intricate plot that pulls the reader along on a suspenseful, dangerous journey that careens around one stunning twist and turn after another. Pay attention to the details because Winters never includes a person or event that doesn't add  another dimension to his story. 

     Although a female character turns up as an important supporting character, this is not a romance. Martha is a young white woman who is on a search of her own, accompanied by her young biracial son, Lionel ("like the trains"). The two become friends and allies, but not lovers, because Martha's heart is with her son's father, a recaptured slave (but, thankfully, not recaptured by Victor).

     There is so much more that I'd like to tell you about this book, especially Victor's sardonic, noir-detective descriptions of elements of modern culture and his descriptions of how he changes his behavior according to his current role and purpose: "I tilted my head a certain way I had, and I grinned a soft grin of mine, narrowed my eyes in a way I knew put light in them and crinkles at their corners." A scene in which he tricks a receptionist into giving him information allows us to watch Victor in action as he learns everything he needs to know about that woman: her boredom with her job, her pride in her new manicure, her efficiency, her kind heart, her trust in humanity, her sense of right and wrong—all played out to great effect in a gem of a seven-page scene.

     Victor is one of the most memorable literary characters I have ever met. He has lived a life filled with hardship and guilt, but has learned—on the surface, at least—to deal with his demons. In his pursuit of Jackdaw and in the adventures that follow, though, Victor's nightmares force him to remember things that he has buried deep within his unconscious for many years. Victor has always believed that because of his own actions, he does not deserve to be truly free and that his slave captures (more than 200) have doomed him to eternal hellfire. "I pretend to myself that I don't remember the names, the details, when in fact I do. I did and I do—I remember all their names." For so many years, he has been sure that redemption is impossible for him, but is that true? Is he willing to attempt to redeem himself at the risk of being forcibly returned to slavery? Is he strong enough to take a risk? I highly recommend that you read this book and give yourself an unforgettable experience as you discover the answers to those questions.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Underground Airlines on the novel's Amazon.com page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" button.

                         THE CONTROVERSY                         
     This novel has created a firestorm of controversy, primarily because Winters is a white man writing in the voice of a black former slave on the subject of race in America (although the book is much more than that). Commentary on the issue—pro and con—can be found all over the Internet and in the Twitter universe. I would urge you to read the book before you read the reviews because, truly, this is a magnificent novel. If you do succumb to curiosity and read some of the backlash writings, please click HERE to read one written by Alex Brown, a black writer who (unlike many of the protesters) actually read the book and enjoyed it just as much as I did: "I didn’t just love this book; I felt it. Victor tunneled into my brain and heart. It’s been almost a week since I finished it and my thoughts keep turning back to Victor’s ordeal. Few books have burrowed under my skin like that, but this is definitely one of them." Also, click HERE (Internet post) and HERE (podcast) for two responses from Winters. Winters also posted a response to a Slate essay questioning his intentions in writing this book. (Winters' response is included at the end of the essay.) Click HERE to read Winters' list of books he read as he wrote Underground Airlines.

                        ABOUT THE AUTHOR                          
     Ben H. Winters is the author of Underground Airlines (July, 2016) and THE LAST POLICEMAN TRILOGYThe Last Policeman (2012), Countdown City (2013), and World of Trouble (2014)—for which he received the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction, a Macavity Award nomination and an Anthony Award Nomination, along with placement in numerous "Best Of" lists, including on Amazon, Slate, and NPR. The trilogy has been published in 14 languages so far. Ben's other books include Bedbugs, Android Karenina, the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the middle-grade novels The Mystery of the Everything and The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, a Bank Street Best Book of 2011 and an Edgar Award nominee. 

     Ben is also the author of many plays and musicals for children and adults, as well as Literally Disturbed: Tales to Keep You Up at Night, a book of scary poems for kids. He has written for national and local publications including the Chicago Tribune, Slate, and the Huffington Post. 

     He grew up in Maryland, attended Washington University in St. Louis, and currently lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he teaches at Butler University.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

NEW NOVEL: Stacia Kane: "Made for Sin"

Author:  Stacia Kane (aka Stacey Fackler)
Title:  Made for Sin (8/30/2016)
Plot Type:  Paranormal Romance with an Urban Fantasy (UF) flavor
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles:  Loveswept (Penguin/Random House)

                         WORLD-BUILDING                          
     I'll begin with the author's summary of the premise of this series (taken from an on-line interview at Harlequin Junkie): "E.L. Speare’s work as a private investigator in Las Vegas means he keeps a lot of secrets. He keeps them for his clients, he keeps them for the mobster who might be his father, and he keeps them for the supernatural community they’re both a part of. But the biggest secret is the one he keeps for himself: Speare’s got an actual demon from Hell living in his head, and the only way to keep it from taking over his body is to sin regularly." Although I'm listing this as a stand-alone novel, I'm sure that it's the first in a series, although I haven't been able to verify that fact as of yet. 

