Behrg Reviews: Hannah Green by Michael Marshall Smith

“Almost every story in the world has a back door through which the Devil can enter if he so chooses.”

Up front, Hannah Green is a novel not everyone will enjoy. Rules aren’t just broken in this story, they’re shattered, and then strung together with wire into a prism through which–when the light is shining just right–you can somewhat make out the semblance of a story. The greater construct (aka: plot) pales in comparison to the way each sentence is strung together, and therein lies the challenge inherent in this tale. Because those looking for a typical … well, anything … aren’t going to find it. There’s nothing typical about this story, from the way it’s told to the beauty of its prose. But when the final page is turned, there’s also a feeling that one’s been cheated somehow, that the magician pulled off an amazing trick but one that had to be planted.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the writing in this. Michael Marshall Smith may be showing off here, but all you can do is sit back and admire the talent. For this alone, the book is worth the read, and I don’t say that lightly. There’s a confidence and ease with which the novel is written, while pointing out along the way the cleverness of its construct. Admittedly, this pulls some readers out of a story. For me, it sucked me right in.

Plot-wise, I felt this might have been tighter as a novella than a full length novel, and though the locales and settings change it does feel a bit like you’re going in circles. Not enough happens and the stakes never feel quite big enough (which is strange to say considering you’re dealing with hell and demons and clearly life-altering events). Maybe it’s the YA feel and approach, which generally isn’t something I gravitate towards, so it could just be me. Still, this was a novel I felt fully engrossed in and one of the most unique reads I’ve tackled in awhile. And for any lover of language and clever prose, don’t even hesitate on raising this to the top of your reading pile.

“Hell is not a place. It’s not a noun, child. It’s a verb.”

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Book Review: Chasing Solace by Karl Drinkwater

Having already established the dynamic relationship between Opal and Athene in the first book, Drinkwater loses no time diving straight into the action with the sequel. Chasing Solace follows Opal and the AI / ship as they continue their search for Opal’s missing sister, leading them to the second lost ship that Athene must board and brave.
 
chasing solaceHaving already covered much of this ground in the first book, Drinkwater wisely takes what the reader might expect and shifts it on its head, upping the stakes while introducing new elements we haven’t yet encountered. First off, the lost ship in this book has been taken to the next level, with some serious creep factors that made for a fascinating and eerie setting. This was one of my favorite parts of the original book, and seeing Drinkwater continue to make the setting and lost ship almost a character unto itself continues to add dimensions to this series you don’t often find in sci-fi.
 
Without going into spoilers, my favorite part of this book was the change in relationship between Opal and Athene, with conflict hitting in multiple and unexpected layers. A new character of sorts is introduced, with its own unique arc, which was surprisingly gut-wrenching, but that relationship between Opal and AI is what makes this series so unique.
 
Aggressive action, elements of horror, and some well earned twists and turns elevate this sequel from what could have been a mid-book slump. And for those hard-core sci-fi lovers, there are plenty of experimental yet scientifically grounded ideas floating throughout this book. Drinkwater’s stretching his abilities here but proving he’s got the chops to do it. Looking forward to seeing how this series concludes.

Behrg Reviews: “We Sold Our Souls” by Grady Hendrix

“We Sold Our Souls” is a deft thrill-ride into a heavy-metal acid road trip where the has-been rockstar’s conspiracy theories all turn out to be completely true, despite being completely bonkers.

soulsAs both a musician and a fan of Hendrix’s previous novels, I thought this would be a book I’d connect with instantly. I was wrong, and in fact I almost gave up on this one. Thankfully, I continued on, and once the UPS men arrived, the novel moved from what felt like cliches into an unexplored territory–one I was more than happy to go along with. For me, this is when the book hit its stride, and once that amp was cranked up to eleven, Hendrix never dialed it back down.

This book is a prime example of why you shouldn’t give up on a read too early. (And yes, I know there are plenty of examples of books you SHOULD have given up on earlier, but come on, you can read those one star reviews later). One thing I appreciate in Hendrix’s writing is that he’s not afraid to go against the grain. You won’t find your traditional paint-by-the-numbers thriller when you pick up one of his books, but you will find a unique vision from an author who’s willing to buck the trends and deliver a story you won’t find anywhere else. To me, these are the authors that should be celebrated even when they have a miss. Because they aren’t bunting, they’re swinging for the fences.

Baseball and music analogies in a single review, I think that means it’s time to shut the laptop down. A definite recommend for anyone interested in an unconventional read from an unconventional mind. Looking forward to where Hendrix leads us next.

** I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley, though this in no way influenced my review of opinions. My thanks to both the publisher and author for the review copy.

And A Way We Go

One of my favorite analogies of life in general comes from an old circus act that’s rarely seen these days: Plate Spinning. (I also may be a big Radiohead fan, so there’s that as well). The idea that every plate requires not your full attention, but just enough to keep it moving, is one that resonates and–in some small way–gives me hope.

Most authors these days are master plate spinners. Balancing day jobs, family and social life, church or community obligations, they squeeze a few moments of their day into putting words down on a page that hypothetically no one will ever read. It’s quite an insane act, when you think about it. Then add to their plate the marketing requirements to actually get their work out there and it can, on occasion, lead to disaster.

Which is why, if you know any authors, we tend to step away. Sometimes it’s through disappointing friends by hiding in our writing havens instead of going out. Other times we may disappear from social media for a time, or allow those marketing efforts to fall by the wayside. Too many plates going at once, one is bound to come crashing down.

