the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘thriller

Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers

published in 2007

where I got it: gift from a friend (and she got it autographed! I have the best blogger buddies ever!)

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Tim Powers is usually described as a writer of literary thrillers, but I prefer to call what he writes gateways to speculative fiction. He starts with what really happened, and fills in the blanks, takes you a wild ride, and still manages to prove that truth is stranger than fiction.  Far more fascinating than alternate history, this is secret history.

Three Days to Never was written in 2006, but it takes place in 1987, and it was refreshing to experience a thriller set in a time where cellphones and the internet weren’t ubiquitous.   The story starts innocently enough when  Frank Marrity gets a weird phone call from his grandmother Lisa, she says she’s going to burn her backyard shed down. By the time he gets to her house, he learns that she passed away at a national park located hours away. Frank’s daughter Daphne makes jokes about there being gold buried under Grammar’s shed. More unexpected than finding gold buried under the shed, they find a bundle of letters between Lisa and her father, and a VHS tape of PeeWee’s Big Adventure. First things first, Frank needs to meet with his sister Moira and arrange their grandmother’s funeral.

Frank and his sister were raised by their grandmother Lisa, who everyone calls Grammar, after their father left the family and their mother died in a car crash. Frank has always hated his absent father and blamed him for causing his mother’s possible suicide.  He’s always wondered how Grammar could be so cavalier about her own son abandoning his family.

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with this review of Blackout by Mira Grant, I will have finished reviewing all the Hugo nominated novels. Yes, I know voting closed on July 31st, but I did finish Blackout before then, just didn’t get around to writing up the review until now.

Click on the titles to read my reviews of the other Hugo nominated novels, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold, 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, and Redshirts by John Scalzi.

blackoutBlackout, by Mira Grand

published in 2012

where I got it: purchased new

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Blackout is the final volume in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. This review therefore, is pretty spoilerific when it comes to earlier book in the series, but I’ll try to avoid major spoilers for Blackout. However, all spoilers will be “whited out”, so you can safely scroll around. Wanna know what happens or already know? Just highlight the text with your mouse, and all shall be revealed.

If you’re not familiar with this series, it takes place about 30 years from now, a generation after the zombie apocalypse. The strongest part of Grant’s zombie infected world is the zombie virus itself.  It was borne through two independently developed medical miracles that blended together to create a virus that lives within the human body, and awakens when we die. Our minds die, but our body doesn’t. And the only cure for that is a shot to the head. What remains of humanity lives behind high security, blood testing, and weapons training for middle schoolers. The series follow brother and sister news blogging team Georgia and Shaun Mason. Shaun enjoys poking dead things with sticks, and Georgia makes sure everyone knows the truth.

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Let’s talk about some Hugo Nominated novellas!  click back a day or two to see the whole list, and to click on novellas I’ve already reviewed.  Ready for the zombie apocalypse?

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, by Mira Grant

California browncoats Grant

What do you get when you mix a Comic-Con with the zombie apocalypse? You get Mira Grant’s San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats.  If you’re not familiar with Joss Whedon’s breakout show Firefly, fans often refer to themselves as Browncoats in reference to the long brown coat the main character wears in honor of his military service. If you’re not familiar with what a Comic-Con is, we got bigger problems. But that’s another blog post.

A long brown coat, like that!

A long brown coat, like that!

It almost sounds like the beginning of a comedy – cosplayers and merchants attend Comic-Con, and give the zombie apocalypse a beat down! But Grant’s novella is anything but a comedy. This is what Mira Grant does: she grabs you by the feels, and does horrible things to you.

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats is a stand alone novella that can be read as a prequel to her Newsflesh Zombie trilogy (the third book in that series, Blackout, is nominated for best novel this year). You don’t need to have read any of the Newsflesh books to enjoy The Last Stand . . .

The Last Stand . . . is mostly told as a flashback.  It’s thirty years after the event that irreparably changed the world, and journalist Mahir Gowda is interviewing an aging Lorelei Tutt, the only survivor of the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. She doesn’t want to talk about what happened, but he needs her memories. They talk about other footage from the event, other evidence, and what she witnessed.  Along with Lorelei’s story in flashback, we get the POVs from an ensemble of characters who are attending San Diego Comic-Con, including a television actress, a blind journalist, some merchants from the dealer room, and  a couple on their honeymoon, among others.

