Monday, April 29, 2024

STAR WARS: INTO THE DARK by Claudia Gray

This is the second High Republic novel that I’ve read and it’s the official young adult book in the first wave in Phase 1 of the publishing initiative. It takes place concurrently with the previous adult novel Light of the Jedi but follows a much more focused story about a young Jedi padawan and his companions who get stuck at an abandoned space station following the Great Hyperspace disaster. 

While I enjoyed Light of the Jedi, I was frustrated with the fairly bland characters aside from the villains and how diluted everything was due to the plot casting such a wide net. Those problems are not here, with the plot being much more concentrated and intimate, and characters that jumped off the page. Each character had more nuance than the previous book, especially the Jedi, who seem more like real people with true struggles to go along with their stalwart, noble attributes. 

But I’m still giving it three stars because the action here is nowhere near as cool as I was hoping, the villains were pretty half-baked, and there’s a recurring flashback that seems to be promising major character development and reveals but turns out to be fully unnecessary. 

GRADE: B-


Saturday, April 27, 2024

STAR WARS: LIGHT OF THE JEDI by Charles Soul

I’ve always been a big Star Wars fan but it has been a while since I have read any books in the universe. I was an avid Star Wars book reader as a kid but fell off on that hobby. I’ve been impressed and fascinated with Disney’s new in-canon publishing initiative called the High Republic that tackles interconnecting stories from a previously unexplored era in Star Wars history along a wide variety of mediums including adult novels, young adult novels, audio dramas, comic books, and upcoming live action television. So I though what better way to jump back into Star Wars reading than this!

Light of the Jedi is the first novel that introduces the High Republic, set over 200 years before the events of the first film, A New Hope, when the Republic and the Jedi Order were at their grandest, and starting to fully expand into the Outer Rim of the Galaxy. It opens on the cusp of the unveiling of the new Outer Rim outreach space station Starlight Beacon when a massive hyperspace disaster threatens to destroy multiple solar systems. 

As expected, the book is crazy readable and sucks you in to this new world, introducing you to the new Jedi characters as well as the Nihil, the new big bads of the High Republic initiative. The book suffers a little from tackling a bit too much, which is of course due to having the responsibility of introducing so many ideas and characters. I wish that the book had a bit more focus and I hope that the later books don’t suffer the same introductory burden. The other issue is that the characters (particularly the Jedi) aren’t very interesting so far, with everyone feeling pretty stoic and untouched in regards to relatable nuance and emotional complexity. Every Jedi seems to be a stalwart knight without problems beyond the cliché (like Padawans not being sure of themselves) and they’re just not that interesting. Except for maybe Elzar Mann, who shows a little more potential for being actually singular and complex.

But the creative ideas here are really compelling and build onto the already vast Star Wars mythos in fascinating ways, especially with the exploration of the way hyperspace works. Also the audiobook version is one of the coolest books I’ve listened to, with sound effects and score that really suck you in! But the character of Marchion Ro is what really saves the book, presenting a mysterious antagonist that is riveting, becomes a real threat, and seems to have layers that I can’t wait to see peeled away. 

So this is a decent start to this initiative and at the very least, I’m excited to explore more!

GRADE: B

Monday, November 20, 2023

BORN TO BLEED by Ryan C. Thomas

The Summer I Died was one of the hardest books to read due to the extreme graphic violence but was still wholly satisfying as a story. So I wanted to read its sequel but had to take a deep breath before jumping into this one. 

But nope, I still wasn’t prepared…

Roger Huntington, who barely survived that first book is trying to manage his trauma and has attempted to move on, relocating to Los Angeles and working as a painter of serene woods scenes. But that doesn’t last long, as trouble catches up with him again. 

The violence and depravity is just as hard-hitting in this book and the author still manages to deftly touch on the long-term affects of trauma and how it changes Roger in ways that he never expected, where he’s constantly questioning what kind of person he might be becoming. 

GRADE: B+

A TOUCH OF DEATH by Charles Williams

This is another banger by Charles Williams, where a broke ex-football player gets sucked into a robbery plot by a scheming brunette in a bikini. 
…looking like something the censors cut out of a sailor’s dream.
It really stands out because not only was it constantly surprising but it features one of the coolest femme fatales in the genre, a master manipulator that never once used sex to seduce our lead sucker, because she simply doesn’t need it, she’s that good. Seriously, I constantly kept waiting for the clothes to come off but was always surprised. In fact, the moment that the two meet, they hate each other, and the hate only grows hotter as the story moves forward. 
You’re a business proposition to me, a hundred and twenty thousand dollars’ worth of meat to be delivered on the hoof.
The other thing that grows is the tension, which is the real star of the show here. The moment the plot gets going, the suspense never lets up, and I was right there in the protagonist’s shoes, not sure how much more I could take, and nearly yearning for the police to just catch them already or for the double-crosses to happen, if only to allow me to breathe for a bit. And when the ending comes, it’s not like I didn’t see it coming, but I didn’t expect it to be as satisfying. While this one isn’t as much of a slam-dunk classic as Hell Hath No Fury (The Hot Spot), it’s still a fantastic noir by Charles Williams. 
There were no days now. Time had melted and run together into one endless and unmarked second of waiting for an explosion when the fuse was always burning and forever a quarter of an inch long. 

GRADE: A-

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

FEAR ME by Tim Curran

As if the idea of being stuck inside a maximum security prison wasn’t terrifying enough, imagine if a bloodthirsty monster was locked up in there with you. 

