by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
With Halloween almost here, we thought we’d share a group of horror/fantasy book reviews for your scary and supernatural enjoyment! We’ve thrown in a sci-fi book too, just to mix it up a little! Enjoy, and be sure to read with the lights one! To add to the fun we are having a giveaway for 3 of the books-Ghost of a Smile, Internal Affairs & Aftermath–details below.
Ghost of a Smile by Simon R. Green
In Simon R. Green’s Ghost of a Smile, The Carnacki Institute’s Ghost Finders are quite a team. J. C. Chance, their self-assured leader, who received some major gifty/side-effects from their earlier adventure in the London subways, seems more interested in keeping his white suit spotless than in putting down the paranormal. Melody Chambers, a techno-geek wizard, is having a passionate fling with fellow Ghost Finder “Happy” Jack Palmer, a pessimistic psychic and a self-medicated telepath. The fourth member of the team is Kim, who dotes on J. C., who is her true love, but she has a problem: she’s a ghost.
After a warm-up adventure that serves to re-establish the characters and relationships of Ghost of a Chance, the first book in the series, the Ghost Finders are ready for the Main Event: Chimera House, a drug company’s research center, where police and security units responded to an emergency call, went into the building…and never came out.
It’s like they’re locked into a giant computer game and each floor of the building presents a different set of puzzles/monsters. They use their knowledge and powers to get through each challenge, from animated corpses to transplantable organs looking for a body…yours. After a while the characters get smart, stop investigating each level, and skip up to the top floor. All the time they are convinced that what they think they see is being manipulated by someone/something.
The characters flippantly joke around like a combination of Ghostbusters, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? In my mind, a film version of this would feature Hugh Jackman (the funny version of him, not the action-hero version of him) as J. C., Jeff Goldblum (I know he’s American, but this is the kind of character he usually plays) as Happy, Nicole Kidman (wearing glasses and with her hair pulled back into a bun) as Melody, and a blonde Julia Roberts as Kim (another American, but Keira Knightley is not airheaded enough, and Emma Watson would be too young).
Simon R. Green is known for his Nightside novels, which tend toward dark, noirish, paranormal mysteries. This series is light in tone, going for laughs and snappy chatter, yet doing its best to keep up the gore and bizarreness levels. It’s fluffy, gross fun, not meant to challenge mental powers, sort of like…cotton-candy intestines on a stick.
Infernal Affairs by Jes Battis
Tess Corday is an Occult Special Investigator. She’s a mage-born (her parents were magic-users, and she can summon power from the earth, floors, and walls) house mother to a pair of teen vampires (the boy recently became an area ruler, and the girl isn’t technically a vampire—yet—but she has been infected with the virus, which is being held off by daily medication, and she is considering letting the changed occur) and a same-sex pairing of a telepath (did you ever try to enter and read the mind of a demon? It isn’t a safe place to go) and a deaf man. Her lover is a necromancer (gets his magical power from the dead) of uncertain age, and Tess wants to know who her real father is. This takes place in Canada. Things are different, there.
Infernal Affairs is the fourth novel in the OSI series by Jes Battis. When Corday’s team is sent to the morgue to retrieve a body that might be a demon and might still be alive, they arrive just before the demon surprises a doctor in mid-autopsy by screaming at the first cut of the knife, and before a four-legged, two-armed, demon bounty hunter shows up in a scene that becomes a whirl of psychic attacks, time-stopping, ritual knives, consumed corpses, foaming acid, black blood, and a cranial saw. Now, Tess is trying to protect a kid-sized demon who has never tasted hot chocolate, while she tackles the question of who—or what—her father is… and why is her mother challenging her in combat?
There are demons in penthouses, creatures living in apartments that are disguised as bushes, unemployed medical examiners, magic mirrors, and lots of paranormal action. Knowledge of the previous books would be a definite plus, as characters are thrown into the storyline without much background explanation, yet they are treated as old friends—or fiends. Some of the scene changes are abrupt, but time, dreams, visions, and spatial planes are handled rather fluidly. Remember, it’s Canada.
There are some gentle moments that come as surprises: the junior demon is a cute fish out of water and the Palestinian autopsy doctor who blames the team for the jobs he can’t keep has some good moments. A lively read, but consider locating some of the author’s earlier books first.
First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci
Teenagers don’t fit in. Face it, even the popular ones are insecure about something. If your parents were divorced, your mom hid at home and drank, and you were abducted by aliens for three days, things would be really rough.
In First Day on Earth, Cecil Castellucci (The Plain JANES, Boy Proof) creates a coming-of-age, young-adult novel where she can raise questions of what is real and what is fantasy, where do we belong in this life and in the universe, and how a person can create a worthwhile existence for himself.
Mal (short for Malcolm), abducted and probed by aliens when he was twelve, goes to meetings for Alateen and abductees, and takes abandoned and abused animals to the local shelter. He even took one odd fellow from the aliens group to a homeless shelter. Mal likes Posey, the shelter veterinarian’s daughter, but she’s a part of the popular crowd, so he doesn’t think he has a chance, although she is nice to him.
Darwyn wants to be a part of everyone else’s group, but he’s heavy and uncool, so he’s only wanted around to sneak beer for parties from his father’s store.
Mal’s time in a spaceship has made it difficult for him to relate to people and school. In fact, his greatest hope is that the extraterrestrials will return… and take him away for good.
