Category Archives: Mulholland Books

Review: The Competition by Marcia Clark

  • Series: A Rachel Knight Novel
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (July 8, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978031622097
  • Source: Publisher

After a high school is the site of a shooting, LA Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight and her best friend LAPD detective Bailey Keller are assigned to the case.  While the shooters are dead of an apparent mutual shooting, that doesn’t alleviate the pain of the community. Yet as they begin to interview students and other witnesses, the facts don’t add up. Is it possible that the two individuals found in the library, dead, are not the killers but victims as well?  The idea that the shooters are still on the loose is devastating.  Rachel and the police force must find answers before another attack is made on the community. Killers with this type of anger aren’t going to stop on their own, the only way they will be brought down is at the cost of their lives, be it by police or suicide.

And so Rachel embarks upon an investigation that delves deep into the lives and psyche of a killer’s mind. With a number of potential suspects, the investigation isn’t easy.  Just when they think they have the guilty party in their hands, they are blown away to discover the killer has been right in front of them all along. With plans on duplicating and outdoing other mass-killings, everyone in the community is at risk.

This is my first taste of Marcia Clark’s Rachel Knight series. I admit, when the first book was released, all the promotion and hubbub about the book actually eliminated all desire to read it. And come on, she’s Marcia Clark. Anyone alive during the Simpson trial recognizes her.  Yet when people in the book world (I’m talking about you, Erin & Jen!) kept singing the series’ praise, I knew I had to cave and experience it for myself. And believe me, I’m so thrilled that I finally did.  Clark has managed to do the unimaginable, to prove to the world that she is much more than the Marcia Clark who served as prosecutor of this world-recognized case.

The setting and storyline Clark creates is chilling. Unfortunately, our country’s children have been victims of multiple mass-shootings without any hope of an end. I’m not going to start preaching here, leaving it at the idea that we all have a deep and emotional reaction when we hear of a school shooting. Clark captures that and delves deep into it, using her own experience as a prosecuting attorney to inform and educate her readers about this large social problem. She doesn’t sugar-coat anything, delving deep into the type of person capable of such a horrific act. That said, she also shows sensitivity to all involved in such an act, from the victims to their parents, and even the parents of the shooters themselves. All are victims of these heinous crimes.  No one is left untouched.

While it is difficult to remember, killers like these are often victims of mental illness, something snapping in their psyche that forces them to believe that an act like this is the only way to be heard or to get attention. Skilled at hiding their motives, those closest to them are often completely unaware of what is happening right in front of them.  As the mother of a teen myself, while I feel I know my son and believe he could never perform an act like this, I can see how easily it would be for behavior to go unnoticed. Killers don’t wear a sign announcing their intents, in many cases they wear a veil of innocence.

Bottom line: Clark has exceeded any and all of the expectations I had about this book, and the series as a whole. You better believe I’m going to go back and read it from the beginning. While there is sufficient back story on all of the characters, I want to know even more about Rachel Knight and the other cast of characters. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316254465
  • Source: Publisher

Hannah’s family has been hiding from a horrific monster that has haunted them for generations. The monster is a shape-shifter, able to take on the appearance of another in a matter of moments. Desperate to seek revenge for an act centuries ago, this monster, referred to as Jakab, haunts the women of Hannah’s family.  The string diaries (journals held together with pieces of string) are passed from one generation to the next, survival guides offering a small beacon of hope in this unending chase.

Beginning in Hungary at the turn of the century and spanning to Oxford of the 1970s and present-day, The String Diaries follows the path of the man who started it all, a wealthy young with the ability to assume the shape and life of anyone around him.  Thwarted in the ways of love, he now tracks down descendants of his first love, forcing her descendants to face his deadly wrath.

Yet when he begins to pursue Hannah and her family, he meets a more challenging match.  After he takes everyone near and dear to Hannah, she refuses to relinquish the last person left in her life: her young daughter, Leah. Hannah and Leah were both raised to be prepared for this inevitable battle.  What makes Hannah different than those before her is her refusal to let this nightmare continue. She will stop at nothing to put an end to this curse, sacrificing everything, including her own life, to guarantee her daughter’s future.

The String Diaries is a truly unique blend of a host of genres, including thriller to horror and the supernatural, all with a taste of historical fiction. I’m a fan of classic horror, and was particularly pleased with the ties to folklore. There’s nothing that frustrates me more than a novel with no backing and was therefore pleased to read of Jakab’s chilling story of origin.

While I had little to no connection to the characters from earlier generations, I did quickly bond with Hannah and her young daughter. They lost so much, yet they faced each day with a new determination to overcome this creature that has haunted their family for generations.  The pain they endure is incapacitating, yet they draw on that, along with their love for one another, in order to persevere.