All this to say, it’s been a while. Though I may have neglected, for a time, my blog, and some of the marketing around past projects, there’s one plate that’s continued to spin. Because, as we’ve already established, us authors are a little insane. And the one plate we don’t drop is the one that sometimes causes us to drop others.

So yes, there are a few projects on the horizon. I have a short story collection I’m quite excited about, one that feels like the culmination of the overall theme of my writing over the past several years. Another novel is completed, with a second marching towards the finish line. And, somewhere between, I’ll be releasing an omnibus version of The Creation Series.

In addition, I’m making some changes to the website and marketing behind what I do. I’ve released (quietly) a logo for my Production Company, Pricks Like Thorn Media. And there are some long term plans to add more than just printed words to the wheelhouse. (Though all things in time).

While there will be updates on releases and cover reveals of my own work coming, I’ll be getting back to the book reviews I’ve done as well, though in a different strain. As a published author, there are some challenges inherent in “reviewing” fellow authors. Share what didn’t work for you, and you’re bashing; give a glowing review, and you’re expecting something in return. And yet being honest with our personal experience–which can vary so greatly from someone else’s–is what we’re all really hoping to share. So instead of a traditional “love it” / “hate it” post, my reviews going forward will have a bit of a different vibe, though I’ll wait for a future post to explain how that will evolve.

So while I may have a ways to go to get where I’m hoping, I’ve found a way to go to get me further along that path. Besides, this has always been about the journey, not some fictional destination. I hope you’ll continue to join me.

And away we go.

Book Review: “Creature” by Hunter Shea

creatureThe title of Shea’s latest novel is somewhat misleading, purposefully ironic, and yet perfectly encapsulates what the author has accomplished. Known for his creature features, this is a departure from much of Shea’s body of work, and is instead a character driven story. Focused on a couple who are both battling the effects of a horrific autoimmune disease — Kate, as the one stricken; Andrew, as the witness to his wife’s disease — we’re able to sink deep into the despair of their situation while celebrating the little wins of life right alongside them.

But this is no Hallmark sob story. Shea delicately lays the groundwork for horror within the trail our couple follows, preparing us for an ending that delivers the goods most readers of the genre long for. The slow-burn dread and tension are constant, and though the ending goes off like a string of fireworks, its truly the characters that shine the brightest.

I feel like this is the book the author was meant to write, the book he had in him that’s been waiting to come out, one only he would have been able to pen. It’s by far the best thing I’ve read of Shea’s. I’m excited to see where new horizons take his writing and whether this marks a departure from the “Creature” he’s been trying to escape his whole writing career. A remarkable read, and one that will hit the right chords for just about every reader.

The Juxtaposition of a New Year

This morning I went for a run. Understand, that’s a big deal for me — I broke several bones in my foot this past year and it’s been a lengthy road to recovery. But as I was running, thinking about the start of a new year while listening to Muse’s album, Absolution, which is all about the end of the world, I realized how much joy there is in contrasts.

image1.jpegLight and darkness.

Hope and despair.

A new year and the end of the world.

Time spent with family vs time spent alone.

Corporate life set against creative pursuits and freedoms.

Even my run was balanced between tract housing on one side and wilderness on the other, a perfect metaphor for where my thoughts were leading.

2018 was a strange year, one where I’m not sure I had those scales equally balanced. And when you’re juggling multiple scales and a variety of weights in all different shapes and sizes, it’s easy to let all those chains get tangled until you’re the one being held bound rather than setting the scales.

So this year my goals are simple. Balance. To walk (or maybe even run) that road that straddles the line between reality and the hopes of what could be. And to put the work in to keep moving forward, despite the setbacks that come — whether they be broken toes, shattered dreams, or just an unexpected incline.

I’m not sure what that journey will look like over the course of the year or what the implications will be when it comes to things like social media, blogposts, or other pursuits, but I invite you to do the same. Seek that road that runs between the contrasts in your life. Find out where it leads. Even if you never see the end of that road, you’re bound to have encounters along the way that you would never have had without pursuing that balance.

So Happy New Year. I’m oddly excited for where it might lead and hope to cross paths with you along our journeys.

Behrg Reviews: “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation is a tough book to review, likely because it’s difficult to know how you feel about it, even while you’re reading it. The prose is majestic, the story strangely beautiful, and yet there’s this forced and quite purposeful detachment which can make connecting with it a different experience than most reads. I can see how a lot of readers have struggled connecting with the story. As for myself, I really dug what VanderMeer both attempted and accomplished, though I believe they’re both two very distinct things.

annihilationAbout a group of scientists who go into a defined “Area X,” where unnatural changes have been occurring, this is quite possibly one of the most unique “alien invasion” novels you’ll ever read, and one that is more likely to occur than the majority of what the science fiction genre has to offer. Just the premise that we simply can’t fathom life beyond what we know is unquestionably deep. Is it even an “invasion” or does there have to be a source for what’s begun these transformations? There are far more questions posed than answers here, and like Area X itself, they only seem to grow and metastasize, transforming from their original inception into something far greater (and perhaps darker).

If you’re looking to try this out, set your expectations to the side. Don’t expect a lot of answers (or any, really), don’t expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level, except to see yourself through some of their reactions and struggles in a quite cerebral way. But as for challenging the status quo of what can or should be a done in a novel, this is a great place to enter and just let your thoughts roam around within the framework of the story.

Halfway through I didn’t think I’d be picking up book 2 in the trilogy, but after finishing the novel, I’d like to see where it continues to go (or rather, where it doesn’t). Bring on the weird, the strange, the unique. I’ll take it any day over a paint-by-the-numbers story with a plot that’s been painted over so many times the initial shades are beginning to peel.