No one is the wiser when Lorelei is sulkily helping her parents and their friends unload merchandise for their booth in the dealer room at the Comic-Con.  Fed up with her attitude, her parents send her back to the hotel to have a nap, or a bath, or whatever teenagers need to stop being total brats. The rest of the adults continue setting up the booth and trading geek culture quotes back and forth, and generally annoy their less good natured neighbors.

Elsewhere on the Con Floor, actress Elle Riley is desperately trying to get to her panel, with or without the help of her idiotic handler.   Fans ask for autographs, squee at celebrities, compliment costumes, shop for fake weapons, whine about the lack of wifi, try to find the bathrooms. Just a regular day at Comic-Con, right?

Until someone starts coughing. And then someone starts screaming, because the biting and chewing has begun. And then the lights go out. Lorelei’s parents are able to contact her via walkie talkie, but it gets harder and harder to insulate her from the worst of what’s happening inside the locked down convention center. Things get bad, and then they get worse, and then they become unimaginably horrific.

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calibans warCaliban’s War (book 2 of The Expanse series) by James S.A. Corey

published in June 2012

where I got it: gift from a friend, and it’s autographed! I have the bestest friends in the world!

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This is the second novel in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse trilogy, so there will be spoilers, some major,  for the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes (review here).  Ok, so spoilers is bad news. but the good news is, I think you could start with Caliban’s War first, and then read Leviathan Wakes, and be a-ok.

Picking up about a year after the events of Leviathan Wakes, the landscape of Caliban’s War is more a dark new world rather than a bold or brave one. Holden and crew are sitting pretty in their stolen martian warship, renamed Rocinante, and doing escort duty and pirate hunting for the Outer Planets Alliance. It’s boring, but safe. Relatively speaking. Holden is safe so long as he’s awake. Because when he sleeps, he dreams only of the horrors of Eros.  His relationship with Naomi has finally settled into something called a relationship, but she’s getting sick of the “new” Holden; The Jim Holden who shoots first and asks questions later, the one who acts too much like the late Detective Miller. But how could anyone come through the events of Eros unscathed?  I was fascinated by Holden’s tacit denial of how he’s handling what he went through by not handling it. His PTSD is the white elephant in the room. Maybe he’ll think twice next time before he decides to play hero. Yeah right.

Meanwhile, we watch as on Ganymede two seemingly unrelated events unfold: a handful of children go missing,  and a superhuman crerature slaughters  platoons of UN and Martian troops, leaving one survivor.

Unrelated my ass.

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agyar-197x300Agyar, by Steven Brust

published in 1993

where I got it: purchased used

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Ladies, John Agyar is the kind of man your mother warned you against.  He’s charming and mysterious, and he only wants one thing from the beautiful young women he flirts with.

Some of you may have already stopped reading, because you’re not interested in *that* kind of character. As a reward to those of you still reading, I’d like to share with you the thought that screamed through my head around the halfway point of the book: “holy shit, that’s what’s been going on all this time!?”

Squatting in an abandoned house, John is told there is a typewriter in an upstairs room, and he therapeutically begins to write. At first, he just records his conversations with the boring residents of this sleepy Ohio town.  As he gains comfort with the idea of writing as therapy, and with the idea of his housemate Jim actually reading these typewritten pages, he begins to add in more important details.  The pages of Agyar are those typewritten pages.

Here’s the thing through – This is John’s diary, and he talks about what he feels like talking about. He’s under no obligation to tell you anything important.  You’ve got to figure that part out for yourself.   In so many books the story is in the ink, in the words, on the pages.  In Agyar, everything important is between the lines. If you look close, it’s all there. As per usual, this review may be more vague than needed.  I type the wrong word, and I spoil the surprise. (whatever you do, don’t read review of this book on Amazon. the surprise is spoiled instantly, and in the most unkind way)

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Bennet_AmericanElsewhere_TPAmerican Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Feburary 2013

where I got it: received review copy from Orbit Books

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In the early days, I was a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan.  The Sixth Sense was groundbreaking, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Signs, and even The Village has redeeming qualities. (and because I greatly enjoy those films, we’re not even going to talk about Shyamalan’s flops, of which there are many) What do those films have in common? A style that immediately pulls you in, perfectly timed and suspenseful disconnects between what people say and what’s really going on, compelling characters, isolated environs that feel timeless, cliffhanger scenes, and a climax that (although sometimes very silly) that reminds you he’s been giving you hints all this time, you just weren’t looking for them.  I do have a soft spot for misdirection.