Without giving anything away, the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the ending.  At times it felt far-fetched, others it felt too convenient.  All that said, the pros of this truly outstanding, yet simultaneously chilling, debut novel clearly outweighed the negatives. I can’t wait to hear more from this author; I’m thrilled to see a sequel is already in the works. Highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Breed by Chase Novak

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 book is Breed by Chase Novak:

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (September 4, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0316198560
  • Source: Publisher

Alex and Leslie Twisden have the perfect lives. Alex is a successful lawyer and Leslie works at a New York City children’s publishing house. They live in a gorgeous townhouse in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Their marriage is a passionate one, full of love and respect. Despite all the luxuries they have, they are still missing something: a child. They’ve tried every fertility procedure imaginable, visited endless doctors and specialists. Yet they have still been able to get pregnant. Out of desperation, they attend a support group for infertile couples in the basement of a local church. Someone there must have a suggestion or recommendation for something they haven’t tried yet. It is when they are walking home from group one night that they come across a couple who used to be members of the group. It doesn’t take long for Alex and Leslie to see why they have stopped attending: the woman is pregnant.

Reluctantly, after the husband has secured a job at Alex’s firm, he shares with Alex their secret: they visited a doctor, Doctor Kis,  in Slovenia who was able to grant their wish to become parents. Within a few days Alex & Leslie travel to see the doctor themselves and undergo a brutally painful procedure involving a number of injections. Kis doesn’t speak English so the couple is uncertain as to what the injections consist of. Leslie is reluctant to take part in the procedure; it is Alex that has been so adamant about having children of their own rather than adopting.  That said, her love for Alex is strong and, admittedly, she’s worried he will leave her if they can’t conceive.

The procedure is a success and Leslie quickly becomes pregnant. It isn’t long before she beings to have strange symptoms, the biggest one an dramatic increase in body hair. The doctor she visits, referred to her by Dr. Kis, insists that this is a natural side-effect of pregnancy. Leslie feels alien in her own body and looks forward to getting to the end of the pregnancy and to be rewarded with the gift for which they’ve worked so hard.  She doesn’t have to wait long for she is barely in her fifth month when she delivers triplets: two, a boy and a girl, survive.

Ten years later, twins Adam and Alice find themselves locked in their rooms each night. The sounds that come from their parents bedroom at night terrify them. Adam obtains an old baby monitor and eavesdrops on his parents, truly terrified from what he hears. They are fearful for their own lives, yet with the doors locked, prison bars on the windows, how can they escape? Eventually they are able to leave the prison they’ve inhabited their entire lives. When they escape, however, they soon learn just how dangerous their parents are and uncover the secret of their creation. After discovering a group of feral children in Central Park, the twins soon learn they aren’t alone, that there are dozens of children just like them…

On the surface, Breed is just another terrifying horror novel. Rich with terror and a fair amount of gruesome details, it fits perfectly in this genre. That said, in a sick and twisted way, it’s also a novel of parental love. Alex and Leslie honestly love their twins, yet the fate that has been dealt to them as a result of this medical procedure also has them craving them, hence the need to lock them up each night. They don’t want to harm their children, but their animal instincts, heightened due to the injections they received, are hard to resist. Adam and Alice remember the moments of love and happiness they infrequently experienced growing up, and are therefore torn between fleeing for their own safety and remaining, hopeful that the “good days” outweigh the bad.

Novak has created a truly dark and chilling novel, reminiscent of some of the classic horror novels like Rosemary’s Baby. That said, I think this novel is far more terrifying, because it isn’t the child(ren) to be feared in this case, but the parents who are supposed to take care of these children.

Breed is a truly unique, wholly terrifying read. The pacing is fast and the storyline is engaging, thereby producing a truly fantastic and original piece of horror fiction. Highly recommended (but not to those with a queasy stomach).

Review: Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (March 27, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0316188433
  • Source: Publisher (Netgalley)

The body of May Lynn is found by her friends, a beautiful young girl with aspirations of going to Hollywood to become an actress.  She was found in the Sabine River, her body weighed down by a Singer sewing machine. The friends that discover her body include Sue Ellen, a strong-willed, spitfire of a girl, Terry and Jinx.

The unlikely group of friends come up with a plan to dig up May Lynn’s body, burn it to ash, and travel to Hollywood to spread them. To do so, they steal a raft and sail down the river, joined by Sue Ellen’s alcoholic mother.  Their journey is not an easy one, however. Their last step before leaving town is stealing money May Lynn wrote about in her diary, money that is being sought after by her enemies.

One such enemy has hired Skunk, a man Sue Ellen only thought was a story to frighten children at night. He was so evil own parents didn’t want him, his father cut out his tongue and his mother attempted to drown him. He earns his name due to the smell that lingers around him.  He cuts off the hands of his victims, carving the shape of a skunk in their foreheads. Now this horrid individual is after Sue Ellen and her friends.

