Last year a friend reminded me about The Chive. I say reminded because I knew about the site but for whatever reason hadn’t visited for a while. I started stopping by again and decided I wanted a tee shirt.
Easier said than done.
It was at this point I was reminded of a lesson my mother passed along to me as a child – Just because you want something doesn’t mean you can have it.
I needed a plan – Keep Calm and Chive On – in two basic parts.
It seems to have worked so far.
Part 1 - Over the past few months I’ve been fortunate enough to have purchased some cool stuff from The Chive. Current count 2 KCCO tees, 2 Original Keep Calm and Chive On tees – 2 BFM stickers and 2 Keep Calm and Chive On decals. All of which seem to be a bit popular as they are all currently Out of Stock. (See photos of ½ of the purchases above.)
This leads me to the second part of my plan, and I will point out that it’s ongoing (hopefully). Part 2 is to embrace the Pay it Forward concept. While I plan on wearing my shirts and displaying my decals, I don’t need 2 of every thing and while capitalism and Ebay are fine, the shirts and other stuff, once sold out, are hard to find and near impossible to purchase without paying a HUGE mark up.
the Plan - I’ll give away the extra stuff I buy. (As new shirts are made available, if I can buy 1, I’ll buy 2. I’ll keep 1 and give 1 away. I can’t promise I’ll get 100% of what goes on sale. I missed out on the BFM’s.) So i get a good turnout and my giving away my extra items is successful, when I do end up with a purchase, I’ll put up a new post on the blog, tweet it with @thechive and #KCCO to let folks know.
The rest is up to you.
So what does it take to get your hands on one of the shirts or the decals pictured above?
If you’ve read this far you’re ahead of the game. Second, just leave a comment below and by the end of the month (or there abouts), I’ll randomly select 3 winners (1 for each shirt and one for the sticker and the decal) and reply to the comments with instructions on me getting the shirt or stickers to them. I’ll even pay the postage.
All I ask in return is that if you end up with a shirt or sticker - remember to Pay It Forward.
Simple as that.
As of late my focus, intended or not, has been about reading new writers. Well, new for me anyway.
I’m continuing this with the book Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. I should stress the concept of new to me as Smith, now with three books, will be familiar to many.
And rightfully so.
First, Child 44 is a dark book. It begins in the final days Stalin’s Soviet Union. The main character, Leo Demidov, is a mid-level Soviet security agency officer. His career has been spent pursuing enemies of the state, often having to hunt them down. His targets are generally quickly executed or, perhaps worse, sent to the gulags. However in Stalin’s time the hunter can quickly become the hunted, frequently on nothing more than the word of a stranger.
After a distinguished career, Demidov finds himself the target of the Soviet security machine while he relentlessly pursues a serial killer. A serial killer of children.
In this aspect, as well as others, Child 44 is based upon actual historical events. A Ukrainian serial killer, one of the most notorious ever, was the model for the villain in the book. From my study of Soviet history, it appears the backdrop of Soviet Russia in the early 1950’s is based in actual fact.
The strengths of Child 44 stem from this tie into an authentic past. The book captures the essence of the country, the time and tension that filled them both. Smith conveys to the reader the desperation of life under Stalin and he does an amazing job of giving a feel as to how the Soviet machine operates. However, the strength’s are also a weakness of the book.
The characters are compelling, though I found myself looking for a bit more development. And while I found it fascinating reading about the stark reality of 1950’s Russia, at times I did feel like I was getting a hefty dose of Soviet history.
These two points aside, Child 44 is a masterful tale of suspense. Smith has as gift for building tension and drawing the reader into the tale. Child 44 is one of those books that you won’t want to put down. I was also pleased to see that Smith has two other books featuring Demidov, who really is an enjoyable character. I’ll be interested to see how he develops.
Child 44 would appeal to fans of mystery and suspense. It would also be particularly interesting to those who have an interest in getting a very authentic peek behind the curtain that was 1950’s Russia.
I'm late to the party.
After seeing The Last Bastion
of Humanity (my review here
) on a recommend read list, I decided to give it a try. It didn't take me long to finish my first book by Rhiannon Frater. It was my hope The Last Bastion
wasn't a one trick pony, so I started with one of Frater's earlier works, The First Days
, book one in the As the World Dies series.
Frater's the real deal when it comes to zombies.
