“Crush” by Alan Jacobson (Vanguard Press, 2009)

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After the runaway success of Jacobson’s first Karen Vail novel, The 7th Victim, our impressive FBI profiler is back in the fantastic follow-up, Crush.  While the pressure may be on Jacobson to make his second Karen Vail Mystery be just as good as his first, in my opinion, Crush is better.  Jacobson is now comfortable in writing Vail and lets her explore her boundaries and limits, coupled with having the agent be in a foreign place.

At the start of the book, Vail is on vacation in the beautiful wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties.  After the stress, pressure, and near-death experiences of The 7th Victim, Vail can certainly use the break, and has been so ordered by her ASAC.  But as Vail and her boyfriend, Detective Robby Hernandez, are about to enjoy a very expensive wine tour, they are told it’s been canceled and they’ll receive full refunds.  Vail’s curiosity gets the better of her and she soon finds that a dead body is the culprit.  Her profiling skills automatically kick into gear as she strategically maneuvers herself onto the task force, leaving Hernandez by the wayside.  But this is who she is.

Now on the Napa County Major Crimes Task Force, Vail teams up with Investigator Roxxann Dixon, as soon more bodies are discovered each with telltale signs of the “Crush Killer.”  Then the killer begins contacting Vail, threatening not just her life but that of her son if she doesn’t do exactly what he says.  But the wine industry is an important part of the nation’s economy, and the political issue of whether to release the details to the press creates more enemies for Vail.  Ultimately it will be up to her to manage and keep the task force together, and catch this Crush Killer before he gets to anyone else.

Jacobson has not only written a full-throttle thriller that will keep readers hooked to the very end, but also educates them in the niceties of wine tasting and drinking, as well as some of the different kinds of wines offered by our wine country; not to mention the number of real locations used in the book.  Crush is a story that will have you entranced, causing your mouth to dry up in a craving for that tasty red liquid; and after finishing the book you’ll feel the urge to check out Napa and Sonoma counties to see if they really are as beautiful as Crush depicts them.

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Originally written on September 29th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Alan Jacobson check out BookBanter Episode 19.

“Heat Wave” by Richard Castle (Hyperion, 2009)

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Richard Castle is the international bestselling author of the successful Storm series, featuring his heroic, recurring character, Derek Storm.  After publishing 25 books, Castle decided he’d had enough of this character and in his last book, Storm Fall, Derek Storm met his precisely timed end.  But Castle is back with a new book, possibly a new series, and a new and beautiful detective by the name of Nikki Heat.

In Heat Wave we meet Nikki Heat for the first time as she deals with a case of a New York real estate tycoon who has committed suicide by plunging to his death from the balcony of his high-rise home.  Heat skillfully examines the crime scene and soon puts the facts together: the man was murdered.  And so begins this fast-paced thriller as Heat puts the details and facts together, bringing her closer to finding out the identity of the killer.  But there is someone chasing her, looking to “get rid of her” before she gets too close.  Heat finds herself unavoidably partnered with a successful magazine journalist looking to research NYPD’s finest for an article.  While Heat finds Jameson Rook initially to be a waste of space, she finds herself attracted to him, and under all this pressure, Rook becomes a safe refuge in this “storm” of a case.

Castle does an impressive job of balancing the gritty, crime scene details; the crucial steps of an unsolved crime; along with some very human characters with some very human needs.  When Heat and Rook get together there is a tangible frisson that just leaps of the page, making readers hot and heavy under the collar.  Castle has admitted to doing some of his own research through working with NYPD, but one can’t help but wonder if Castle is getting up to anything like what Heat and Rook end up doing together.  One could blame it on the heat, but this reviewer thinks there’s something deeper going on here.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on September 29th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein Book One: Prodigal Son” by Dean Koontz (Bantam, 2005)

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In the Frankenstein trilogy, bestselling author Dean Koontz goes on a tangent from his usual novels with this short series taking on arguably one of the two most famous horror novels of all time (the other being Dracula, of course), but putting a whole new spin on it that will leave readers reaching out for the sequel.

In a world much like our own just about everyone knows about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  What everyone doesn’t know is that it was based on a legend about a scientist known as Dr. Frankenstein.  Only he somehow managed to make himself immortal and is now alive and well in the twentieth century, living in the United States.  And over the last century he has been busy.  His new and improved “creatures” now walk the streets as ordinary looking humans with extraordinary powers.  Only some of them are starting to “malfunction,” killing innocent human beings in the process.  Victor Helios, as the doctor is now known, doesn’t care, continuing to create, with the goal of taking over the world with a perfect race.

Deucalion, Frankenstein’s original monster, who is now forced to come to the Untied States to face the growing evil and put a stop to it.  Meanwhile detectives Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison get to deal with all the mangled and destroyed bodies that keep showing up, trying to put the pieces together and figure out what is really going on.

Prodigal Son is a strong start to the trilogy that reveals Koontz still has some great stories to tell.  With an abrupt end, readers will be grabbing for book two, City of Night, and book three, Dead and Alive, now finally available.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 13th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Ice Land” by Betsy Tobin (Plume, 2009)

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In Tobin’s second novel, after Bone House, she takes on the world of Iceland in the year A.D. 1000, setting the stage with research details of Viking and medieval Iceland, combining it with a host of characters from Norse mythology. The main character, Freya – one of the Aesir (gods) – has her own problems to deal with in life and love, while many other characters, including Odin, an unusual dwarf, and a group of giants deal with their own subplots.

