The White Room by John Tomaino

The White Room by John TomainoIt’s only for a couple of days, she told herself. Just a few days. Keep it together. I can do this. – Jodie Sykes

Newly minted PhD in Psychology in-hand, Jodie Sykes is thrilled when she’s offered a chance to participate in research with Professor David Byrne, a man whose psychology textbook she used during the process of obtaining her postgraduate degrees.

Her enthusiasm is quickly tempered, however, when she learns that Byrne wants her to gather research on the treatment of institutionalized mental patients… by going undercover in an institution as a patient.

Despite her misgivings, she convinces herself that it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. After all, since she’ll be signing in as a voluntary patient if things get too intense she’ll just sign herself out.

Professor Byrne, of course, has other plans. Unbeknownst to Jodie, it’s Byrne’s intention to use her as the test subject in a study of near total sensory deprivation.

With the help of a few complicit staff members Byrne manipulates Jodie’s behavior to the point she is acting out and able to be classified as a threat to herself and others. For the “safety” of everyone involved Jodie is placed in lockdown. Except this isn’t any ordinary solitary confinement, it’s the White Room.

Sue Grafton Blog Tour – R is for Ricochet

Welcome to the third stop on Sue Grafton’s Blog Tour. In order to celebrate the forthcoming November 14th release of V is for Vengeance, ten bloggers are reviewing the five most recent entries in the Kinsey Millhone series to refresh your memory and help you hit the ground running. There’s also information about a great contest from Penguin as well as an excerpt from V is for Vengeance below today’s review.

R is for Ricochet by Sue GraftonIn the passing drama of life, I’m usually the heroine, but occasionally I’m simply a minor character in someone else’s play. – Kinsey Millhone

The 18th entry in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, R is for Ricochet, finds Santa Teresa, California-based private investigator Kinsey Millhone summoned to the mansion of multi-millionaire Nord Lafferty to discuss a job offer. Lafferty’s daughter, Reba, is set to be paroled from prison after serving nearly two years for embezzlement and Lafferty wants Kinsey to pick Reba up and keep an eye on her “until she’s reestablished herself.”

Sounds easy enough, a glorified babysitting job really, right? Wrong.

Things get complicated quickly when Reba meets up with real estate developer Alan “Beck” Beckwith, her former lover and employer – the same one she embezzled from. Turns out Beck is being investigated for money-laundering by numerous law enforcement agencies, a fact that is brought to Kinsey’s attention by Lieutenant Cheney Phillips, Santa Teresa’s local liaison to the federal investigation.

The Feds want Reba to help them nail Beck, and as incentive to get her to do so they provide Kinsey with photos to show Reba of Beck two-timing her with her best friend…who also happens to hold Reba’s old job. Sufficiently incensed, Reba agrees to help take Beck down. Unfortunately, Reba has her own ideas about the best way to do that, leaving Kinsey scrambling to keep up as things spiral out of control.

Dead Wood by Dani Amore

Dead Wood by Dani AmoreYou know, I’ve made so many fucking mistakes in my lifetime that one more wouldn’t hurt. – John Rockne

John Rockne may have made many mistakes in his lifetime – haven’t we all – but it’s one in particular that sticks with him. While a young cop on the Grosse Pointe, Michigan police force he made a judgment call one bitter New Year’s evening, one that ended up costing a young man his life. Unable to face his fellow officers again Rockne walked away from the job, choosing to make his administrative leave permanent.

He didn’t leave Grosse Pointe entirely, however, instead setting up shop as a private investigator. And despite the seriousness of that past mistake Rockne has, for the most part, put it behind him. He has a beautiful wife, two young daughters he worships, and makes a modest living carrying a Nikon instead of a gun.

When a local artist is murdered in her guitar workshop the police write it off as a burglary gone bad. The young woman’s father doesn’t buy it. He’s convinced his daughter’s ex-boyfriend killed her, and hires Rockne to investigate the case further.

Before he knows it Rockne is in the crosshairs of an ex-con, a shadowy assassin, a high profile musician and her P.R. team in full damage control mode, and the Grosse Pointe Chief of Police to boot. Maybe that one more mistake is gonna hurt after all.

Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Southern Gods by John Hornor JacobsDo not call up what you cannot put down. – The Little Book of Night

Things would have gone so much easier for Bull Ingram if only someone long ago had heeded that warning. Instead, when the WWII vet is hired to find a missing man in rural Arkansas things get really weird, really fast.

Turns out it’s not only a missing music scout that his employer, a Memphis DJ, wants Ingram to find. He’s also charged with tracking down a pirate radio station that plays the haunting music of a mysterious blues man known as Ramblin’ John Hastur.