As the title should lead you to believe, The First Days
details the start of the zombie apocalypse. The main characters are two strong, yet troubled women who are thrown together through circumstances that no one could imagine. Despite having no idea want is happening or what to do, the women find themselves with a group of survivors in rural Texas. The First Days
sets the stage for the follow up novels where I am hopeful (I've yet to read them, but soon will) Frater will expand upon the foundation she has built.
When I read works by writers with a catalog the size of Frater's, I jump on the site of one of the online corporate booksellers and read some reviews to get an idea of what people are saying. However, I don't bother with the 4 and 5 star reviews. I head straight for the 1 star reviews. I find that if there are problems with the book the 1 star reviewers will make them loud and clear.
From most of the reviews of The First Days
, one of main points is that Frater doesn't tell the reader what caused the zombie plague. I’m here to report that this is accurate, she doesn't tell us a thing about what caused the plague. I'm also inclined to say, "So what?" I understand people want to know everything, but just because you want something doesn't mean you will get it or should.
Frater does credit to the story by not telling what caused the plague. One thing Frater does amazingly well is describe the speed with which the zombie plague spreads and the denial many people experience when confronted with their new reality. She also makes if very clear that the survivors are scrambling to salvage what they can of humanity, largely making it up as they go along. What caused it really doesn't matter, only the reality of the problem.
I've never been through a zombie apocalypse, but I have to think that survival would be on the top of my priority list. I'd be curious what caused it, but I would probably be more concerned about how I would survive.
One thing Frater does amazingly well is leave the reader with vivid images. Admittedly, I've never seen or witnessed a real zombie, but the images Frater has left with me makes me wonder if she may not have seen a zombie or two stashed in her basement. They are simply chilling. As a teaser (and as a bit of a fair warning) the opening scene is one of the most frighteningly vivid I have ever read, so enjoy.
Frater has as style of writing that does several things. She effortlessly breaths life into characters, her story comes to life on the page and put the reader right in the middle of the action and she makes you want to keep reading.
If you're a fan of zombie fiction and you haven't read Frater as of yet, change that soon. You will be glad you did.
It didn’t take me as long to get around to The Rook
by Steven James. I let James’ first book, The Pawn, gather a little too much dust before I realized what I had been missing. (My review here
Truth be told, I’ve been steaming through the books in The Bowers Files, so named for the main character, Patrick Bowers. With a little concern I will discuss below, I’ve enjoyed them all quite a great deal, enough to move James up to one of my preferred authors in his genre.
So all aside, The Rook
is a very solid follow up to The Pawn
In book two, Patrick Bowers, an FBI environmental profiler, is called to San Diego to assist in the investigation of a serial arsonist.
But of course it could not be as simple as just an arson investigation. As the fires continue to occur it’s obvious they are just a small part of something much larger that reaches into the military and the government as a whole. Bowers has to rely on all of his deductive reasoning and profiling ability to get to the bottom of things. You’ll even find some familiar faces in among the villains.
James does a wonderful job of building on The Pawn
not only in the further development of his main characters, but also in introducing some new characters that only add to the enjoyment.
While it’s quite enjoyable to see how Bowers processes a mystery, never being quite willing to accept the norm and frequently pushing the envelope, one of the most interesting parts of the book is the development in his relationship with his stepdaughter.
Following The Pawn
I was a bit concerned there may be tenuous or perhaps even clichéd aspects of the angst ridden teenager/step-parent relationship in books to com. Not to worry, James does a great job of blending this aspect of the plot into the book as a whole so the relationship not only compliments but also becomes an important part of the entire story.
In The Rook
James has crafte
As I said above, since I finished The Pawn
I’ve been working through James’ Bowers Files and there have been very few things that have not been pristine.
If you enjoy character driven mystery and suspense with crisp dialogue and a keen sense of criminal procedure, so long as you can invest a little into the suspension of disbelief, you will likely love this series.
I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to comment below.
I've been a fan of Ron Rash for a number of years. Could be because I grew up in the South, maybe it’s his stories, perhaps his characters, most likely it's simply because Ron Rash is an amazing writer.
I'm pretty sure it the latter.
Rash, a college professor at Western Carolina University, writes a great deal about Southern Appalachia. You won't find zombies or vampires, nuclear bombs or plots where the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. What you will find is crisp, quality writing. And the most captivating stories. Rash is such a polished and focused storyteller that his work all but comes to life on the page.
