Category Archives: Grand Central Publishing

Frightful Friday: By Any Means by Chris Culver

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. This week’s featured title is By Any Means by Chris Culver:

  • Series: Ash Rashid
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 6, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1455525987
  • Source: Publisher

His days as a homicide detective over, Ash Rashid has replaced chasing criminals with heading the D.A.R.E. problem in Chicago-area elementary schools. However, when he discovers two dead bodies in a car on his commute home, he’s quickly sucked back into active duty. The individuals deaths are not accidental, instead victims of a deadly brutal murder.  As Ash learns more, this goes beyond a “simple” murder case to something far more dangerous and deadly.

What makes this novel stand out to me is the protagonist, Ash Rashid. A Muslim man, struggling with alcoholism, he is presented in a manner completely unlike the perceptions many people have with the Muslim culture. His family and religion are important to him and, while they don’t play a predominant role in this novel, they are certainly paramount his life.  It quickly becomes clear that Ash finds it difficult to reconcile his line of work with his religion, this conflict largely responsible for his drinking problem.

For me, it was a breath of fresh air to find a protagonist that wasn’t your typical white, Catholic, man. It’s quite unfortunate that there aren’t many characters like Ash in crime fiction, or fiction at large. It’s important to see individuals like Ash in a positive light.  That’s not to say that Ash isn’t flawed…he most certainly is. This adds an element of reality, of humanity, to his character.

While this is the third book in a series, I felt it served as a good stand alone. While it’s obvious that Ash has a past, Culver does a good  job of providing enough back story to bring new readers up to base on what has transpired in the past.

If you are looking with a strong police procedural, this is the series for you. Recommended.

Review: The Blessings by Elise Juska

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 6, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1455574031
  • Source: Publisher

The Blessings are a large, tightly-knit family.  Celebrations are large and grand like the family itself. When John Blessing, the oldest son, passes away at a young age, his death causes a rippling affect that alters the lives of each generation. While the family was able to deal with his father’s death months early, John’s death came far too soon and at far too young an age. Some family members, like his wife Lauren, found solace and comfort in the family.  Others, like his nephew, followed a darker path.  Despite the different courses each family member decides to take, the strength of their family continues to unite them.

Told in chapters alternating between the many family members, readers follow the Blessings family in the years following John’s death. The battles and obstacles they face are not easy, ranging from infertility to eating disorders and the slow decline of older family members. For this reason, readers from all walks of life will find a connection with this family.  They are flawed, far from perfect. We see them at their strongest moments and feel the urge to comfort them at their weakest. A genuine family, one that will have a lasting impression.

Initially, upon reading the novel’s synopsis, I feared the tone would be dreary and depressing. It was actually the opposite; the story that Juska creates in The Blessings is a heartwarming and uplifting. It reminded me my own family’s blessings, the ties that bind us together, the times we are drawn together in loss and in celebration. In the end, The Blessings lived up to it’s title. Upon reading the final chapters, I felt blessed to have met and experienced this fine family and reminded of the blessings within my own. Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. The featured title this week is Red Moon by Benjamin Percy:

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (May 7, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1455501662
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Set in an alternate world, Red Moon describes a world in which lycans walk among us. Infected by prion called lobos, the protein spreads through the human body like an infection.  The contamination is wide-spread: an entire region called Lupine Republic is set aside for those infected.  Those forced to reside in this large-scale containment camp survive by mining the uranium that was discovered after the containment zone was created.

There are other lycans that maintain a fairly normal life. They work with us, go to school with our children, ride planes. They are forced to take a highly addictive drug called Volpexx to control the “change.” Yet in some instances they attack and these situations are what have caused the strong feelings of hate toward the lycans.  Now, once they are discovered, American lycans are treated like criminals despite never showing any evidence of threat.

Narrated by three individuals, Percy shows three unique aspects to this story. Patrick Gamble survived a lycan attack on board a plane by hiding beneath a body of one of the victims.  Claire Forrester is a teen lycan striving for a normal life, seeking revenge after her parents are killed in a government raid.Chase Williams is a politician who is adamantly anti-lycan, even after he himself is infected.

Using these three vastly different characters, Percy shows how our country has consistently treated various subsets of the population different, throughout the generations and continuing into modern times. It isn’t hard to draw the connections between the world within Red Moon and our current cultural climate.

While I would claim this is truly a horror novel, Percy does add some…literary tones to the story that makes it hard to classify it in just one genre. The writing is extremely descriptive and detailed, toning down any overly harsh or graphic segments within the prose. Percy’s novel has truly take the typical werewolf tale outside of the box, beyond the typical comfort zone. He clearly wants this to be much more than just a horror novel, but a story with a lasting and pervasive social message. The thing is, there is a lot of horror out there (Stephen King’s The Stand) that does this, yet people can’t see past the horror category to accept it as anything of substance.

