Halloween Reads: A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS

A Night of Blacker Darkness: : Being the Memoir of Frederick Whithers As Edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III by [Wells, Dan]

I should definitely have plugged another Halloween-ish book by now, so here’s an oldie-goodie.

A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS is about a guy who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but desperately wants to get out of prison so that he can actually commit the crime in question (financial fraud.)

It takes place in England sometime in the 1800s, and it’s a hilariously ghoulish tale. At one point our hero even crosses paths with some of the weakest vampires imaginable, who automatically worship him by mistake. John Keats, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen also make appearances, whether in person, name, or reputation.

It might be among Dan Wells’ lesser-known works, but that’s certainly not for its quality. It’s a really fun read and captures the bewitched autumnal atmosphere with great skill. It’s available in ebook and audiobook.

Get back to work.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: SPELL CHECK by Julie Wright

Spell Check by [Wright, Julie]

TMRGB is a series of blog posts wherein I, a rugged truck driver with security clearances from multiple federal entities, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

 

Art is a transmission for my mind. It helps me shift gears when conditions change around me, and that’s especially true when a new season rolls into town. It’s raining, it’s cool outside, and Friday was the first day of autumn. It’s time to fully embrace the Halloween spirit, and that means Halloween books.

Enter SPELL CHECK, by Julie Wright. And speaking of check, it does that. Teen girl protagonist? Check. Evil cheerleader villain? Check. Totally hot guy figure? Check. Parents at home that Just Don’t Understand? Check. Last of all, beloved grandparent figure who fills the role of a Gandalf archetype? Super check.

Our heroine, Allyson, accidentally discovers she has witching powers when a practical joke goes awry and she curses her worst enemy at school. Her dear sweet grandmother, Farmor (that’s a title, not a name–there’s a Swedish flavor to this family) is there to guide her in the development of her abilities, and explain the ramifications of abusing them.

But of course it’s oh-so-tempting to use those powers to continually humiliate Queen Bee Cheerleader Wench, especially because it gives Allyson a shot at Totally Hot Dreamboat Dude. It’s been a while since I read this so I forget their names. I should probably read it again because hey, October!

When I first bought the eBook, it had the old cover on it, which you can see here:

Image result for spell check julie wright

I kind of liked that one more, but I realize why the change works: the new version captures the whimsical spirit of the book (seriously–at one point Allyson accidentally sends some loved ones to the Amazon, and she has to teleport there to intervene.) The old version, while more complex, also promises something darker, perhaps more Gothic, and much more fantastical.

SPELL CHECK hearkens back to the Halloween movies of the 90s that we loved so much. It’s a little bit Hocus Pocus, a little bit Halloweentown, and a whole lot of fun. The link at the top of this post takes you to Amazon. (Heh.) Do the meta thing and buy a copy!

 

Should-Reads: Dublin Murder Squad, by Tana French

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad came across my radar earlier this year, via a recommendation from my brother. I’m 3 books in (there are 6 as of this writing) and every one of them has been a gale-force tornado of thrills. 
Tana French knows just what buttons to push. She drops these characters into your life and makes you either want to be them, hang out with them, or just ask them questions about life. She writes them with such a degree of reality that even when they aren’t admirable, they are highly readable. No pulled punches, just solid humanity. 
The premise is thus: An Garda Siochana, the Irish Police, do not actually have a Murder Squad, nor do they carry firearms, but French has written a world wherein both of these things are non factors.


From there, we start with Detective Rob Ryan, a somewhat experienced guy on the force, who was traumatized by something in his childhood village. He now has to solve a case in that same village while keeping his past hidden from his seniors. Throughout the case, Rob’s weaknesses and faults are revealed, sometimes with humor, sometimes with painful honesty, but always in a relatable way. I can’t say I have frequently read such a well developed character that wasn’t also insanely boring. 


After Rob’s case ends, the next book follows his former Murder partner, Cassie Maddox, who used to work Undercover. When a girl shows up dead–a girl who looks just like Cassie, and living under a fake name that was one of Cassie’s aliases–Cassie has to go back undercover and find out which of her four “friends” likely killed her. Once again, rich, full characters filled out the roster, and French showed herself to be adept at handling a crazy complex and layered plot at the same time. So far, this was my favorite of the series.


In the third book we move on to Cassie’s former handler, Frank

Mackey, your garden variety tough guy who breaks rules to solve cases–partly because it works, and partly because he likes to. He once planned to elope to England at age 19, but on the night he and his girl meant to meet up, she ditched him and he went off alone. 22 years later, he finds out why…and he has a score to settle. 
I could praise so many elements of these books all day, from the anecdotal asides that reveal the depth of these characters, to the complex twists that have so far thrown me, to the unique voices of these gritty Irish law enforcers…but the best thing I can tell you, honestly, is to just read them. 
Now, as always, I warn about language, and between these books being about Ireland and them being about cops, they are very much not sanitized. Just be aware of that. 
But Tana French is a heck of a writer, and I plan to keep up–I have a lot to learn from her.