In Serena, the backdrop is 1929 Asheville, North Carolina. George Pemberton, a timber baron, has brought his new bride, Serena, to live with him as he supervises his company's clear cutting in the North Carolina mountains.
George has been living in Asheville for sometime, even fathering a child with a local woman (much to the chagrin of her relatives). Then after a trip home to Boston he returns to the wilds of Asheville with a beautiful young wife.
Initially you wonder how a beauty from Boston will fare in the backwoods of North Carolina, but she proves more than capable of getting along.
George and Serena start their life together, but circumstances take an unexpected turn when Serena learns she cannot have children. After discovering this she focuses her rather polished and dangerous ire on Pemberton's son from prior to their marriage.
In Serena (the character) Rash has created one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in sometime. I won’t spoil the experience of learning about her, rather I’ll leave that to you to discover.
To bolster this primary story, Depression era North Carolina against where the tale is set comes off of the page more like a painting rather than the written word. It’s clear that Rash has not only a gift for the written word, but that he is a master of all that is Appalachia, embracing not only the history but customs, patterns and styles of those who have called this area of our country home for centuries.
As the story progresses Rash weaves a plot that flows seamlessly as each page builds upon itself to the next. The conflict within and between the characters is so subtly developed that while it may not seem at first as if the characters are changing, suddenly you will see a transformation that will astound you. And as much as the characters transform, I believe at the root of the tale, they are simply learning their true identity and acting as their fate has determined.
The ending of Serena is astounding.
I learned not to long ago that Serena is being made into a motion picture staring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Given this book as a vehicle, it’s my hope that the film will accurately capture the essence of the tale and, if it does, it will be a movie that you will not want to miss. I also hope it expands Rash’s literary reach. But don't wait for the movie, get the book. You'll be glad you did.
I'd love to hear your comments, so feel free to leave them below.
I’ve always fancied myself as having good radar for the fiction available today. Particularly in the genres I enjoy, but it seems I need to take the radar unit in for a check up.
A while back a copy of The Pawn by Steven James landed on my desk and, for whatever reason, it just sat there. I think I may have even dusted it off at one point. So after the New Year I decided to see what I'd been neglecting.
Turns out I’d been neglecting a lot.
The Pawn is a great book. It's a crisp, tight novel that not only does a wonderful job telling a great story, but it also serves as our introduction to Patrick Bowers.
Bowers, actually Dr. Patrick Bowers, is a profiler for the FBI, but not the traditional "get in their head" profiler. Bowers is an environmental profiler. He looks at patterns, environmental factors, locations, settings and the like to determine where as opposed to whom. For him the motive for the crime isn't really the driving cause, but more so where and how crimes have occurred. He goes where the worst of the worst commit their crimes.
Trouble is, not everyone, actually few, see his genius.
Aside from using a new and fringe approach to profiling, Bowers is also a flawed hero. His wife, the love of his life, recently succumbed to cancer. After her death Bowers found himself the caregiver of his deceased wife's teenage daughter. It seems that FBI profilers and teenagers have somewhat of a disconnect when it comes to interpersonal relationships. The story between Bowers and his step-daughter, Tessa, is worth the price of admission alone.
All of this serves to make Bowers a very interesting and engaging protagonist.
With that as the backdrop, on to the story.
Bowers has traveled to Asheville, North Carolina to assist with a string of deaths attributed to a serial killer.
As I was reading along, moving through a very well crafted plot and well-paced plot, I found myself approaching what seemed to be a conclusion. Confusing to me as more than half of the book remained, but I discovered this was intentional.
James starts the book out as a straightforward mystery with a good guy chasing a bad guy, but as the plot evolves and develops James expands his reach and incorporates additional elements creating page-turning suspense as the book moves along, important resolutions lead to more conflict and more suspense.
James' dialogue is crisp, the characters are engaging and his sense of setting is spot on.
James' style of writing also makes for a quick read. In the end The Pawn blends historical events into a current day mystery that will keep you on your toes until the end.
If you're looking for a book for vacation or for a trip, this is definitely a book worth considering. Fair warning though, if you are a fan of police procedurals, mysteries or the thriller/suspense genres, you'll likely find yourself collecting the entire series of Patrick Bowers books. I’ve started his follow up, The Rook and will report back when I’ve finished.
Feel free to leave your own comments below.
People love to write about zombies.
People love to read about zombies.
Basically, people love zombies.