The journey to spread their friends ashes is more than just a trek to fulfill their friend’s dreams, but a means to escaping a less than desirable life. Sue Ellen and her mother are surrounded by abuse at the hands of the man whom Sue Ellen thought was her father. Terry questions his sexuality, taunted by others as being a sissy.  Jinx is the outcast in a group, a young African American girl.

Along their journey, they come across a whole host of quirky characters, truly expanding upon an already character-rich novel. Each of the characters who embark upon this journey undergo a pretty tremendous period of growth and personal rediscovery. Edge of Dark Water is a novel that transcends genres, guaranteed to entice readers of Southern literature, thrillers, as well as horror.

I agree completely with those readers who compare Lansdale’s writing with that of two of literature’s finest authors: Mark Twain and Stephen King. I think of this novel as the perfect combination of Huckleberry Finn and Stand By Me. Lansdale’s world building is truly impressive, the setting of the Sabine a character itself, a representation of the journey each of the runaways embark upon.

A theme inherent in this novel is the idea of punishment for bad actions. In nearly every case, characters who perform a bad act or crime are eventually punished for this action. The recipients of this punish span both sides, both good and bad; no one is immune.

Shockingly, this is my first experience with reading Lansdale’s work, but I guarantee it will not be my last. Highly recommended.

 

Frightful Friday: Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s featured book is Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynksi:

 

  • Paperback:304 pages
  • Publisher:Mulholland Books; 1 edition (June 20, 2011)
  • ISBN-10:0316133280
  • Source: Publisher

Charlie Hardie is a former police officer, still dealing with the act of revenge taken against his former partner three years ago. Charlie can’t help but wonder if he will face the same fate.  In an attempt to remove himself from his former life, Charlie has become a glorified house sitter. This gig started out when Charlie house sat for a friend of his in San Diego; he got to stay in a supped-up home, paid $500 for the week he stayed there.

This time, the home is in the Hollywood Hills. Due to timing, Charlie was unable to meet the owner; he was told the house keys will be in the mailbox upon his arrival. And of course, they weren’t. Charlie does what he thinks is best and obtains entry into the home. He soon learns he’s not alone, B movie actress Lane Madden is hiding out in the home. 

After an interesting (and slightly aggressive) introduction, Lane explains to Charlie that there our individuals out to kill her. She barely escaped an attempt on her life involving a car accident and injection of a mysterious drug into her arm at the scene of the crime. These individuals are referred to as “The Accident People”, a clean-up crew of sorts. They murder seeminly innocent people in an attempt as a cover up for some other action.

Charlie & Lane soon becomes captives in this multi-million dollar mansion; the “People” turn off the electricity, the water, all in an attempt to get Charlie & Lane to evacuate the house. Charlie takes his house-sitting job quite serious, he’ll stop at nothing to protect the home and whatever individuals seem to be inhabiting it.

If you are looking for a book that will force you to put your life on hold, Fun and Games fits it to a “t.” The action is non-stop, you won’t be able to take a break from the book until you turn the last page. I started it one night and was finished by the next day. Charlie’s character, while a little rough around the edges, is a very sympathetic one. Sure, he’s hard to the core but he’s a softie when it matters. The entire concept of a crew of individuals that “erase” people to suit their client’s needs is an interesting and exciting one. Luckily, I have the next book in this series, Hell and Gone, within arm’s reach. I’m almost tempted to hold off reading it so I won’t have to wait as long for the third book, Point and Shoot, due out in March.

Bottom line: Buy it. Read it. Be prepared to lose a few hours (or days, depending on your reading speed) of your life.

 

Mx3 Review: Black Light by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, & Stephen Romano

 

  • Hardcover:336 pages
  • Publisher:Mulholland Books (October 5, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0316196711
  • Source: Publisher

Buck’s parents were killed horrifically when he was young. He was left for dead, discovered at the brink of death.  Since their death, Buck now has a unique gift: he can literally swallow evil spirits, regirgitating them into sacred urns, forever preventing their release.  He is now the exorcist of last resort: individuals call on him to get rid of spirits that traditional means won’t remove.  When he captures a spirit, he’s taken into the Black Light:

The place  where all the souls that ever lived and loved and fought and died had gone to rest, but they weren’t really at rest.  A place filled with echoes of terrible things.  Remains and artifacts. 

The Black Light is where he continues to go, decades after his parents’ death, hoping to find them.

Buck’s most recent case is an unusual one: he’s been asked to participate in the testing of a high-speed train that crosses the desert between California and Nevada.  During one of the test runs of the train, a horrific accident took place.  The only survivor of this accident was an employee, originally quite sane, who upon surviving the tragic accident, completely lost his mind.