     The novel is set in an alternate, modern-day Las Vegas where magic is everywhere. If this book is any indication, future sequels will be following Speare on a series of adventures, some related to his own demonic possession and some centered on various magic-related criminal investigations that come his way.


     If you are a fan of Kane's CHESS PUTNAM/DOWNSIDE GHOSTS series, you need to know that this one is completely different—set in a more realistic world and not nearly as grim (although it is dark in tone). Click HERE to read my reviews of the CHESS PUTNAM series.

                         PUBLISHER'S BLURB                          
     A lot of bad hands get dealt in Vegas, but E. L. Speare may be holding one of the worst: He's cursed with the need to commit sins, and if he misses his daily quota, there's hell to payliterally. Fortunately, his hometown affords him plenty of chances to behave badly. 

     But Speare's newest case really has him going out on a limb. The right-hand man of a notorious crime boss has been found dead in a dumpster—minus his right hand, not to mention the rest of his arm. What catches Speare's attention, however, is that the missing appendage was severed clean by a demon-sword, a frighteningly powerful tool of the underworld. 

     Speare's out of his element, so he turns to a specialist: Ardeth Coyle, master thief, dealer in occult artifacts, and bona fide temptress. Ardeth's hotter than a Las Vegas sidewalk on the fourth of July, but she's one sin Speare has to resist. 

    The dismembered corpses are piling up, unimaginable evil lurks in the shadows, and if this odd couple hopes to beat the odds, Speare needs to keep his hands off Ardeth, and his head in the game. 

                         MY REVIEW                          
    Here is the author's summary of the plot (taken from an on-line interview at Harlequin Junkie): "When a high-ranking member of the criminal underworld turns up dead, Speare’s investigation teams him up with local thief Ardeth Coyle. Speare is a man used to giving in to temptation and Ardeth is a woman who seems custom-made to tempt him, but as bodies start piling up and the killer’s horrifying goal becomes clear, Speare must do everything in his power to resist the desire to make Ardeth his—even if it means sacrificing his own life." 

     If Speare fails to sin regularly (and frequently), the Beast within him becomes enraged and takes over his body, forcing long talons through his fingertips and tearing up his muscles as it swells his body to enormous size. At that point, Speare is only along for the ride—an unwilling witness to the murder and mayhem that the Beast leaves in its path. Speare has never formed any emotional attachments with women because he learned long ago that they all run away from him when he attempts to tell them even a little bit of truth about his "condition." Speare falls for Ardeth as soon as he sees her. She is a beautiful, red-haired thief who has grown up in the magical Las Vegas underworld, and her feisty directness immediately knocks Speare off balance and into lust/love. As he proceeds to break his no-romance rule with Ardeth, he constantly worries that his demon will hurt her or even kill her if he can't keep it under control at all times. 

     Along with Ardeth, the other major supporting character is Chuck Majowski, a Las Vegas police detective who is on the payroll of Speare's mobster "daddy," Lazaro Doretti. Even though Majowski is on the take, he turns out to be a stand-up good guy at heartTogether, Speare and his two allies attempt to figure out who is dismembering underworld figures with a demonic sword and why. When they find a dark magical artifact that might help Speare get rid of his demon, Speare is forced to make a terrible choice between a demon-free life and a life without love. 

     Speare tells the story in the first person voice from his own anguished, world-weary, perspective, and that is a bit of a problem because his thought process is much more feminine than masculine. This is a frequent glitch that occurs in paranormal romances when a female author tries to write from a male perspective. The title of that infamous book—Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus—states it correctly. Men and women react in entirely different ways to emotional stress, particularly within romantic relationships. Most of the time, Speare displays too much feministic emotional sensitivity. He comes across as a typical male in very few scenes. I'm a big reader of urban fantasy written by male authors (e.g., Kevin Hearne, Ben Aaronovitch, Simon R. Green, Jim Butcher, Benedict Jacka), and their heroes do not obsess over their heroines' sweet smells, shiny hair, and gorgeous complexions as Speare does. (He...could smell her, a light spicy scent mixed with vanilla. A warm scent, An intriguing one.") In fact, Speare comes across more like an over-the-top passionate soul-mate hero from a novel by Christine Feehan or even Amanda Ashley (but without the ΓΌber-alpha protectiveness), so if that's O.K. with you, you'll probably enjoy this book. One of the few female authors of urban fantasy who handles male first-person narration successfully is Kate Griffin in her MATTHEW SWIFT series.