The teen characters act like teenagers—rude, mean, and selfish. Mal’s mother, abandoned by her husband for a younger woman, knows she isn’t creating an ideal home environment for her son, but she can’t seem to do anything about it. The group members are sad in their delusions, and Hooper, the man Mal befriends, seems totally lost on this planet.
A wild and crazy road trip to see a desert space launch brings the teens together, revealing their differences and where they are all damaged by life in one way or another.
Here’s what I suggest: read this book, give it to some friends for them to read, then sit down together to talk about what it means—and what it takes—to be human on this earth.
Zombie, Ohio by Scott Kenemore
Where do book reviewers get the books they review? Do they buy them at the bookstore? That could get awfully expensive, especially if the reviews are written for free. Most of the time, publishers send out free copies to magazines and newspapers, hoping for a good review, and the editors give them to their reviewers. That’s how I get a lot of my books, but there is another way.
I’m a librarian. If I hear about a book I’d like to read, I can put in a request for it, even before it is published. I might have to wait in a holds list, but I’ll get that book!
I have to admit that I have a guilty pleasure: zombie books. Usually, they aren’t really good literature and I probably would be a better person without them, but I like to read them anyway. So, when the Fresno County Public Library homepage posted a list of Zombie Lit, I requested a lot of them and I found a gem: a zombie book with bra-a-a-i-i-ns!
Scott Kenemore’s Zombie, Ohio takes place in Ohio (duh!). Peter Mellor wakes up next to his wrecked car, but he can’t remember anything about the accident and not much about anything else. Facts and phrases seem to pop up when he needs them, but he doesn’t know who any of the people talking to him, like old friends, really are. He learns that he is an English professor and that there is a zombie epidemic in the area, and when he takes off the knit cap he’d found, looks into the nearest mirror, and notices that part of his skull is missing, he realizes that he’s dead… and a zombie!
The weirdest part of it is that he can talk and think and act like a normal person—well, he does start to slow down, his joints aren’t moving very well, and his complexion is starting to look really bad. For a while, Peter passes for un-undead, meets his girlfriend, and starts to care about what happens to others, until he is forced to go full-tilt zombie to save the life of a little girl. He embraces his zombiehood, teaching others of the living dead better ways of getting the human brains they crave. He becomes the leader of an army of zombies, marching their way—it’s more of a stumbling shuffle—across the Buckeye State.
The more Peter learns about the man he once was, the less you ought to like him—lecherous, alcoholic, lazy, and unreliable. However, as his human qualities drop away, he becomes a better human being—caring, selfless, and dynamic.
This book is funny! Really funny! I laughed… and I cried. I cared about this “walking cadaver” (the politically-correct term the civil authorities use in the book)! There is gross and disgusting zombie action (face it, you can’t use dainty adjectives when characters are having body parts fall off of them or they are eating brains), but this is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It’s not so much people saying clever things, trying to be witty—some of the jokes are deliberately bad—but the situations Peter encounters are so out-and-out ludicrous that you’re sure it’s true, that this had to have really happened to some zombie, somewhere!
Kennemore has written several zombiecentric “non-fiction” books (The Zen of Zombie and Z.E.O.). This is his first novel and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into more of his fiction. Brains! Brains! B-R-R-A-A-A-I-I-N-N-N-S!
Aftermath by Anne Aguirre
What do you do after you’ve saved the galaxy? You go on trial. That’s what happens to Sirantha Jax in Ann Aguirre’s Aftermath. (No, it’s not about the class you go to when Algebra is over.)
Jax is a jumper, one of the genetically-gifted few able to navigate in the grimspace that makes interstellar travel possible. She reprogammed the beacons to trap a fleet of flesh-eating aliens, but three ships of the ruling Conglomerate were also lost with 600 lives. Now commerce has to go the long way between star systems until Jax can train jumpers to use the new markers. People are not happy with Jax.
She has to avoid the death penalty when she is put on trial, although some good citizens would like to skip the trial and just execute her. For a set of books known for action and combat, a courtroom seems an unlikely location, yet those sequences bristle with tension and conflict.
Jax tries to undo some planetary genetic engineering that turned a warrior race into cosmic wimps without the ability to defend themselves. She has to come up with new ways to pass on her knowledge of the changes in grimspace to other jumpers. Her long-time love, March, is trying to find the child he never knew. Jax wants to return an alien that died to it’s family. Jax’s relationship with the complicated Vel, a sort of sentient cockroach who used to disguise himself in a human-skin suit, begins to evolve in ways that amaze both of them. With all of these plot-lines crossing and re-crossing, many things happen that will be game-changers for the series.
Long-time fans of the Sirantha Jax series will say, “Where’s all the space-battle action?” There is some battling, but more of the book is involved with trying to unlock secrets of various cultures and planets of the Aguirre version of the universe. It’s as if a video gamer was expecting a first-person shooter like “Doom” and opened it to find a puzzling “Zelda” game instead, but it’s a really good game anyway.
Aftermath is a definite change of pace for Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series, with enough new storylines opening to compensate for the lost stories and characters. Jump in and you’ll find that dealing with grimspace isn’t all that grim.
To enter to win a copy of Ghost of a Smile, Internal Affairs & Aftermath, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Halloween”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 29, 2011.