Review - RAMSES THE DAMNED - THE PASSION OF CLEOPATRA - Anne Rice and Christopher Rice
Planning a wedding to his newly immortal partner Julie, Ramses the Great has much to regret and much to look forward to. Now living life as Reginald Ramsay, Egyptologist, Ramses has kept his secrets to a chosen few and has found fresh hope in the modern age of the early 19th century. Always the diplomatic negotiator, Ramses intends never to waste his immortality again on steering the outcomes of those in power. It is enough to have his beloved Julie as his immortal companion, and the company of those intelligent and talented enough to amuse.
If like this reviewer you haven't read an Anne Rice novel for some years, what you might also be anticipating is some lovely floral prose that waxes lyrical about everything from flowers to landscapes. The glorious wallowing can be a bit of an acquired taste and all that navel gazing can come at the expense of plot.
As lovingly gothic and melodramatic the characters may still be, it was an absolute treat to experience Rice's creation King Ramses once again. It's been a long time since we saw his blue eyes on lurid paperback covers way back in 1989. THE MUMMY was gleefully passed around many an office worker back in the day, with all Anne Rice fans anticipating another lust worthy brat in the vein (pardon the pun) of Lestat from the Vampire Chronicles. (Can you believe that we first encountered Lestat in 1976?). Ramses too has had hundreds of years of past plots and relationships to mull over in his noble head, whilst playing God with the ability to keep others young forever, in the same manner as his hedonistic and pompous self.
In the winning fashion of why having one rockstar deity in your novel when you can have two, Rice and Rice have put two giants of history, King Ramses and Queen Cleopatra in the same work. Check your reality at the door of course, as despite having a wig out at the museum and dousing Queen Cleopatra with the immortal elixir, Ramses then sails forth into the world and creates a modern day identity and promptly exposes his baby blues to the social circuit. As one does, when you want to stay safe from scrutiny.
So we're not big on plot planning here but there are many gloriously overblown conversations, angsty experiences and swoon worthy immortals swanning about thinking furiously about what is to come next. Ramses is curiously toothless in this outing, compared to how fierce he was in the first book. More a brooder here than a doer.
The passion of Cleopatra isn't of the between-the-sheets kind as it turns out, but more that she has rediscovered her desire to live.
It was lovely to visit with Ramses once again, and as a co-authored book, you do wonder whose input we will see more of in future works of the (now continuing) series. One for the fans, but not a book you'd recommend for a reader who has never experienced the richness of the works of Anne Rice before. Once you have immersed yourself in the unrestrained narcissism of the immortals, it's an easy and pleasant reading experience just to ride along with their greatness just once again.
Review - Artemis, Andy Weir
Living on the moon in Artemis, the first lunar city built not only for exploration but also for the tourists, Jazz Bashara knows everything there is to know about the city and its people. Born on Artemis, Jazz is living life as best she can in a hostile climate and from her side hustle of smuggling in the odd piece of contraband, the lunar coinage rolls in. Infrequently. Not enough to keep her from dreaming of the next big haul.
Dang. We all really wanted to love this book after the monster science hug that THE MARTIAN unexpectedly gave us a few years back. The geek science is still there to be enjoyed - detailed and highly credible, and you never have cause to doubt the intelligence and passion of author Andy Weir here in his field of interest.
We see again some toasty dry humour, but without that sense of impeding peril ARTEMIS struggles to engage us in the fate of its lead, petty criminal Jazz Bashara.
Jazz isn't hideously unlikeable, but other than being rather admirably tenacious, she's not that likeable either. She's sketched a little too thin and the reader really needed for her to have a better sense of purpose in order to have a vested interest in her fate. Jazz's intentions didn't have be that noble, but considering the out-of-world setting, they could have been a lot more perilous and suspenseful. There are parts where Jazz is required to look outside of the personal ramifications to herself and think instead of the safety of others living at Artemis, but these scenarios just seem just inclusions to move the technical narrative along. Also, the danger to others is a consequence of Jazz's own actions on the whole anyway.
In the keen hands of Andy Weir, ARTEMIS gives us great insights to what practical challenges there might be to our future living outside of our own planet. It will happen some day on a larger scale of course, and Artemis is a living breathing city with all the usual challenges and petty concerns that would be scaled up to large potential disasters in a hostile 'off earth' environment.
As with THE MARTIAN, the strength of the writing lies in the imagining of the environment and the ever present threat to human life via any one of many small mistakes that could be made. The people depicted as living here in Artemis are mostly self serving, and there isn't the 'brave new world' community identity. It is on the whole every woman for herself. (Or man, etc).