In this novella, a prisoner at Shaddock Valley Penitentiary seems to be a meek victim for the more hardened cons, but hides a secret that will lead to more than just a prison yard shanking. Author Tim Curran does a great job of setting up the oppressive atmosphere in the prison, a hopeless place that brings out the worst in people and the darker side of humanity. But then, when prisoners begin dying in the night, the tension gets ratcheted up like crazy. The way that Curran describes what happens after lights out is pretty chilling. And even though it did get a bit repetitive at times, I appreciated how damn creepy it was. 

GRADE: B+

Saturday, September 30, 2023

SMALL MERCIES by Dennis Lehane

Set on the eve of the desegregation of Boston's public schools in the 1970's, a woman from Southie, an ex-addict cop, and the Irish mob collide after a young white girl goes missing and a black man is found dead at a train station, setting fire to an already lit match of racial unrest in the city. 

"We're not built for princesses down here."

It feels like it's been a while since I've read a novel by Lehane, one of my favorites. And everything here is all that you expect from a master crime writer. The man has such a strong command of his art form at this point. Not only is this a great time capsule documenting this tense time in Boston (and American) history, but it's also a fantastic portrait of these two lead characters. 

Mary Pat Fennessy is finally confronted with how stuck she and her community have been in their ways, how malignant her environment can be, and how she has to reckon with how this toxicity could have tragically spilled into her daughter. And in contrast, Detective Bobby Coyness has grown up in the same way but somehow managed to keep on the right path, even though it's an everyday struggle to keep his morality and his sobriety. 

He considers the possibility that maybe the opposite of hate is not love. It's hope. Because hate takes years to build, but hope can come sliding around the corner when you're not even looking.

Although this didn't have the raw power like some of his best novels have, this is still a great book, with its focus on the struggle to not allow hatred to be passed down from generation to generation.

GRADE: B+

Monday, September 11, 2023

ALL THE SINNERS BLEED by S. A. Cosby

True madness is like an aura around someone. It glows blue like the flame from a gas fire. That madness can spread. Become like a religion for the lost.
With this new novel, Cosby is 4 for 4. He continues to kick down the doors with guns blazing as he releases banger after banger in the crime fiction genre. 

Being an investigative cop drama, I was a bit worried that it would feel a bit stale as the detective mystery has gotten a little worn out to me. But I should have know better. This feels very fresh as it follows Titus Crown, the first black sheriff of the small Virginia county of Charon, as he not only tries to get a lid on the racial unrest in his town but also hunts a terrifying serial killer on a rampage.

Cosby does everything right here, starting with the portrayal and build-up of the serial killer. The killer and their actions here are seriously bone-chilling and serves to maintain a potent layer of tension throughout the whole book. I was also impressed by how well-developed the community was, and loved how present Titus's deputies were, showing how this investigation is not a one-man show and how much he can't do his job without them. There's a romantic figure from Titus's past that pops up halfway through the book and I was really worried that this would turn into a silly love triangle, but I loved the mature way it was handled, without resorting to soap opera antics. One of the author's strengths is a tendency to never oversell, never hit the reader over the head, but efficiently present just the right amount of emotional development and social commentary to keep the reader truly engaged. He's like a storytelling gymnast, finding the right balance. 

GRADE: A-

Friday, August 25, 2023

GOTHIC by Philip Fracassi

It's been amazing to witness the rise of Fracassi's career as he has steadily planted his flag among the crowd in the literary horror genre. I've been reading his work since I discovered his short stories and novellas early on and he has quickly become a priority author for me. He's recently been on a roll with his novel releases and this one does not disappoint!

The setup is simple, introducing Tyson Park, a washed-up horror novelist with writer's block, who is gifted a new desk that ends up being a bit more than just new furniture. Turns out that the desk is made of material from an ancient occult altar and Tyson begins to succumb to its influence. It's pretty unnerving to witness Tyson's gradual corruption, rotating between seeing it from his POV and the view of others around him. I felt dirty being in his head with his thoughts as they became more and more disturbing until I realized that the person that I was reading about is not the same person I was introduced to earlier. 

There are effective horror sequences in this book as well, right up there with the best of the best. So if you're looking for engaging classic King-style horror storytelling, by an author flexing his powers, check out this great novel.

GRADE: B+

Monday, August 14, 2023

CITY OF DREAMS by Don Winslow

*Book 2 of the City Trilogy*
...because the wounded find the wounded, washed up on the same sad shore.
Picking up immediately after Danny Ryan hightailed it outta Providence after losing his wife and the war with the Italian mob, this second novel in Winslow’s final trilogy finds Danny on the run, and struggling to carve out a safe space for his friends and young son. 

The novel takes on a very different atmosphere than the first, trading New England for the the sunny West Coast, bouncing around San Diego, Las Vegas, and the city of dreams itself, Los Angeles. I love that the book takes a bigger look at and expands on what were minor characters from the first novel as Danny makes this journey with the ragtag crew that he ran from Providence with. It was cool seeing more of Bernie Hughes, Jimmy Mac, Ned Egan, and especially the constantly entertaining Altar Boys: Sean and Kevin. The love story is potent but watching these New England hoods try to navigate the Hollywood world is pure gold!

GRADE: B+

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

JUDAS GOAT by Greg Gifune

I really need to stop waiting so long between Gifune books! His work scratches a horror itch for me that most writers fail to hit. The books dive to emotional depths that others never dare to, while still providing the terror and thrills. 

This novella feels like an eerie dream from the very first paragraph and it never once lets up on the atmosphere, especially as our main character Lenny gets to the small town where his ex-girlfriend has died and mysteriously left him her house. As he struggles to understand what happened to Sheena, we the reader discover a tragic story of love squandered and two people filled with pain and regret. I almost always leave a Gifune book satisfied and impressed and this is another great one. 

GRADE: A-