Should-Reads: THE END OF NIGHT by Paul Bogard


“The End of Night” is a great piece of nonfiction detailing the technological changes in artificial light, and how we’ve introduced some pretty severe changes to our surroundings in just the last century.
I found it as informative as I did moving, even poetic at times, as Bogard makes his case for a reduction in the amount of artificial light we project into the dark. There are environmental concerns as well as an impact on our own physiology.
It’s a book that merits discussion and I would encourage you all to take a look at it.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, by Jenny Han

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TMRGB is a series of posts wherein I, a bearded truck driver in the mining industry, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses. 

Today I posted one of my worst drive times ever between Clark County, Nevada and Salt Lake County, Utah. Partly this was due to me being in a convoy including another truck and two cars, and partly this was because our trucks were governed, heavy, and somewhat underpowered.

We moved my Mom up to Utah with us (oh yeah, by the way, I moved to Utah, hence the lack of posting…been busy) so today’s Girly Book was literally read/listened to whilst driving a truck. Even with the long drive time, I had to amp up the playback speed so I could finish it as we rolled into my neighborhood.

This book has come across my radar a handful of times, given its NYT bestseller status. One of Han’s other audiobooks is in my TBR pile but I grabbed this one after hearing the recent announcement of a movie adaptation. It’s about Lara Jean, a high school junior, who has had crushes on five different boys in the past, and overcame her crushes by writing letters to them and then hiding them in her room.

Then one fateful day, all of the letters somehow get…delivered.

This obviously sets off a chain reaction of events that throw Lara Jean’s life into a state of emotional chaos. One of these boys is the School Hottie! Another one is her Sister’s Ex-Boyfriend! The rest are…

…well admittedly the rest are pretty inconsequential, at least at first. There are two other books in the series and this first one seems to focus mostly on Peter and Josh. And that’s fine, because there’s enough going on between just a few characters to keep the whole thing moving without bogging it down in a car crash of conflicting wills.

As this book wrapped up, I had definitely enjoyed it, but there was a snag I couldn’t put my finger on at first. I think what it came down to was that it seemed to be less plot-oriented and more an exploration of the numerous characters involved, and the things they did to each other as the story progressed.

Obviously the story had some important things to say and show–about love, loyalty, honesty, and bravery–and it showed them very well. It was just a lot of cause-and-effect and maybe my brain was dialed in to expecting something else. I’m glad there are more to come, because I’d like to spend more time with these characters and see how they grow.

Han has taken an authentic approach to writing modern teenage relationships, walking a line between authenticity and propriety with respectable skill. Issues like teen sex came up (especially in the third act of the book, as it were) but not in a cavalier or flippant way. Likewise there was a bit of PG-13 language throughout, including a brace of F-bombs, both times used to express anger and disgust. As I said–authentic, yet she managed not to overdo it.

At the end of the book, Han’s talent was clearly on display, and I will definitely read another one of her books. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Over and out.

Should-Reads: SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel

Image result for sleeping giants sylvain neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel’s SLEEPING GIANTS is like the book version of a found-footage film, written almost entirely in dialogue, as though from transcripts of recorded interviews. My wife read the ebook and I listened to the audiobook; I frequently found myself wondering if I would have properly read the inflection and tone in print, given how well the narrators performed their different characters.

Premise: A young girl falls into a hole in the ground near the mining town where her family lives. The hole is actually an underground cavern, and she lands in the middle of a giant metallic open palm, like that of a huge statue. It’s alien in origin and defies everything scientists know about metallurgy, and the government wants to know where “the rest” of the statue is.  17 years later, that girl is a scientist heading a project to find those pieces all over the world.

Also it’s not a statue…it’s a machine.

Honestly that’s all I can bring myself to say about it, for fear of spoiling any of the really cool developments of the story. As far as the audiobook goes, the cast really brought it to life. Neuvel proves that he’s a daft hand at withholding and revealing, giving you questions and then handing you answers before you get frustrated…then walking right into a new development or new angle to keep you burning through the story. I for one am glad that I didn’t read it until the sequel was already out, because now I don’t have to wait for the next leg of the story.

Content Warning: Some of the characters share romantic entanglements in their interviews (which are actually relevant to the story) and while none of these scenes “go pink,” sex is a topic in multiple chapters. As for language, there is a small handful of S-bombs and B-bombs throughout the book. Not done to excess, but they’re there.