The problem is most zombie fiction is very similar to a zombie – rambling about with no clear direction, cause or goal.
This creates another problem. With so much really bad zombie fiction lurking about, the really good zombie fiction tends to get lost in the horde.
Enter The Last Bastion of the Living: A Futuristic Zombie Novel
by Rhiannon Frater. (For the rest of this post I’m going to call the book The Last Bastion
I stumbled across this book on a “Best of 2012” lists. Most of the zombie fiction I read falls into the category referenced above, so when I saw a book from the genre on a best of list, I found myself looking forward to reading it.
Glad I did.
The basic premise of The Last Bastion
is not far removed from that of many similar works. Humanity as we know it is on the brink of extinction and zombies are to blame. The Last Bastion
starts us here and quickly catches us up on the current state of affairs. The last 2 million or so people on the planet have taken refuge in a secure corner of the globe intent on rising up to defeat the undead.
However the grand survival plan has failed. The remaining humans are running out of time. So a secret, last-ditch effort is made to give humanity a chance to survive.
From her Frater takes us on a rather remarkable journey.
She creates an engaging story line with compelling characters. Her dialogue is fresh, crisp and focused. In weaving her plot Frater makes use of the most visually descriptive writing I can recall. Not only does she drop the reader into each scene, she practically reaches into your head and presses the play button. You can hear the characters in your head, you can see the action, you can sense the zombies as they move towards you. It is almost like watching a movie as you read the book.
Frater doesn’t stop here. Her plot structure naturally creates multiple levels of conflict. The tension is compelling and draws the reader ever deeper into the tale. Frater accomplishes this as effortlessly as most people will walk down the street.
The reader will find themselves heading down one path and then suddenly realizing, quite by surprise, the literary tidbits you’ve been collecting have not only enhanced the plot but have set you up for a surprise twist that makes complete sense and also unlocks a better, deeper understanding of the story.
Now, for all of you out there who say “I can’t read zombie fiction because it is too singular.” (I’m certain someone has to say that…) The Last Bastion
is not just a zombie book. It has a wonderful and unique romantic component. It is also a coming of age tale and at its core it’s a page turning work of mystery and suspense. Action, oh yes, there is action. Lots of action.
That being said, while it isn’t just a zombie book, it is never the less a zombie book and Frater doesn’t let this go unnoticed. She handles the zombies in a very unique and interesting way.
For me it’s extremely rare to find a new writer with such a keen and unique voice. During the past few days, since I’ve finished The Last Bastion
, I have been describing it as a fresh voice in a genre that has been sorely.
I look forward to reading more of Frater’s work – fortunately she has a number of other full length titles.
I encourage people who’ve not read much zombie fiction to read The Last Bastion
; however, I make this recommendation with fair warning. Fair warning that Frater sets the bar quite high for this genre. Works of this level are the exception rather than the rule.
Fans of zombie fiction will enjoy The Last Bastion.
I would also recommend it to fans of the romance, mystery, suspense and thriller genres.
While you’re here, if you would like to read an excerpt from my book do that here
. You can also buy your own copy – they are available through the website
with free shipping. A portion of all proceeds will be donated to canine charities.
So you have to love the folks over at Novel Publicity. They always have something going on. They also have an incredible knack for finding great new books and authors.
To usher in 2013 they have a wonderful opportunity to not only learn about a new author and books, but to also interact with (other) bloggers, have a chance to win some great prizes and to lrean a bit more about the great folks at Novel Publicity. So take moment and read all about their latest in the guest post below. That and have an incredible 2013
Soon after I started reading Bluff by Lenore Skomal someone noticed the book and asked the question, “What kind of bluff – cliff or deception?”
Having read all of 10 pages I looked at my inquisitor and answered with a framed air of authority.
“Cliff,” I said as turned my attention back to the book.
Now I find myself convoluted. It seems that the book is really about both kinds of a bluff.
Bluff is about the cliff variety of the moniker, but in ever the most delicately pervasive fashion it is also deception and its far-reaching impact. It would be a really good read about only one kind of bluff but, it is, in my humble opinion, the combination of the two that creates a literary vortex the reader will find hard to escape.
I landed in this vortex and felt compelled to read the book again for a confirmation of my initial thoughts.
A second reading of Bluff opens doors missed the first time around. Behind those doors you’ll find a landscape that is more than reward enough a second time through.