The voice and pacing are quite different from most books and will in some cases turn off the reader at first, the key is to stick with it, get used to it, and then sit back and enjoy the story. Ice Land is a well research novel about a time about some but not all is known, and Tobin has done a great job of filling in the details with her descriptive and colorful fiction.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on September 9th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

“Green” by Jay Lake (Tor, 2009)

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From the  author of Escapement and Mainspring comes something totally different. Green is clearly a novel that Jay Lake has put a lot of heart and soul into, with carefully chosen wordings and phrasings, along with a unique story.  The first in a trilogy, Green is a book that will be a welcoming read to those who’ve ever felt they didn’t belong and will be an eye-opener for those who’ve never experienced this.

Green is a girl sold by her father at a very young age and stolen from the simple world she has known and forced into a form of servitude and training.  While she doesn’t know what she is being trained for at first, it is grueling, abusive, forcing her to lock away the simple memories of her father and home for protection.  Her training ranges from cooking and the making of clothes, to the martial arts and the use of weapons.  She soon knows she has few friends in this harsh world.  Eventually she will be sold from the Pomegranate Court to become a concubine to some man she’s never met, under the orders of the Duke.

Named Emerald at the end of her training and the arrival of her “monthly courses,” she proclaims herself Green, killing the mistress who beat her for years, and escaping the confines of the court, leaving the town of Copper Downs, and fleeing back to her home, hoping for love, respect, and a place to belong.  There she finds a father who doesn’t remember her, and the ox Endurance – her symbol of survival – a withered, dying animal.  Fate takes her back to Copper Downs, now a trained assassin, she becomes wrapped up in the political intrigue, becoming a formidable adversary to anyone stepping in her path.

A fantasy world with an oriental flavor that has gods and goddesses who are real and live with us, but at the same time are not infallible.  Lake also introduces unusual creatures who live among the peoples and proudly crosses the “bestiality” line much as he did in Mainspring, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Lake should be somewhat applauded for doing this with a character who has never belonged or fitted in anywhere.

Green is a book with poetical lines and paragraphs that make the reader take their time.  This may force some to give up, but the result by the end of the book is a magical tale that is well worth the read from cover to cover.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 28th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America” by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor, 2009)

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From Robert Charles Wilson, author of Spin, comes an original future tale in the style of The Postman and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.  It is the 22nd century and our world is a different place, just as we know it will be.  After the halcyon days of the early 21st century, there were decades of war and suffering and a reset for the planet.  After the Efflorescence of Oil and a number of cataclysmic events: The Fall of the Cities, the Plague of Infertility, the False Tribulation, and the days of the Pious Presidents, the American flag now stands proud with sixty stars and thirteen stripes under the control of the Dominion.  But one man named Julian Comstock is looking to change that.

President Deklan Comstock rules with a mighty fist, hand in hand with the Dominion, subjugating Americans while sacrificing thousands of troops in the ongoing war against the “mitteleuropans”.  He has already sent his brother into harms way and had him “sacrificed,” keeping his rule as President certain.  But in the small town of Athabaska his nephew Julian Comstock is a young boy with dreams of becoming a great man.  Told from the viewpoint of his best friend who has hopes of becoming a writer, Adam Hazzard chronicles Julian’s life from a young age as close friends, to fighting in the army and become a national hero, to overthrowing his evil uncle and becoming rightful president.  Always a leader, he has goals of ending the rule of the Dominion and reestablishing the former atheistic doctrine, the age of reason, and celebrating his hero, the great Charles Darwin, in a biographical film.  Told in a strong, chronicling voice, Julian Comstock is a powerful novel.

Wilson has created an incredible and memorable world with some fascinating events that have come to pass.  While the story of Julian Comstock is an important one, readers are left wanting more about the last century and exactly why things are the way they are, what’s going on with the rest of the world exactly, and what’s in store for the future.  This is hopefully a strong first book in a series that will explore this unforgettable world that Wilson has put so much work into creating.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 28th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Rosemary and Rue” by Seanan McGuire (Daw, 2009)

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For those looking for a fresh dosage of new reading after getting the latest fix of Dresden Files, look no further than the fresh voice of debut author Seanan McGuire and the first in her October Daye mystery series, Rosemary and Rue.  Think Harry Dresden, but make him female, set her in San Francisco, and accept that the world of Faerie not only exists but has portals linking to our own world and the characters of fable are very real and terrifying.

October Daye is a changeling (half-human half-fae) who has never really felt she belongs in San Francisco, or the realm of Faerie for that matter.  A private detective, who seeks to help out her kind when they are in trouble, has her world changed when she is turned into a koi fish in the opening pages of the book and finds herself trapped beneath the waters for fourteen years and six months.  The spell finally breaking, she returns to a very different San Francisco.  While she attempts to acclimatize to this future world, a high ranking elven lady is found murdered, and as Toby investigates she finds herself magically bound to the woman until the mystery of her death is solved.

And so begins a fascinating story wonderfully blending the incredible sights of San Francisco and its noire foggy nights with visits to the world of Faerie where everything is new and very different.  McGuire even provides a glossary for those having trouble with the faerie jargon.  With three books slated for publication (and McGuire currently working on book five), the author doesn’t give too much away in this premiere tale, but just enough to leave readers hungry and wanting for more.  Fortunately they won’t have to wait too long, with the second in the series, A Local Habitation, due out March 2nd 2010.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 28th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Seanan McGuire check out BookBanter Episode 15.