Should-Reads: MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter International (Monster Hunters International Book 1) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Vendetta (Monster Hunters International Book 2) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Alpha (Monster Hunters International Book 3) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Legion (Monster Hunters International Book 4) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Nemesis (Monster Hunters International Book 5) by [Correia, Larry]

This is one of the more adult series that I keep up with, so the tone and content of these is pretty different from what I normally plug. Just be advised if any of you take my recommendations seriously, there’s a fair amount of language and violence in Larry Correia’s flagship urban fantasy series.

The premise is this: Owen Pitt is an accountant and gun enthusiast (much like Correia) with a flexible mind and a penchant for pounding the crap out of anyone who shoots first. When he’s working after hours one night, he gets attacked by his boss, who is actually a werewolf. Using a combination of firepower and brute strength, Owen kills his boss, but wakes up in a hospital under the watchful care of the MCB (Monster Control Bureau).

What ensues is a Men-in-Black-esque briefing about the world of monsters, that they’re real, they’re a big problem, and the government pays private companies good money to hunt them down. Owen is invited to come to work for Monster Hunter International, and things go both up and down from there.

Why do I keep reading these books? Well, they’re good rip-roaring fun. They’re what SyFy Channel B-movies could be if the characters weren’t idiots, the weapons were accurate, and the writer(s) really tried to do a good job. Character is king, and Correia makes these characters lovable and admirable.

On top of that, he avoids big-city traps that other authors write. These stories don’t happen in Chicago, LA, or New York. He tries new settings and makes it all that much more interesting for it.

If you’re looking at a 6-book series and asking yourself how each one could possibly stay interesting, here’s a breakdown:

International: Pitt is recruited to MHI, learns he has a supernatural connection to a dead Jewish monster hunter, and needs to fight a killer demon who’s coming to destroy the world. (Takes place generally in the South in USA.)

Vendetta: An ancient evil comes to Earth to hunt Owen after the events of International. There’s an armored zombie bear in this one.  (Set in Mexico, the US South, and New Zealand.)

Alpha. This isn’t from Owen’s POV, it’s about MHI’s leader, Earl Harbinger, who is a government-sanctioned werewolf. He goes to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to face an old foe, only to learn that their pasts are more deeply intertwined than they thought. (One of the best of the series. Takes place in Michigan.)

Legion. Owen’s POV again. The team is at a monster-hunting convention when a nightmare demon breaks out and attacks the fictional dragon-themed hotel. (Takes place in LAS VEGAS!!!)

Nemesis. Not Owen’s POV. One of the MHI agents, Agent Franks, is actually a monster who’s been alive for hundreds of years. This is his backstory, interspliced with scenes in the present. I can’t remember where this one is set.

Siege. It’s not out yet but I’m dying to read it. Correia has written a bunch of other stuff since Nemesis came out in 2014, so this story has been sort of in limbo for a while.

Keep in mind, these are super watered-down summaries of these stories. There is a huge long roster of characters who are rich and well-developed, and their actions keep criss-crossing throughout the saga to keep things interesting. Correia knows how to write action and intrigue at a pace that does not invite you to take breaks.

So if gritty, high-octane urban fantasy is your jam, dig in. These are just a dang fun ride.

Should-Reads: DRAGON TEETH by Michael Crichton

Amazon link here.

When Michael Crichton passed in 2008, I was devastated. He was a pillar of my childhood, and the reason I loved reading science fiction. I understand that the old die-hards all grew up on Asimov, Bradbury, and Burroughs, but that wasn’t my era. For me it was the guy who wrote JURASSIC PARK and CONGO. I couldn’t get enough of his work.

Two posthumous novels were announced shortly after his death, those being PIRATE LATITUDES and MICRO. I really liked the former and didn’t finish the latter, which was finished by a second author. I couldn’t really tell which parts were Crichton and which were the other, but it didn’t fire for me the way that the others had.

What’s important to note though is that I read a lot of Crichton’s stuff when I was younger and far less picky about books. There are things I envy about my younger self and that is one of them. Nowadays if I get bored with a book I can’t force myself to finish it. Back then, I rarely got bored.

So I don’t know now if such books as CONGO or SPHERE would hold my attention the way they did then. JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD certainly did, for their novelty, and despite not being connected to the franchise, DRAGON TEETH taps into that same vein of scientific adventurism.

An afterword reveals that this book was found by Crichton’s late wife, Sherri, who prepared it for publication over the course of many years with the help of workers at Michael Crichton’s archives. So it is a posthumous publication, but the exciting bit of it is that it was one of his earlier novels, written in the 1970s, maybe a hundred years after the events of the book itself.