ARTEMIS satisfies the space/science fan in all of us but needed better characterization and an a keener editorial eye cast over where all of the 'wacky races' shenanigans were going to end up. Too many broad brush strokes are made at the novel's conclusion to tidy it all up when it would have been just as okay to go a little dark, rather than feature film fodder light.
Looking forward to anything more that Weir can bring by way of a space action novel with less goof and more attention paid to what possible uniquely frightening space catastrophes could await us out there as we further explore and populate planets and moons other than our own.
Book review - Are You Sleeping, Kathleen Barber
Josie Buhrman has a terrific partner to whom she has told rather a lot of lies to. Caleb, with all his Kiwi charm, has been a solid and loving anchor for Josie, separating her from the mess of her family past which included the scandalous murder of her father, and the exit of her mother to a cult like order. Josie has travelled a long way from the mid-western town where she grew up and has set up a good life for herself away from all of the skeletons still festering in her family closet.
Crime fiction readers (and in particular, true crime or audio book enthusiasts) are generally mad podcast listeners also, so as a hook to make us pick up a novel by a new author, this absolutely worked!
Don’t be too fatigued about seeing once again that old trope of good twin/bad twin as it is put to good use in ARE YOU SLEEPING. Its likely readers will get the odd uncomfortable twinge about the twin stereotypes utilized also. One example of this is both twins having, at different times, the same romantic partner, the ability of the ‘good twin’ to forgive all ills for the sake of the blood tie etc. The reader will need to swallow those in order to move on and follow where it is all going. (Any twins out there, don’t groan too much!).
Readers will absolutely want to know the truth and also will absolutely feel empathy for Josie as she does her best to come through the mess without entirely destroying her new life with the (rather darling) Caleb. The toxicity of Josie’s twin Lanie makes her someone you wish the erstwhile Josie would run far, far away from and yet it is in this we are shown once again it is always that family ties which will continue to bind.
ARE YOU SLEEPING is a debut work for author Kathleen Barber. Insidiously adding weight to the past layer by layer, this is an enjoyable thriller with some clever dialogue that will satisfy those readers who not identify with the complexity of family dramas, but appreciate the recent wave of modern thrillers that include them.
Kudos to the book’s graphic designer for the 1970’s pulp fiction cover/s too – love it!
Book review - Lie to Me, J.T. Ellison
The Montclairs are a young married couple who are finding their marriage difficult to negotiate after the tragic death of their baby son. Working and living in the same space is now not as cosy and collaborative as it once seemed, and the pressure is on for both writers to honour their publishing contracts and produce the goods. It is of no surprise to Sutton’s girlfriends when her husband Ethan reports that Sutton has left, leaving a note that she needed to take a break. Sutton and Ethan are two brilliant people who spark creativity and passion each other, and that definitely means that
The reader will need to be patient here as it is not until after the half way mark that LIE TO ME reveals its underbelly with its first major plot twist. Nothing is quite as it seems. LIE TO ME is almost like two novels in one; in the first half we have the classic investigation into the spouse and in the second half, other characters in play begin to reveal their true intentions. Told via both past and present perspectives of Sutton and Ethan, LIE TO ME builds up a picture of a creative marriage which slowly dissembles as more facts are revealed from the relationship’s origin and recent past.
The comparisons made to a certain other wildly popular novel are probably not helpful as LIE TO ME is only vaguely similar in nature. LIE TO ME does struggle with continuity, and the “unseen” voice of the killer addressing the reader does not add much to the suspense; if anything it’s a bit of an irritating vain play. As a beach towel thriller, LIE TO ME does the job and almost (but not quite) ties it all up in a bow by novel’s end. Sharp eyed readers though will pick up on a few unfinished threads; perhaps a sequel in the works? It would be interesting to see if Ethan Montclair can forge on with his life after going through the twin horrors of his child dying and being accused of murder.
An escapist thriller for your summer holiday, LIE TO ME will keep you guessing and wondering just who it is you are supposed to feel for – the missing, or the one that remained?
Book review - Sleeping Beauties, Stephen King & Owen King
Right on the money as he always is, Stephen King - with his co-writer son Owen King - addresses here a premise that is ridiculously and soberingly topical. What is it that could bring down society in such a dramatically short space of time? The withdrawing of the women.