Now imagine if the endings of Signs and The Village weren’t completely silly. Imagine if those endings were sublimely perfect, if they were everything you wanted the end of a thriller to be. You’re starting to get close to the feeling of American Elsewhere.

You know those books that completely bowl you over? The ones where you know you’ll be buying every book the author ever writes?  The ones where every time you finish a chapter you slowly whisper holy shit to yourself? The ones that make you ask “Hey author! Where have you been my whole life??”  American Elsewhere is that book.

American Elsewhere is so many flavors of phenomenal that I don’t even know where to start. Compelling characters that I cared about immediately? check.  A multi-faceted mystery that kept me guessing until the final reveal? check check.  A story structured and paced in such a way to give intimate scenes and action sequences equal billing for importance? that too.  Even if you’re not into thrillers or supernatural mysteries,  you will still love this book. (One caveat: if you’re offended by strong language this may  not be the book for you. Mona uses the f-bomb even more than I do.)

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When Tim Powers’ recent novel Hide Me Among The Graves became available, half the speculative fiction fans I know cheered, and the other half said “Tim who?”. Have you enjoyed the recent Burton and Swinburne steampunk trilogy from Mark Hodder? How about Connie Willis’s time travel books? Did you like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or maybe Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon? If you answered Yes to any of those questions, Tim Powers is an author you should be reading. Also, he’s got some major street cred – when you and I were in pre-school, he was chillin’ with Blaylock and Jeter and helping define what many of us now know as steampunk. Tim Powers is truly one of my heroes of literature, one of the authors I go to when I need a comfort read, something I know I’m going to enjoy, something that is guaranteed to knock my socks off. When I first read The Anubis Gates around 10 years ago, I didn’t know who Powers was, but I knew I wanted more.

Powers writes primarily alternate history, but he does it in a way no one else does. He likes to use what I call the “pockets of I-don’t-know” theory, where he finds pockets in history where something odd was reported, where someone was reported acting very unusual, or went missing for a few days and wouldn’t tell anyone where they’d been, or just something strange happened. The fiction of Tim Powers lives in these pockets, he’s writing the secret history of what really happened. or as he puts it:

“I made it an ironclad rule that I could not change or disregard any of the recorded facts, nor rearrange any days of the calendar – and then I tried to figure out what momentous but unrecorded fact could explain them all.”

Intrigued? Here’s a few more reasons you should be reading Tim Powers.

He’s a “gateway” author. Go the bookstore or the library, and Powers will probably be found in fiction, not science fiction. He’s perfect for people who “aren’t really into all that weird scifi stuff”. Do you like spy thrillers? Try Declare, about Kim Philby’s true mission, which might have involved genies, and something horrific living on Mount Ararat. Prefer contemporary dramas with some suspense and maybe a smidgen of mythology? Try Last Call, which takes place in Las Vegas, and touches on some of the mythological opportunities that might have helped the luckiest city in the world, because destiny is the ultimate gamble, right?

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Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

published October, 2012

where I got it: borrowed ARC from a friend

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Cory Doctorow is mean. he likes to hit his readers where it hurts, to show us where our world is going if we’re not careful. If China Mieville’s Railsea is a YA retelling of Moby Dick (complete with similar literary mannerisms), then Pirate Cinema is a YA introduction to political manifestos such as Atlas Shrugged (complete with speeches at the end).  This isn’t the first time I’ve compared Doctorow’s fiction to that of Ayn Rand, and if you know my history with Rand’s fiction, you know I mean that comparison as the highest compliment.

The story follows Trent McCauley, a British teen who does all the normal teen things, like hating school, being awkward around girls, and downloading tons and tons of video clips of his favorite actor, and mashing them up into new and funny videos, a la Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and then uploading his vids for his fans and friends to watch.

Thanks to a new draconian law regarding copyright infringement, Trent’s family loses their internet access for one year due to his constant downloading of films and clips. His little sister can’t do her homework at home anymore and her grades plummet. His mother can’t get her prescriptions refilled online. His father loses his phone-bank job.  Trent’s family is ostracized by their being kicked off internet access. Full of shame, Trent runs away to London.