While I commend Percy for his work, there is a great deal of meat (pun possibly intended) to this novel, both in word count and in message. There were parts that I felt seemed to drag on a bit and then also things that I felt could have been detailed further. It almost feels as though this is two novels condensed into one. Perhaps if they had been two individual pieces, Percy could have expounded upon some things without having to restrain his word count. While I appreciated the entirety of this novel, the potential for readers’ interest to wane is great simply due to the page count.

I do plan on listening to the audio book; reviews of Percy’s narration have steeped my interest. Perhaps this is a novel meant to be listened to as opposed to being read. Perhaps I’m just rambling and have no idea what I’m talking about.

In any case, I do recommend this book due to the social commentary and the “out of the box” thinking regarding werewolves and lycans. Do bear in mind the page length; your patience will be ultimately rewarded. Recommended.

Listen to a clip of the audio book. Yep, sounds like horror to me!

Zombie Mondays: The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steven C. Schlozman

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (March 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0446564656
  • Source: Personal Copy

Two-thirds of humankind have been infected with ataxic neurodegenerative satiety deficiency syndrome (ANSD), the virus that causes individuals to lose all evidence of humanity, lurch when they walk, and crave human flesh. Dr. Stanley Blum is a neurodevelopmental biologist, researcher and zombie expert for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). Infected with the virus himself, he volunteers to travel to an island controlled by the United Nations, Bassas da India, to autopsy “living” zombies in an attempt to isolate the pathogen causing the virus. The Zombie Autopsies, in a journal format, is Blum’s detailed studies of the cause of ANSD, including the symptoms, rate of growth, etc. His entries are supplemented with clinical drawings by another doctor infected with this horrible virus:

Rather than fill the novel with yet another zombie attack storyline, Schlozman instead provides a detailed, scientific examination of the zombie virus. Since the doctors performing these living autopsies are uncertain as to who will discover the journals after they have died,  while they are written with great scientific detail they can be understood by the average reader. The terrifying thing is that the author describes such a well-researched explanation of the cause of this virus that readers will become convinced that such an attack is possible. Kudos to Schlozman, a doctor himself, for granting zombie enthusiasts yet another unique book to add to their collection. Anyone who calls themselves a die-hard zombie enthusiast can’t afford to pass this one up! Highly recommended.

Note: many of the drawings are pretty graphic. The one pictured above is actually the tamest of them all. While the text itself is not overly gory, the drawings may not be suited for all audiences.

Review: Satori by Don Winslow

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (March 7, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0446561924
  • Source: Publisher
  • “Satori” is a zen Buddhist term for “sudden awakening, a realization of life as it really is.”  In Don Winslow’s Satori, a prequel to the best-selling thriller, Shibumi, by Trevanian, we meet Nicholai Hel, a master of “hoda korusu”, the naked kill. Hel is in solitary confinement for the mercy killing of his stepfather, General Kishikawa, who was sentenced to public execution.  Hel couldn’t bear to see his beloved stepfather die in this manner, so he took it upon himself to mercifully kill him.

    Hel is tortured endlessly by a CIA agent while in prison.  Raised in Japan, he was able to deal with this pain admirably, to remove himself from his physical being.  He is approached by another CIA agent with an offer: The United States government will offer him his freedom, $100,000 and a passport if he will kill Yuri Veroshenin, the Soviet Commissioner to Red China.  Hel takes the offer, but for alterior motives.  Decades earlier, Veroshenin forced Hel’s mother to have a lurid affair with him, an affair she agreed to secure her own safety.

    Before he must embark upon this mission, seemingly a death sentence in and of itself, Hel must undergo plastic surgery to repair his face, damaged by the repetitive beatings. He must assume the role of Michel Guibert, an French arms dealer.  He is sent to France to recover from his surgery and to learn the nuances of the French culture. It is there he meetst he beautiful Solange, a former prostitute and his “tutor.” In the past, Hel has been able to remove himself of emotion, but with Solange, he is unable.

    After an attempt on his life, Hel is sent to China to complete his mission. For obvious reasons, Hel is unable to trust anyone; everyone seems to have a reason to kill him.  In the end, it is up to him to complete the mission, if only to fulfill his own motives.

    This is my first attempt at reading anything written by Winslow and I have to say I am quite impressed.  He’s done his research into the history, culture, and people of which he writes. The many characters are rich & detailed.  While I initially had difficulty in keeping track of the characters, the skill Winslow put into the detail of each of these characters allowed me to separate them and see them as individuals based on these various traits.

    Satori is a classic, old-school thriller.  Set in the 1950s, the action is mostly hand-on-hand combat, not something seen in recent thrillers.  Full of action from the beginning, readers are taking on a seemingly endless ride from the start.   Satori has it all: action, intrigue, sex, violence, deception: all packaged into one outstanding volume. 

    I’m glad I once again followed the recommendations of the fabulous Jen Forbus (here is her review) and picked up this book.  I guarantee it won’t be last experience with the talented Mr. Winslow.