Women - those who bear the ‘thought burden’, those who do the nurturing, those who are responsible for the “reining in” of erratic behaviour. Stunningly simple, the thematical concept behind SLEEPING BEAUTIES is not to visualize the horror and drama as the world is slowly broken down, but more to realize how simple and obvious making this happen might be.
As you would expect with the epic novels of this size, SLEEPING BEAUTIES has a cast of thousands and the reader will need to keep on top of all that, in particular as the siege of the women’s prison continues. Lots of guys with guns all fighting what they think is the good fight. Stephen King has obviously been here before (not necessarily geographically - though any fan of King knows that many of his towns and folk do crossover in a freakishly satisfying way) as his legacy novels like THE STAND set new benchmarks for post-apocalyptic works. Benchmarks, that just quietly, may never be vaulted over by other authors. King is King. He does these “rise above the common doom” novels extremely well.
It is easy (and quite fun!) to imagine that a savage edit might have taken place to remove the odd literary swipe at present day government and industry leaders. Messrs King masterfully duck and weave around the particulars and instead illustrate the domestic oppressions and expectations still placed on women via poignant little vignettes that strike uncomfortable and familiar chords.
The identifiable everyday and the supernatural are fully meshed in SLEEPING BEAUTIES and it’s a testament to the writers skill that soon we don’t question when the otherworldly inclusions appear. It is not a full scale good versus evil battle here in this novel but the take home will unsettle regardless. Allow a few days to switch off and take it all in.
Book review - Best Day Ever, Kaira Rouda
Determined to make the day run to schedule, Paul sets off for the drive to his river home with Mia, his lovely young wife of ten years. Their kids are being taken care of by the dubious babysitter and this weekend will be all about the two of them. Paul has planned the next few days very very carefully. There are some work arounds that are necessary and Paul does get the feeling that Mia suspects something is up. But not to worry, the course of true love never does run smoothly. Paul is used to leading a complicated life and his increasing money troubles have brought him to this point.
BEST DAY EVER has a slow burn and is very much like a one room thriller, due to the small cast and its real-time play. We’re along for the ride with Paul, our urbane and narcissistic host, and included every step in the way in his Machiavellian plans to come out on top and be in complete control of his life and marriage. We’re not meant to like him, and of course we can’t admire him, but we can marvel at the inflated super ego that has resulted in his life unraveling at a greater speed now that he is finally spending some time alone with his witness, wife Mia.
Paul’s traits are horribly recognizable and therein lies the true horror; it is not inherent misogyny that drives Paul, it is more the extreme love he has for himself. Everyone has met one of these people, and Paul has taken it to an art form with quick thinking on his feet, lying on the spin of a dime and skillfully manipulating people and events to suit his own needs.
With domestic thrillers being so huge right now, many fiction writers have lifted the lid on the most dangerous experiences women can have; that being, those lived as a result of entering into relationships with controlling men. BEST DAY EVER is an excellent reminder that you don’t need to look too far from home to find real monsters. This novel doesn’t over dramatize and it doesn’t over explain, which makes BEST DAY EVER all the more chilling to read.
Book Review - Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane
The highs of Rachel’s work in journalism brought her excitement, fulfilment and an outgoing husband to boot. She could not see how that could ever change. Until one wartime assignment took Rachel’s confidence, her career and the life of a young girl.
As you read SINCE WE FELL your expectations do fluctuate as to how the rest of the novel might shape up. The first third of the book is all solid backstory and quite satisfying; so much so that if we were to wrap this novel up as a drama read without the inclusion of the murders, it would serve very well. Dennis Lehane writes masterfully with all possible confidence as a writer and this is what we expect from his works – to be entertained, challenged and by novel’s end, satisfied.
The domestic thriller is the modern juggernaut of crime fiction. It’s fantastic for readers to see the crime giants like Lehane write works for this space and with each new release there is great anticipation to see where these writers will take the genre. Here, we have a novel that powers forward for a good two thirds. After this point, we are left wondering if we missed that left-hand turn at Albuquerque.
SINCE WE FELL is almost two books. It is certainly not a suspenseful screeching thriller that spirals towards a heart thumping conclusion; rather melancholic in flavour really as we lament the choices that Rachel has made. Not every novel needs to end with a proven hero, everybody being happy, all threads resolved etc. SINCE WE FELL is almost the alternate domestic thriller, not redemptive, not nail-bitingly tense; instead measured and thoughtful with insight into how a damaged person is able adapt dramatically in order to survive.