This may sound like it’s a story for an about people who remix videos and remix music, and if you’re not one of those folks it’s easy to think this politically charged story doesn’t apply to you. Ever recaptioned a photo or submitted something to Lolcats? Ever shared a deviantart image on Facebook simply because you liked it?  ever taken a photo you found online and photoshopped it into something you liked better, if only to show off your photoshop skills? If you’ve ever done any of those things, you’re in the same boat as Trent – you’ve shared someone else’s intellectual property,  changed it, made it into something new, and claimed that new thing as your own unique creation. And you’ve broken the law.  We’re all just as guilty as Trent, we just haven’t been caught yet.

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Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

published in 2012

Where I got it: the library

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Everyone is going crazy for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds.  Action packed and with an engrossing premise,  shattered characters, and Richard Kadrey-esque prose, it’s no wonder this little book is getting a lot of attention.

Although a growing number of people are fascinated by her, Miriam Black wishes she could just disappear. As an adolescent, she gained the power to tell people the circumstances of their death. Perhaps the person lives until they are 95 and dies peacefully in their sleep. Perhaps it’s a housefire, or a drug overdose, or suicide. Living alone and on the run, she tries to avoid touching people. But of course it doesn’t work.  Once upon a time she tried to save the life of a child whose death she’d foreseen.  That didn’t work either.

Miriam comes off fairly crass, but it’s a facade. She’s not a mean person, she’s just really sick of shaking hands and seeing terrible visions in hospitals and bathroom floors.  Her diary, nearly out of pages, is the only therapy she has, the only way she can get these feelings and fears and self hatred out of her system.

Miriam isn’t the nicest person in the world, so it’s doubly unfortunate that she’s mostly surrounded by assholes. Frat boys looking to get laid, truckers who might rape her, violent drug addicts, the scum below the bottom crust of society.  Miriam doesn’t expect to meet anyone nice. And then she meets Louis, and everything changes.  Louis is a completely normal, kind man. And in the moment before his death, he calls Miriam’s name.

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I recently reviewed Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest novel, The Troupe, and it was absolutely incredible. Seriously, go read my review.  I’ll wait.

Mr. Bennett’s debut novel, Mr. Shivers was published in 2010, and while that novel was winning  literary awards left  and right, he was busy publishing his second novel, The Company Man.  His fourth novel, American Elsewhere is scheduled to hit store shelves this coming winter.   And beyond all of that wonderfulness, he agreed to let me ask him a bunch of strange questions. What a gentleman!

Everyone, please give a big round of applause to Robert Jackson Bennett!

LRR: The Troupe focuses around Vaudeville performers and troupes that traveled the country in the early 1900′s from theater to theater. Did you spend any time in the theater when you were younger? Are you a fan of music and theater of the early 1900′s?

RJB: I was a musician, actually – a classically trained violist. So I know a fair bit about prodigies like George, having met a few in my time. Some were hilariously self-involved, like George, and others were like the little circus dogs who only know how to perform, and haven’t ever done anything else. It could be a bit sad, in a way.

I’m a huge fan of early 20th century comedy – the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton… I still haven’t seen that many comedians who can do so much with so little.

Some people don’t get the Marx Brothers. Personally, I don’t get people who don’t get the Marx Brothers.

LRR: Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what got you started down the path to “Hi, I’m an author!”

RJB: I kind of think so. I think my parents might have raised me to be a writer without knowing it. My first word was “Melville,” if that gives you any idea, because that was our dog’s name. They were always giving me books and discussing them with me. It was expected of you to be culturally informed. And at some point in time I started thinking up variations of the things they were showing me or books I read on my own, trying to make them better and make them the sort of story I wanted to read, and eventually this just translated into writing.

LRR: What authors and books have inspired you over the years?

RJB: Oh, geez. A bunch. I grew up reading Stephen King, Madeleine L’Engel, Roald Dahl; then it translated into Neil Gaiman, John le Carre, Susana Clarke, David Foster Wallace; and lately I’ve been reading a lot of David Mitchell and Katherine Ann Porter.

I’m chiefly fascinated by work that examines one idea or a set of ideas. I still think of a novel as the most fun kind of thought experiment, trying to glean truths from fabulous lies, setting things in motion and smashing them together and seeing what’s left and what isn’t. I’d say most of my novels fall under this category.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.