Whispers and rumors hold that Hastur’s music is evil, the result of him selling his soul to the devil in exchange for his gift. A hard man and former Marine, Ingram isn’t daunted in the slightest by such mumbo jumbo and sets off to earn his pay.

Meanwhile, a woman, Sarah, and her young daughter have fled an abusive situation and found their way back to Sarah’s childhood home, a sprawling plantation in rural Gethsemane, Arkansas. It slowly becomes clear that something is very wrong in Gethsemane, and that the darkness shrouding the old plantation goes far beyond family secrets thought long hidden and buried.

Exactly how the darkness Ingram is following and the darkness following Sarah and her ancestral home are connected is expertly woven together by debut author John Hornor Jacobs in one of the most intense and enjoyable books I have read this year.

Storming Heaven by John Hornor Jacobs

Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Southern Gods, the powerful debut novel from author John Hornor Jacobs, but am very excited to welcome him today for an amazingly frank guest post about the creeping ambition that begins with the desire to write “a simple tale, well told.”

Storming Heaven by John Hornor JacobsAudacity.

It’s funny, for a guy who claims to think no one can teach another person how to write, I sure do write about the act of writing a lot, like a snake devouring its own tail. What’s the point? Go write a manuscript and then we’ll talk.

But still. There are subjects that niggle, that pester. There are half-formed thoughts immaterialized in my haunted house of a noggin. And I feel like I should explore them, head up into that ghostly attic with a flashlight and poke around. And so I shall, at Elizabeth A. White’s expense.

Audacity.

When I first began writing, I was happy to just finish my first manuscript, SOUTHERN GODS. All I wanted to do was to see if I could complete a novel. And once I do, hey, I’ll be totally happy. That will be enough. That’s all I want. But, then, once the book was complete, something twisted in me, and the worm of ambition shifted and burrowed into my liver and I thought, I just want to SEE if I can get it published, because that’s how the worm of ambition works, it adjusts our goals only slightly as it seats itself firmly in the flesh, tugging at the fibers and sinew, sinking into the organs. All I want is to be published. It’s fine, even, if it’s a small press. I’ll be totally happy with that. Once that happens, I can die happy. But just having a stack of papers with a novel printed on them isn’t enough. And then, when the first publisher accepted my book, and my friend John Rector asked if I’d signed anything and I said no and he replied, “Let me introduce you to this agent I met and I think you’d be a good match,” the worm twisted in me again and suddenly new vistas opened before me to plunder. I wanted more, then, than just a small press deal. I wanted an agent. I wanted to my books to be in stores.

Apostle Rising by Richard Godwin

Apostle Rising by Richard Godwin“Listen as if your life depended on it because you’ve entered a very strange and murky world, and things won’t be the same for you again…” – Frank Castle

Detective Chief Inspector Frank Castle knows what he’s talking about, having descended deep down into a strange and murky world 28 long years ago. When he was still a young officer Castle was involved in the hunt for the “Woodlands Killer,” so named because of the location the horribly mutilated victims were found.

Though Castle was convinced the killer was a man named Karl Black, not only could Castle not gather enough evidence to have Black arrested, but Black was able to play mind games with Castle that had devastating consequences. Determined to prove Black was the killer, Castle spiraled into an obsession that cost him his marriage, a great deal of respect among his colleagues, and very nearly his sanity.

The “Woodlands Killer” was never caught.

Now, 28 years later, a new series of killings are occurring that mimic those from long ago. His colleagues think it the work of a copycat, but Castle isn’t so sure. Especially not with Karl Black still in the area, now running a sinister cult and every bit as willing to jump back into playing mind games with Castle. This time, however, Castle isn’t alone in his pursuit of Black. His young partner, DI Jackie Stone, is ready and willing to help Castle tackle the case. But as Castle sees Stone starting to fall into the same pattern of obsession and self-destruction he went through Castle is forced to make a tough choice: pursue Black at all costs, or save Stone – and himself – from a descent into the depths of madness?

The Lonely Mile by Allan Leverone

The Lonely Mile by Allan LeveroneHe had been at it so long and taken so many girls that the details of all but the most recent kidnappings had begun to merge together into a kind of delicious, nostalgic stew.
– Martin Krall

If you had a chance to save someone’s life, to be a hero, would you do it even if you knew your actions would have disastrous consequences for your own family? Or could you knowingly allow a horrific fate to befall a young woman without doing anything to intervene?

Bill Ferguson didn’t have time to consider the answer to that question before his hand was forced and he made a decision that drastically altered the lives of two young women, one of them his own daughter.

While sitting in a rest stop along I-90 on one of his runs between the hardware shops he owns, Ferguson notices an abduction in process. Unfortunately, he’s the only one who appears to realize what’s happening. Acting on adrenaline and instinct, Ferguson pulls the gun he’s licensed to carry on the would-be kidnapper, forcing him to abandon the abduction.