Taking place in 1876, it follows the exploits of a young  Yale student who, on a dare and a bet, goes west for the summer to dig up fossils with a crazy professor. The student, William Johnson (a fictional character) ends up caught between two warring paleontologists, Profs. Cope and Marsh, who were actual historical figures that battled each other over the course of a decade.

That’s all I’ll say about the story, because the book itself is not that long. (The audio is under 8 hours. The print copy is 300 pages.) Frankly I think that is a strength of the story, that it flows and moves quickly and keeps up one’s interest. There’s no getting ahead of yourself, seeing what’s going to happen next but having to dig through fifty pages to get there.

Content-wise it’s also pretty clean. I think I remember three curse words in the whole thing, and vague references to prostitution (there is an explicit reference when Calamity Jane is mentioned) that just portray accurately the state of the West at that time. If you hadn’t told me the author of this book as I read it, I might almost have believed it was a Louis L’Amour or an Elmore Leonard.

If I have any gripes about the book, they are personal, namely that there are two instances where Mormons are mentioned, and in a rather unfavorable light. Then again, Crichton was writing those scenes from the perspective of an actual figure (Prof. Cope) and may have implemented Cope’s opinions from his personal writings. Popular opinion of Mormonism was not amicable in those days (less so than it is now.)

So all in all, I recommend it heartily. It’s among Crichton’s better works, certainly better than NEXT (which was full of scientific info on genetics, and also full of insanely explicit sex and language), more enjoyable than SPHERE (which I found equally intriguing and depressing), and ultimately made more sense than CONGO (but in middle school I thought gorillas were AWESOME so I loved that book.)

Check it out for a great summer read.

Should-reads: The Accidental Highwayman, by Ben Tripp


Premise: Kit Bristol is a live-in assistant to a rich guy in the 19th Century. When circumstances force Kit to assume his dead master’s mask as costume, he finds himself chased by the King’s men, fairies, and a number of other questionable figures.
Setting: England, sometime in the 1800s.
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Lesson: Be fearless!
My favorite character: Kit Bristol does his job as a protagonist, but he doesn’t carry the show on his own–he’s got a great supporting cast along the way.
Of note: While it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, it’s very open at the finish, as it was intended to be a trilogy, but the subsequent volumes have not since been released. I have not been able to learn why. 😦 Nevertheless, it’s a grand adventure worth the time.

Should-Reads: Bobiverse, by Dennis E. Taylor

Among the many virtues of Dennis E. Taylor’s sci-fi space opus is this: he masterfully toes the line between hard science and farcical preposterousness, showing you what’s possible in our universe, and then pushing you toward a vision of it that is straight out of a Hawking doomsday scenario.

Premise: In 2014, a twenty-something software guru named Bob sells his company for millions, signs up for a “revive my frozen brain in the future” life insurance policy, and then promptly gets hit by a car. When he’s woken up a century later, his brain is in a computer, inside a space probe, sent out to explore the galaxy…and beyond. Without having to worry about pesky things like eating, sleeping, or generally being mortal–and with the ability to make copies of himself as he goes–Bob lives out his childhood fantasy of being a space explorer.

From there, anything is possible, including space battles with his Brazilian space probe counterpart, terraforming new planets for the human race to expand to, and even discovering intelligent life in the cosmos…

Book 1   Book 2
Setting: In space most of the time, but also across several planets both real and fictional.
Genre: Science-fiction
Lesson: I don’t think it can be boiled down to one thing, but I will say this: Dennis E. Taylor has written a secular agnostic humanist as his protagonist, and a theocratic religious nutjob entity as his antagonist, and yet the story stays firmly rooted in three dimensions. Bob, who doesn’t believe in concepts like a soul or an afterlife, is forced to confront questions about the  meaning of life (and death) as time goes by, and as he finds himself in increasingly complex moral situations.

These books could have easily gone the route of certain other sci-fis [that I won’t name here], which never missed a chance to remind you that Secular Die-Hards are AWESOME and religious folks are worthless dumbsh*ts. As a reader I got the impression that the author falls into one camp, and has certain opinions about the other, but the books bravely avoid the route of “selfriture” and instead show the complexity of human existence.
My favorite character: Tricky thing, trying to nail one of these down…given that most of the characters are clones of Bob who have renamed themselves. If I were to pick just one of them, I’d say the clone named Milo. Read the books to see why.

Content warning: Bob (and his clones) are first-person narrators, and generally avoid foul language, though both books have featured at least one F-bomb. I will say this, that if the weight of profanity is lessened through excessive use, Dennis E. Taylor uses profanity rather economically, and only escalates to the upper echelons of the cursing scale when Bob is at peak agitation.