The Bad Seed

July 17, 2010 at 7:11 pm (review) (, , , )

The Bad Seed by Maurilia Meehan. Available from BeWrite books at Smashwords.com, or direct from the BeWrite website.

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.”

Score: 4.4/5

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.

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Capable of Murder

June 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm (review) (, , , )

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.”

Score: 3.75/5

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.

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.

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Sentence of Marriage

April 2, 2010 at 1:50 am (review) (, , , )

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”.”

Score: 4.5/5

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.

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The Second Coming

March 22, 2010 at 2:13 am (review) (, , , , )

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.”

Score: 4.25/5

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.

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Whole World Blind

March 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm (review) (, , , )

Whole World Blind by Michael Mefford. Available at Smashwords.com.

Summary: “One man trudges forward, his life in ruins. A psychiatrist, he’s done his best to guide others, but some of his guidance has gone wrong. Very wrong. One man lost his mother to suicide and was left with a monstrous father. He vows revenge on the psychiatrist that turned his childhood into a nightmare.”

Score: 2.9/5

This is a dark, psychological thriller with a crazy serial killer who focuses his efforts on the doctor whom he blames for his mother’s death.

I started to have a problem with this book when the main character, Dr. Carson, has no problem giving the police the names of and details about his former patients. The police are able to walk into a family planning clinic and ask where the files are and if they can see them, and the manager of said clinic freely admits the files aren’t locked up, and she proceeds to let the police paw through them. The conclusion I must draw here is that this book was written before the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was passed in 1996, and indeed before any concept of doctor-patient confidentiality, which is part of the Hippocratic oath. Either that, or it is simply a grievous oversight by the author or a way to cut corners.

Any person trained to work in a hospital, doctor’s office, or pharmacy knows to never give out any patient information, unless a compelled by a court order. People make mistakes, but Satan would be ice skating to work before any police officer was just casually granted permission to look through patient records. This may not be important to you, and it only affects part of the story, but to me, this is like saying rocks roll uphill or the sun sets in the east.

Some creative thinking could have been practiced to circumvent this very real dilemma. The female cop could have seduced Dr. Carson into telling her the names. Bribery or threats could have been used. Anything except a simple asking and granting of permission. Even a single sentence: “Once the court order went through, they drove over to the clinic…” etc. As is, it takes credibility away from the whole novel.

I think the story could have been a little spicier. The police happen to guess everything right the first time. No spoilers, but one of the conclusions they came to was, I thought, pretty remote. This book could easily be a hundred pages longer if a few more people were questioned, the killer taunted Dr. Carson at the hospital a bit more, or more background about Dr. Carson’s life was given, rather than only the info pertaining to his car accident. I got a sense of the whole thing just being rushed.

As a thriller, Whole World Blind fell a little short for me. There are some suspenseful parts, but they are so brief that it’s impossible to savor them. The story idea is good, and once the author’s writing muscle is exercised a little, I think a lot of incredibly creepy and suspenseful stories will be produced. The end of this book is left open to a sequel, and if one comes I’d check it out.

If anyone’s ever wondered about what goes on inside the head of a writer Thomas Harris when he writes about Hannibal the Cannibal, you’ll feel the same way about Michael Mefford. Some people just have a talent for deliberately expressionless delivery of shocking information, and he is one of them.

The Bottom Line: I’d recommend it if you want a quick read, and you like the police procedural/serial killer genre.

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The Resurrection of Deacon Shader

March 11, 2010 at 2:08 am (review) (, , , )

The Resurrection of Deacon Shader: Book One of The Deceptions of the Demiurgos, by Derek Prior. $1.99 at Smashwords.com. Also available for Kindle.

Summary: “The Sun Stone, inscrutable, ineffable, impossibly ancient, was entrusted to the shaman Huntsman until the day of the Reckoning when it unleashed the power of nightmare to destroy a civilisation. Deacon Shader, monk, knight, and spurned lover, enters the drama of the Sun Stone and unwittingly wields a power beyond belief. His deepest conflicts hold the key to the survival of creation itself.”

Score: 4.999/5 !!!

The Resurrection of Deacon Shader‘s setting is Earth, a few thousand years in the future, after magic has been released on the world by Huntsman, a Dreamer shaman. A few relics from the present day like handguns, flashlights, and street lamps still exist, but technology has regressed, and for all intents and purposes it’s unrecognizable as the Earth of today. It’s possible for people to become immortal, aided by talismans or dark magic, but not without side effects. Human nature, however, has not changed one bit, and no character in this story is as he or she first seems. A prominent theme is Christianity and Catholicism in particular. The Catholic church is still around, even after Huntsman’s hat trick, though its members are mostly shunned or persecuted. Politics have an effect on this, also. Deacon Shader’s conflicting feelings about what it means to be a Christian and how his actions fit with his own ideal form an important component of the story.

This novel is full of conflict. Each character has inner conflict, and conflict between characters and groups is the norm rather than the exception. Everyone is working on his or her own mercurial agenda. Idiocy, which irks me whenever and wherever I encounter it, is completely missing from this book. All the characters are intelligent, their actions and personalities are believable, and they do their best, which makes the bad things that happen to them that much worse.

Deacon Shader’s epic story and the world created by the author are elegant and polished. They are rich and varied, touching, maddening, and addicting.

The only thing I think this book is missing is a map. A map might be hard to view on an ebook reader, but if it were online, it might be downloaded and put on the reader as a photograph. Not until about three-quarters of the way through the book did I feel even a little comfortable with the geography of Resurrection. I was more than able to follow the story and remember who hailed from where without much trouble but details like the distance between places had to take a back seat to that info.

The Bottom Line: Buy it! If you like fantasy, or if you don’t know if you like fantasy but you know you like a book you can really get engrossed in and feel sad when you finish reading it, you won’t be disappointed by The Resurrection of Deacon Shader. Overall, highly recommended.

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