The young woman is saved, Ferguson’s a hero, and all’s right with the world. Right? Wrong.

Advice From Pigeons by Patricia S. Bowne

Advice From PigeonsWithin the next half-hour, Warren Oldham thought, he would either be successful or dismembered.

Harry Potter if it was told from the professors’ point of view. That’s how author Patricia S. Bowne’s Advice From Pigeons has been described by some. That gets you into the ballpark, but ultimately it’s not quite that simple.

Hiram Rho, who has the ability to understand animals, has just joined the faculty at the Royal Academy at Osyth and is having considerable doubts whether he is up for the job…or if he even wants to be, if he’s perfectly honest with himself.

As a member of the Demonology Department, Rho takes part in rituals wherein the department’s faculty summons and controls demons so they can learn from them. The process is quite dangerous, and when it goes wrong it does so spectacularly, as Rho learns firsthand when he participates in a summoning circle while at an academic conference that goes seriously sideways.

Now Rho has his own personal demon, one set on taking over the Demonology Department even if he has to go through Rho’s fellow demonologists one by one in order to do so.

Banned Books Week: 10 Most Challenged Books of 2010

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to ReadAccording to the American Library Association, there were 348 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2010, and many more go unreported.

The 10 most challenged titles of 2010 were:

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: offensive language, racism, religious viewpoint, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit.

Crank by Ellen Hopkins. Reasons: drugs, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit.

The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins. Reasons: sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group.

Lush by Natasha Friend. Reasons: drugs, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group.

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones. Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Banned Books Week 2011: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

CBanned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to ReadToday is the start of Banned Books Week 2011:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, visit their official website.

Beat On The Brat by Nigel Bird

Beat On The Brat by Nigel BirdMr. Bird has been a very busy bee of late. In addition to the recently released Pulp Ink collection which he co-edited, he also has a relatively new short story collection of his own, Beat On The Brat, out in the wild.

Featuring nine entries – seven short stories, a poem, and a little haiku just to mess with you – Beat On The Brat is a wonderfully diverse collection. Though I enjoyed them all, these two really resonated with me:

“Back in Black” is a beautifully layered recounting of Johnny Sullivan’s return to his hometown for his mother’s funeral. Things are a little more complicated than simply the loss of his mum, however, as it is also Johnny’s first time back since being sent up for child molestation. Things go about as well for Johnny as you’d expect, but you know an author has some serious skills going on if he can make you actually feel sympathy for a child molester.

“Snow-Angel” graphically demonstrates something I fully believe: all practical jokes and other forms of messing with people done in the name of “good fun, no harm intended” in fact comes from a much darker, mean-spirited place. In “Snow Angels,” a group of punks’ snowball ambush on a complete stranger spins horribly out of control, with devastating consequences for a Good Samaritan.

Pulp Ink by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, Editors

Pulp Ink by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, EditorsEdited by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, Pulp Ink is a blistering collection of 24 deliciously dark tales, each inspired by a song from the Pulp Fiction movie soundtrack. Murder and madness, sex and seduction, revenge and redemption, Pulp Ink has a little bit of everything going on. A few of my favorites:

“Requiem For A Spider” finds Reed Farrel Coleman’s well-known and much loved character Moe Prager roped into acting as combination backup/security blanket for an old friend at a meeting with a potential business partner…in the Russian Mafia. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished and people aren’t always who they seem to be, things go seriously sideways.

With their infant son in tow, Junior and his wife, Nina, travel the country in Matthew C. Funk’s “You Can Never Tell” systematically tracking down – and eliminating – all the old associates of Junior’s father in order to determine which one betrayed and killed him. Always one to push a story places you’re not quite expecting it to go, Funk takes the age-old concept of revenge and redemption and gives it a startling twist.

Intoxication by Tim Kizer

Intoxication by Tim Kizer“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” – Joseph Heller in Catch 22

Paranoia. It’s an insidious thing, feeding upon itself and driving the sufferer ever deeper into its clutches. Office worker Leslie comes to know this all too well in author Tim Kizer’s novella, Intoxication.

When Leslie’s boyfriend becomes seriously ill after drinking coffee that one of her coworkers brought into Leslie’s office, Leslie becomes convinced the coffee was poisoned, and that she was the intended target.

Her boss dismisses Leslie’s accusations as far-fetched and, well, paranoid, so Leslie decides to take matters into her own hands and force a confession. Easier said than done, especially when your mental demons begin to get the better of you.

And while there’s nothing funny about genuine mental illness, there’s definitely a healthy dose of dark humor involved in Leslie’s quest to bring her (imagined?) would-be poisoner to justice.