He emerged from the wreck a broken mess, babbling about men and women he’d seen murdered. He claimed the murders were visions given to him by God in the moment of his death, and that he’d been returned to earth to warn us all.

When Buck learns the route of the train, he knows he must agree to the job proposed to him. The train’s path takes it directly through one of the worst recored spots for paranormal activity in the country, the Blacklight Triangle.  Accompanying him on the ride are a host of celebrities, including a man in the running for the Presidency.  Buck knows accepting this job is quite possibly a suicide mission. Mediums who have visited this area have died; Buck came close to dying himself in this exact location. 

As the train’s journey begins, Buck is forced to re-evaluate everything he has come to believe about his identity, the death of his parents, and those that he trusts. Everything comes into question as the train goes speeding through the desert at four-hundred miles an hour, heading through one of most dangerous locations in the country.

Black Light is quite the unique novel. A debut novel by writers from the Saw franchise, I was prepared to be overwhelmed with gore. Not so much.  Think of this novel as Ghostbusters meets Die Hard.  The action is quite intense and while there are a few bloody scenes, they aren’t nearly as prolific as I thought they would be.  That said, Black Light probably isn’t a novel for the weak of heart (or stomach) but I can see it being of interest to several types of readers, including fans of horror and action novels.

My only complaint would be the lack of development of the characters.  While this novel is scheduled to be the start of a series, I feel Buck’s character should be a bit more dynamic, enriched in more detail.  First novels often serve as background information for the main characters.  While we do learn a bit about Buck’s past & his parents’ unfortunate demise, we don’t learn that much about Buck himself.  Buck is meant to be a hero we should root for, but I found myself feeling sort of “meh” about him and his plight as a whole. I’m hoping his character is expanded more in future books; I really do think this is a unique and compelling storyline and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the next book.

At the end, this unique storyline/concept really did win me over. I have faith the authors will develop Buck’s character in future novels. Recommended.

 

 

Review: A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (May 12, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0316127337
  • Source: Publisher
  •  

    Matthew Scudder is sitting at a bar, nursing a club soda, reflecting back on a case he worked nearly twenty-five years ago…

    Recently forced out of the NYPD, his life was spiraling out of control due to his alcoholism.  He was going clean, a month shy of his one year anniversary of being sober, attending AA meetings and working as a private investigator in an attempt to get some control on his life.

    When he is reunited with a childhood friend from the Bronx, High-Low” Jack Ellery, Scudder begins to look back on his life as a former detective and an alcoholic.  Ellery is close to completing the twelve steps of the AA program. He becomes a sort of mentor for Scudder; in addition to coming to terms with his alcoholism Ellery is also making amends for the crimes he committed years ago.  Now on the eighth step of the program, his working down the list of people he has harmed, attempting to seek forgiveness and amends for his actions

    When Ellery is killed, it becomes Scudder’s mission to track down the murderer.  Ellery was shot once in the mouth and once between; a clear sign that someone wanted him to keep his mouth shut. Is Ellery’s killer someone on his list? Did he stir up secrets long hidden? In order to find Ellery’s killer, Scudder is forced to immerse himself in Ellery’s life; an action that comes close to driving him to drink again.

    A Drop of the Hard Stuff takes fans of Block’s Matthew Scudder series back in time, to a pivotal moment in Scudder’s life.  While I’ve only read a handful of the sixteen books in this series, I really appreciated the look into Scudder’s past, the actions that made Scudder the man he is now. Readers new to the series get a look inside one of the characters that has really shaped my love of crime fiction. 

    The characters are completely flawed, the storyline multi-layered; two traits that really entice a reader to embrace this series. Block does a tremendous job of portraying the steps to recovery in the AA program and a completely honest look at the recovery process. There is really never a dull moment with in this book.  While I can’t deny it’s a little on the dark side, there are glimmers of hope and a happy future.

    Block excels at writing one of the best detective series in American crime fiction. This series is one I can always rely on to entertain, excite, and impress me.  Each time I pick up one of Block’s books, I know, without a doubt, that I’m going to be fall in love with it. The first book in this series in six years, it was a real treat to be reunited with such an impressive character.

    Like Block’s other books, A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a book that stays with you long after you read the last page.  This is a talent you do not find in a lot of books nowadays; you won’t find a neatly wrapped up plot here. While this irritates many, I enjoy a book that lingers with me.  It’s inspired me to go back and start the series from the beginning and relive the exceptional writing of Lawrence Block. Highly recommended.

    Be sure to stop by Jen’s Book Thoughts today…I’ve been “caught” reading this book at my favorite indie, One More Page Books & More!