Skomal does a masterful job leaving a trail of literary breadcrumbs throughout the book. If you read closely you’ll find them. Don’t worry, they won’t give away the plot or act as any spoilers, but they provide an even deeper insight as to the characters, their background, the setting and the story as a whole.
Bluff is a story of realization for virtually every character you’ll encounter. Interestingly the characters learn not only about themselves but also those around them. They do this through what I will call unexpected cross interaction. It is as if everyone in Bluff was blissfully ignorant of how his or her lives interacted and impacted those around them. Then the tale begins and it is as if everyone starts to realize they are part of something larger.
Upon our entry into the tale all of the characters have been content in their status quo but, once the action begins, they are shocked into action and the tentacles begin to grow.
The tale opens with Jude Black being admitted to the ER after falling from a bluff (the obvious first kind). She is alive, but only in the slightest of fashions. She is also pregnant.
From here, with Jude and her unborn child as the starting point, we expand to learn not only about a variety of other characters and how their lives are intertwined in the most intricate of ways, but also how the deceptive sort of bluff becomes the norm for virtually everyone in our tale.
As the lives of the characters unfold, largely around the background of Jude’s continued hospitalization, the nuances become pristine, the mystery emerges and the suspense builds to a finality that will astound you.
That having been said, I struggled with one point of the book that prior to last week I would have likely have not mentioned; however, after the tragic events of last week in Connecticut, I feel compelled to address this point.
I enjoyed this book enough to read it twice, but given the tragedy in Newton, I want to make sure that anyone who reads it knows up front that there are issues involving children and firearms. I believe that Skomal handles this sensitive topic in a very appropriate fashion and I also believe the manner in which it is addressed in Bluff can serve as a springboard to the gun control debate that is on the forefront in our Nation.
I believe that fans of literary fiction, mysteries and thrillers would enjoy Bluff.
All too often people forget the makings of a great story is not how grandiose the plot may be or the size of the stage upon which the novel is set, rather it's the characters and, in reality, how important their story is to them.
I recall a book about a man trying to get home. That was the essence of the entire story; well except for the fact he was walking home. Since I read this book I've told many a fellow reader about this literary gem and, purposefully, given them this sparse description. I've done this largely to gauge their reaction. Almost universally the reaction was lukewarm at best. Then I would elicit a promise to have them read the book. Again, almost universally, when I saw them soon after they too had nothing but praise for the book, Cold Mountain by Charles Fraizer.
Flesh by Khanh Ha is this type of book. At its core, it is a book about a son trying to honor his family by obtaining a proper burial for his father and brother. And for this boy, this becomes his driving raison d'être.
After I finished Flesh, I was left with one word echoing in my head that, for me, describes the book. For me the one word that encapsulates Flesh in its entirety is poignant.
The characters, the setting, the pacing of the plot, the book as a whole, all done in such a poignant fashion that the tale as a whole simply resounds with a voice that is unique and memorable in rare fashion.
Set in turn of the 19th to 20th century Hanoi, Flesh opens with the execution of a notorious gang of criminals. Their leader, almost a Robin Hood in provincial view, is executed last and his teenage son witnesses his death. From this point forward the son is focused on honoring his father by obtaining a proper burial location for his remains.
In Flesh Ha transports the reader seamlessly to colonial Vietnam. Through the book the reader will find themselves on the cusp of feeling a humid breeze upon their skin, hearing the noises of a South East Asian city, smelling the scent of a meal cooking in a kitchen, feeling the tension that frequently lurks just around the corner, the chill in the spine that comes from the first view of an opium den, and even the engulfing bliss that comes from the first ever draw of the sweet smoke for an opium pipe.
I read a lot and recently have decided that the success of a book will turn on the genuineness of the characters. Rarely do you encounter characters as true and authentic as you will find in Flesh. Even though they are steeped in, for a westerner, unfamiliar traditions and trappings of a foreign culture, the characters as developed by Ha make the reader feel more like they have stepped in to the tale and are witnessing it as it unfolds rather than reading about it from a time and location removed from the story.
Perhaps what I enjoyed the most was while the characters drove the tale, they did so via plot that was as pleasantly tangled and tense as you will find. And despite this, from the first moment, the plot was believable and, most importantly, timeless.
Readers of character drive tales, literary and historical fiction need to prioritize getting this book. As well anyone that has wanted to read a solid work of this nature but has not yet would be well served by starting here.