     Even with the hero's "voice" problem in Made for Sin, I did enjoy reading the book. Speare is a sympathetic character as he lives a life of forced sin and keeps his demonic secret from everyone in his life. He has tried everything to rid himself of the Beast in his head, and he has searched everywhere for information as to how and why he was possessed—and by what. Unfortunately, all of his attempts have failed. The Beast won't even let him commit suicide because it doesn't want to lose its earthly vessel. So Speare leads a sinful life, tattooing counting lines on his chest to mark the mortal sins he has committed and the thirteen lives he has taken to keep the Beast fed. "He kept the marks, and kept adding to them, so he didn't forget, ever, what he'd done and what he'd keep having to do. So he didn't forget that no matter what he liked to think of himself, he had less chance of avoiding a pit of fire in the afterlife than he had of discovering the Lost Dutchman Mine under his house."

     I hope that Kane intends to turn this into a series because I'd like to see how Speare deals with the new information about his demonic possession that he learns at the end of Made for Sin. Kane has created a fresh and inventive mythology for her hero, and he's just getting started on a long, hard road to normalcyif that's even possible for him. Also, we didn't get a chance to meet Speare's mom in this book. She's a former casino show girl who led a wild and crazy life as Speare was growing up, so I'm sure that she would add a lot of bling to the series.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Made for Sin is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

Monday, August 15, 2016

NEW SERIES! Kristyn Merbeth: WASTELAND

Author:  K. S. Merbeth (aka Kristyn Merbeth)
Series:  WASTELAND 
Plot Type:  Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality—2; Humor—3   
Publisher and Titles:  Orbit
          Bite (7/2016)
          Raid (TBA)

                         WORLD-BUILDING                         
     Here's how the author explains the premise of her series: "In post-apocalyptic stories, there are always groups of gun-toting psychos looting and killing their way through life. They’re usually presented as mindless villains, by-products of the craziness of the world, without backstories or motivations or anything that makes them seem human. And yet, they are human. So I started to wonder—who are these people? How’d they end up this way? What are their lives like behind the scenes? And those questions spawned the idea of a story with typical 'bad guys,' a crew of raiders, as the protagonists." 

     In this world, the planet has narrowly survived a nuclear war. Small groups of "townies" barely exist in hard-scrabble settlements scattered across the barren landscape. They rely on traders to supply them with necessary food, water, and other supplies. The "traders" are more aptly called "raiders," because they get their stock by looting towns and other traders' caravans. 

     The traders/raiders and the townies are the predator-prey middle class of the societal ranks. At the top are the Queen of Wastes, whose falling-down mansion serves as neutral ground, and the newcomer who calls himself Saint and claims to be bringing law and order back to the world. The bottom feeders are the sharks—raiders who traffic not only in stolen goods, but also in human flesh: "...even in the desperate, lawless world of the wastelands, sharks are hated by all. They practice the last taboo, the one globally acknowledged evil, the act too immoral and repulsive and unfathomable to be accepted: cannibalism." But, you see, a person needs protein to stay alive, and the only protein left in the wasteland is of the human variety, so even though people revile the sharks, they buy and eat their "hog meat" and don't ask any questions about its source. (Notice the license plate of the jeep on the cover of Bite.) 

     The series heroine is Kid, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been on her own since she lost her father to the wastelands several years ago. All of the gang members go by nicknames, because names from the past mean nothing in this world. Kid finally reveals her whole, sad story near the end of Bite, so I won't spoil it by repeating it here. One day, just as she accepts the fact that she doesn't have enough food and water to make it to the next town, a jeep carrying a man and a woman stops, and the man speaks the opening words to Bite"Need a ride?". Kid's response changes her life completely.

     The two people in the car are Wolf and Dolly. Wolf is the leader of a gang of sharks (although Kid doesn't know that at first), and Dolly is a former prostitute with a sad backstory. In this Mad Max-esque world, Wolf has the audacity and fearlessness of any tough-guy gang leader in any post-apocalyptic film you have ever seen, but usually those guys are seen as shallow, mindless psychopaths with no redeeming qualities. That's the difference here. Merbeth fleshes out Wolf's character, along with the other gang members, turning them into more of a tough-love family than a gang of cannibals. Actually though, in the grim reality of this world, they are both.