Review - The Other Girl, Erica Spindler
Now a police officer serving in a town nearby to her childhood home, Miranda now feels that her life is evolving exactly how she wants it to. It all derails when her colleagues make a connection between the crime scenes of two murders; the first being the visceral slaying of a local man and the second the shooting of a police officer on the same force as herself. Miranda herself can objectively see that she is the common denominator between the two. The first murder victim was Miranda’s abductor from so many years ago.
THE OTHER GIRL has a noticeable lag in the first few chapters but picks up welcome pace as Miranda becomes more isolated from her colleagues. Her job, which has always been her saviour, being taken away from her, is a huge blow. There is a small cast in this novel so you don’t have many characters to cast your suspicious eyes over; this serves well to sharp focus on those close to Miranda who may be saying all the right things whilst thinking the complete opposite.
There is a small romantic sub plot that doesn’t take away from the action and as the walls close in on Miranda, the novel takes on extra threads where she reunites with her estranged family and re-discovers more of what really happened to her in the past.
THE OTHER GIRL is a fast beach or plane ride diversion that will distract and entertain those readers who don’t need too much of an investment into a complicated plot. There has been good character development work put into this book and by the novel’s end, we feel that we have come to know the characters well and understand their motivations.
Book review - The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
Winter in a remote Russian village must be diligently prepared for and stoically endured.
Being the first entry in a series, THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE needed to deliver on a number of fronts. The world of Russian folklore is relatively new territory to this reviewer but there are commonalities to the stories of other cultures i.e. that of Jack Frost, winter kings, and of domestic spirits and the sacrifices that are required to appease them. It also needed to engage and we can tick that box as TBATN pulls gently but insistently at your attention throughout with fully fleshed characters who all have their own paths to tread, descriptions of a beautiful and icy landscape and the lure of a enigmatic saviour not from the realm of man. Vasya (as Vasilisa is mostly called in this novel) is trapped by the conventions and misapprehensions of her gender in a more restrictive time. She is both incredibly naive and intuitively brave at the same time and you will need to accept her character as one that tries to do the best she can in oppressive circumstances. Vasya can be sometimes irritating but this is her story, her trials, and her onward journey.
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE trips between two sensibilities; those of mature adult fantasy readers who are prepared to encounter darker themes and those of young adults or children who might not necessarily want to. The intended market is never quite clear in this read though so the expectations of this adult reader were not quite met. This is not necessarily a negative thought as THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is delightful regardless; it is more that the anticipated adult entanglements and violent encounters are only thinly referenced or left out altogether.
The continuum of this book has some well prepared scope; book three of the series is now being written. THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is a solid first entry and beautifully crafted piece of fantasy that will keep you happily immersed in a wintry world of folklore that is quite familiar and yet fresh once again in the hands of an author who obviously loves her creations, and has great respect for their land of origin.
Review - Home, Harlan Coben
To Myron Bolitar, his college roommate Win is family. It’s been a very long time since either he or the enigmatic Win Lockwood have had to share a room but their lives have been intertwined in love and danger ever since. So when the call for help comes from Win, Myron does not hesitate. There has been a sighting in the UK of Winn’s cousin Rhys who was snatched from a playdate along with his best friend Patrick. The two boys have possibly been used in the UK sex trade the entire time they have been missing. Winn at first tries on his own to snatch one of the boys but it does not go so w
What do we expect out of a Myron Bolitar novel? Wise cracking bromance laughs, the good guys winning, the unexpected twists and the odd punch up. We have all of those in HOME only here it’s a little on mute and the lines for who we are supposed to be barracking for are getting a little blurry. What is most welcome here is that we are privy to the thoughts that are coasting around in the more pragmatic head of Win Lockwood. As always, Win’s character is strong enough to sculpt a novel alone without the softer addition of his best friend in all things, Myron Bolitar. Here in HOME, we receive the points of view of both men.
The familiar cast are getting a bit of a clean up to become more politically correct and this does soften their edges, 11 books in. Regardless, HOME is a welcome visit with old friends. HOME may be a deliberately crafted deliberate step in a long running series which could end on a high or slowly coast out due to the realistic ageing and changes in circumstances for Myron. Not entirely sure whether I want to see Win humanized with family connections, but again perhaps that’s been written in to indicate a change in direction for the series.
HOME is another entry in a series that never fails to deliver the thrills and spills with enough levity to bring it out of the dark. There are twists you won’t see coming and these are still the guys that you wish could have your back in real life.