Summary: “Her young daughter has disappeared, sparking a massive murder hunt, and now her husband has gone walkabout in the bush with no plans to return. Nothing is coming up roses for small-time gardening correspondent Agatha. So she plants the seeds of a new life in an isolated village … in the dilapidated former home of a renowned witch.”
This is a very capricious book. The beginning is a little difficult to follow, I think because there aren’t really chapters or even signals that the focus is changing from the past to the present or from one character to another, at least in the version I have; however, it’s manageable.
The story is about Agatha Hock, a woman with a gardening column in a woman’s magazine. Bit by bit, her train wreck of a life is revealed. Her teenage daughter went missing years before under mysterious circumstances, and to escape the tension in their marriage, her husband has gone out into the bush purposely without her. As the summary says, she moves out of her city apartment and into a cottage house formerly occupied by the town witch; the reasons for her moving add more complications. Her gardening column is mentioned a few more times but basically after she moves, it takes a back seat.
The Bad Seed is a goulash of quirky characters, all of which the author somehow crafts as unique, believable individuals. A pseudo-scientist married to a pushover, a goth teenager who drools over silver Doc Martens, an Aboriginal gardening store owner, and a Nordic born-again Christian all enter Agatha’s sphere and leave their mark. In the end, everything more or less comes together, along with a local legend about a baby made of gold. What?? You just have to read it to find out. No matter what you think will happen next in this book, you’re wrong.
The pain Agatha feels over her missing daughter comes up at surprising times in this book, much as it would if Agatha had really lived. These tender moments and details are really heart-rending, as are the details about Agatha’s relationship with her mother. As an English literature major, I was elated at the Shakespeare references, and as a mystery lover, the same feeling applied to the Agatha Christie references.
The Bottom Line: The first page says, “A subtly sinister tale told with humour and grace,” and that description is better than any I could do. It’s really quite incredible writing: 80% mystery, 15% supernatural thriller, and 5% romance.
“We Don’t Plummet Out of the Sky Anymore” by M. David Blake. It’s free at Smashwords.com, but keep reading for a special offer.
Summary: “Stan wanted a flying car. No, that wasn’t quite accurate… Stan wanted a nice flying car, and the quantities of bliss that purchase would bring. Stan desired bliss. Fortunately, Bliss also desired Stan.”
“If I were editing a magazine I would be seriously considering buying this story for publication—but I’m not, so I can’t. Sorry.” — Bruce Bethke, author of “Cyberpunk” and Headcrash
This is a nearly heartwarming story about a twenty-something actuary, his girlfriend, and his angst over a new aeromobile (flying car) purchase. He wants to get the fancy, sporty model, but she correctly objects. It’s science fiction, but totally character-driven; basically about a young couple that happen to live in the future. Required disbelief suspension is minimized, and the story wraps up happily. For someone like me, used to reading darker stuff, I had a weird feeling after finishing “Plummet,” a sort of surprise that everything had ended so harmoniously. (This probably says more about me than it does about the story!)
I’m excited to read more by this author. The style is quirky and pleasant, almost lilting. Sprinkled throughout, in the flying car’s advertisements, are hilarious disclaimers about bodily injury and test flights of said flying car.
The Bottom Line: Recommended for anyone, including young adults and the science fiction phobic.
This story is free anytime at Smashwords.com, but right now the author is, in conjunction with MobileRead.com, hosting an ebook signing event. What exactly is an ebook signing event? These are the author’s words from the MobileRead.com forum thread:
“Book signings are a wonderful way for readers to brush elbows with the authors they love, and for authors to get to know the people who have been enjoying their stories. You just wait in line until you reach the head of the table, whereupon the author picks up a pen, flips to the flyleaf, asks your name, jots down something witty, and then with a quick flourish swirls something that is probably illegible, but that you can assure your friends is a genuine signature.
Oh, wait… you went and bought an iPad. Or was it a Sony? A nook, you say? Maybe it was a Kindle. There are just so many eBook readers these days, and each one can hold thousands of eBooks.
Why am I going to such lengths? To be blunt, I really do believe what I wrote about book signings being a special interaction between readers and writers. I want people to read my stories, and enjoy them, and hopefully also keep an eye out for my name in the future. As writers, it is important for us to invest a little time in that relationship, because it won’t develop at all if we don’t.”
If you send an email to mdavidblake (dot) writer (at) vintageseason (dot) com (darn bots!) with your name and email address inside, you’ll receive a personalized, individually numbered copy of “We Don’t Plummet Out of the Sky Anymore” just like this one:
This promotion is going on through July 14, 2010, but if you’re reading this after that date, send your email anyway. The author will process those signature requests as time allows between writing projects.
“Cockroach Suckers” by David Niall Wilson. Available from the Macabre Ink digital store.
Summary: “When Bobby Lee shows up at Jasper’s fruit stand with something big and covered in a tarp in the back of his truck, things start getting a little weird. From giant statues pulled out of the Great Dismal Swamp, to roadside attractions and ancient Lovecraftian-style gods, the two friends find themselves in way over their heads.
Cockroach Suckers introduces you to the world of Old Mill, North Carolina, just off route 17, where things are never quite as they seem.”
It’s back to Old Mill, North Carolina, USA, a stone’s throw from the Great Dismal Swamp, and good ol’ boys Bobby Lee and Jasper are out to make a buck. Inspired by all the “suckers” who spend money on tickets and souvenirs for roadside attractions, Bobby Lee acquires an enormous wooden cockroach to attract tourists. Jasper is a little spooked by the beast, but Bobby Lee erects a shed for her to reside in and the two are soon overwhelmed with customers eager to be separated from their money for the chance to get up close and personal with the wooden monstrosity. Not surprisingly, there’s more to the bug than meets the eye.