     After a nuclear war, you'd think that radiation poisoning would be a major problem, but that is not the case here. There have been many deaths of infants since the war ended, and the rivers are full of nuclear waste, but the general population doesn't seem to be affected in any way. I'm not going to nitpick about that; I'm just going to accept it as part of the mythology of the series.

     Click HERE to read an interview with the author about Bite.

                         NOVEL 1:  Bite                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
    Kid has no name, no family and no survival skills whatsoever. But that hasn’t stopped her from striking out on her own in a world gone mad. 

     Hungry, thirsty and alone in a desert wasteland, she accepts a ride from two strangers and suddenly becomes the newest member of a bloodthirsty raider crew: Wolf, Dolly, Tank, and Pretty Boyoutlaws with big reputations and even bigger guns. Dragged on a messy chase, through shoot-outs and severed limbs, the group must outrun everyone they’ve wronged. 

     As they journey across the wild together, Kid learns that her new found crew may not be the heroes she was hoping for. And in a world that's lost its humanity, everyone has a bit of monster within them. How long will Kid stay hungry before she loses hers?

MY REVIEW: 
     Kid tells the story in her naive but world-weary first-person voice. As she decides whether or not to get into the jeep with Wolf and Dolly, she thinks, "It's obvious that getting in this jeep is a terrible idea....I must look like easy prey, with my ragged clothes and skinny body. So naturally, my answer is—'Sure, why not?'...This jeep and its driver are smelly, creepy, and very possibly dangerous, but they're my only ticket out of here."

     Kid's first clue that Wolf and Dolly are not on the up and up are the stinking, "red-stained sacks of something-or-other sitting in the backseat." Wolf has sent his other two gang members ahead to scout out a near-by town: Tank, a huge, fat man who provides muscle for their frequent fights, and Pretty Boy, a handsome but cowardly young man who has the charisma and persuasive skills of a televangelist. Unfortunately, neither Tank nor Pretty Boy is anywhere in sight when the jeep reaches the town, so Wolf tries to handle their "hog meat" sale on his own, with disastrous results. 

     The plot plays out in a series of scenes that alternate between town-to-town road trips and hand-to-hand combat with various enemies. At one point, they visit the Queen at her Crossroads mansion, but (as is the usual case) that adventure doesn't end well at all. Eventually, they learn that a price has been put on their heads and that every town has been given their descriptions. So there's nothing to do but to go after the man who is promising to pay for their capture. The result of the inevitable showdown that climaxes the book is that Wolf and Kid discover that the line between good guy and bad guy can be very bleary.

     Bite is a compelling read with a plot that races along, fueled by the sarcastic, darkly humorous dialogue among the gang members. It has the feel of a Bruce Willis Die Hard movie gone wrong as the gang cobbles together one preposterous scheme after another, only to have each one go awry. The gang members always manage to come away bruised, beaten, and shot, but—somehow—victorious and ready for their next adventureKit's coming-of-age experiences take her from naive prey to savvy predator, and it's an intriguing and thought-provoking process that kept me glued to the page. 

     Merbeth does a masterful job with characterization, creating a gang of thugs with no names and no pasts and shaping them into five fascinating personalities just through their words and actions as they eat, drink, argue, fight, and kill their way across the wasteland. For example, Kid is convinced early on that Wolf is a fearless man, based on the way he eats his food: "He eats slowly, which is strange. Most wastelanders eat as quickly as possible, not only because we're starving half the time, but because we're afraid someone might take our food. The way he eats shows that he's not worried about either of those problems. It says a lot about him and raises more questions, too."  

     In the end, it all comes down to loyalty and friendship in the moment, with each one knowing that death is always just a final breath away: "A person one second, meat the next That's the nature of the wastes." All of the main characters are likable, even when they are doing horrific things to other peopleand, believe me, they do a LOT of awful, bloody things. Do you believe that you could never root for a gang of murderous cannibals? Trust me, you'll be cheering for this group from the time you first meet them. Just put yourself in their place and ask yourself, "How far would I go to survive?" By the end of the book, Kid knows the answer to that question and learns to live with it. This is a fresh, new take on post-apocalyptic fiction, and I highly recommend it. 

     Click HERE to go to the Amazon.com page for Bite where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

Friday, August 12, 2016

UPDATE! Gail Carriger: CUSTARD PROTOCOL SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Gaill Carriger with a review of Imprudencethe second novel in her CUSTARD PROTOCOL SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

UPDATE! Simon R. Green: ISHMAEL JONES MYSTERIES

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Simon R. Green with a review of Dead Man Walkingthe second novel in his ISHMAEL JONES MYSTERY SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.