In “Cockroach Suckers,” the author does a great job modernizing some Lovecraftian elements such as the narrowness of human consciousness and eons old idol worship with real-sounding dialog and nice character development. The focus throughout the story stays on Bobby Lee and Jasper’s friendship and the effect Mama Roach has on them; the cockroach really isn’t the main character like one would expect, nor does the creature cause a permanent rift in the men’s relationship. By the end I was quite touched by Jasper and Bobby Lee’s friendship. The two men are simple and broadly drawn, but at the end of the day, neither one will throw the other under the bus.
The Bottom Line: It didn’t resonate with me like “‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky” did, but it was still sufficiently deep, freaky, and enjoyable to read.
Capable of Murder by Brian Kavanagh. Available from BeWrite Books at Smashwords.com.
Summary: “The old lady’s decaying body lay at the foot of the stairs. The police believe it was simply an accidental fall that killed great-aunt Jane. But was it? Young Australian, Belinda Lawrence is convinced it was murder and when she inherits her great-aunt’s ancient cottage and garden on the outskirts of Bath, England, she finds herself deep in a taut mystery surrounding her legacy.”
A murder mystery, in an old English cottage, with a female protagonist!? When I read the description of this book, I bought it immediately. I have a soft spot for all these components, if you didn’t already know that. Bonus points if it has codes but that’s another discussion altogether…
Belinda’s elderly great-aunt Jane falls down the stairs in her cottage and dies before passing on some seemingly important piece of information. Distant relative Belinda travels to Bath at her great-aunt’s request, discovers the dead body, and ends up inheriting the house and moving in for good. Some strange neighbors and villagers seemingly aid Belinda’s investigation, but none of them are trustworthy.
A big part of this novel is gardening and botanical talk and it gives the novel a pleasant little quirk, especially paired with a murder mystery. Someone who knows more about gardening than I do will take more away from that facet of the book, but I found it enjoyable all the same. It wouldn’t be necessary to have any prior knowledge.
The interactions between the characters, especially Belinda and the various males she encounters are unnatural in a couple of places. The plot isn’t really affected by this but it did cause me a couple of “pshaw!” moments.
The Bottom Line: The book is a nice read, it’s not too intense, and it’s a good whodunit you can take to the beach this summer.
Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson. Available at Smashwords.com.
Summary: “In 19th Century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy. Her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is twelve. Amy dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond her narrow boundaries. But it is the two people who come to the farm from outside the valley who change her life forever, and Amy learns the high cost of making the wrong choice. Book 1 of “Promises to Keep”.”
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and a great historical fiction novel with an intelligent female protagonist never fails to float my boat. Sentence of Marriage is a novel about a girl who gets herself into trouble over a boy, and you’ll be shocked at the lengths she has to go to make everything right. This book is first in a series.
I’m no history buff, but everything in the novel rings true for 19th century country life. In the beginning, emphasis is placed on Amy’s everyday activities around her family’s farm. This provides a necessary backdrop for understanding the conflicts she has with her stepmother, and it’s also just plain interesting. I easily became immersed in this story and era, and I didn’t put the book down at all for the last hundred pages. It goes to show that even though social customs change over the years, human nature hasn’t; the issues Amy faces are easy for today’s readers, especially women, to relate to.
I think readers of all ages will enjoy this book. There are one or two adult situations but nothing gratuitous, and nothing that isn’t shown on Fox anyway.
The Bottom Line: As good of a window to the past as Little House on the Prarie, but a much, much jucier and more compelling story. I bought the second book in the series immediately upon finishing this one.
The Second Coming by David H. Burton. Available in lots of formats, links are at DavidHBurton.com.
Summary: “Travel to a future of blood sacrifice, demons, witchcraft, and an immoral God that has returned to reclaim his former dominion.”
It’s Earth, in the future, after the planet has shifted on its axis. All sorts of demons, horrors, and magic have been released upon the world by the shift in energy. The undercurrent everywhere is fear and persecution. It’s in this environment that a brother and sister get separated, a monk leaves home to seek the Beast, and witch hunts are a daily occurance; all these separate plotlines converge in a giant battle of good vs. evil. The heart of this book is good guys against bad guys, but the good guys get confused, the bad guys change their minds, and the whole situation degenerates into a complete shitstorm, figuratively speaking. Literally speaking, it’s great reading.
This is a dark and secretive novel, but beautifully and delicately written. The worst-case scenario is usually the one that plays out, and all the characters struggle constantly between their wants, duties, and vices. It’s mentally tiring to keep up with all the burdens the characters have to bear. It goes both ways: I think some of the ever-present despondency I sensed was just my own brain projecting my feelings onto the scenes. I like when this happens, because I feel like I’m deeply connecting with the author and the story.
The book mixes some Native American and Christian lore in with new stuff, and some of the regions and countries retain their present-day names, which make familiar anchors for the reader in this otherwise foreign new fantasy world. Each character’s story and background are revealed in media res, through flashbacks and small tidbits revealed here and there. Infuriating at times, when something is revealed at the end of the story when crises would have been averted had it been mentioned at the beginning, but basically foolproof for making the reader stay up long past her bedtime.
The Bottom Line: Read it if you want to try out some dark fantasy with familiar elements to make it easy.