RETRO READS: Within the Shadows

Hi all!  Welcome to Retro Reads, where I talk about my favorite books that were published at least ten years ago. You can still find most of them online, though sometimes they have been re-released with a different cover and/or title. I will let you know if a book is out of print or otherwise unavailable.

WITHIN THE SHADOWS
Brandon Massey
Horror/Suspense
Publication year: 2005
Out of print/available used

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I have been a longtime Brandon Massey fan, ever since I reviewed his first commercially published book, Dark Corner. I met Brandon in person at Book Expo America in 2005, where I received my autographed copy. He has provided good writing advice over the years (thx, Brandon!), even as he has successfully adapted to the ever-changing publishing landscape.

Within the Shadows is Massey’s third book and the story of Andrew, a successful writer in the Atlanta area who becomes involved with a beautiful woman, Mika. Mika, however, turns out to be a stalker on a whole ‘nother level, aided by seemingly unlimited funds and a Grand Canyon-sized sense of entitlement. While trying to fend off Mika’s increasingly unwanted advances, Andrew also tries to rekindle his relationship with his estranged father, Raymond, which had taken an unexpected nosedive after both were involved in a car accident in rural Georgia. Unbeknownst to Andrew, Raymond was compelled to cause the accident and his secrecy ends up getting a few folks killed…and Andrew may be next.

Massey continues his recurring theme  of strained father/son relations, which is present in most of his books. He also spins on the “sins of the father” trope in Within the Shadows. Massey utilizes the supernatural in a way that taps into that part of us that we as people don’t like to acknowledge: the knee-jerk denial of the otherworld. The strong secondary characters of Eric, Andrew’s best friend and Carmen, Andrew’s not-so-unrequited love, help round out the story. While Mika’s character can be too over-the-top at times, it ends up working within the context of the greater story. Perhaps the best part of the book is realizing Raymond’s part in this whole mess and how it both harms and heals his relationship with Andrew.

Within the Shadows won’t keep you up at night, but it will provide some thrills and chills.

Thanks for stopping by.

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What I’m Reading: Salsa Nocturna

I finally got around to reading a book I’ve had for a while: Salsa Nocturna by Daniel Jose Older.

This is Older’s debut collection of short stories (published in 2012), and the jump-off of his first full-length novel, Half-Resurrection Blues. While I perceived Salsa Nocturna to be the precursor to HRB, Older said that the events in SN took place after¬†HRB instead of before. He’s the author, so he should know, though I beg to differ. ūüôā

Anyway, having read some of his other short stories published here and there¬†(and also here); his contributions to the anthologies Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond and Long Hidden; and¬†his debut young adult novel Shadowshaper (more on that in a later post), I was not disappointed with Salsa Nocturna. At all. Set in Older’s preferred boroughs of New York City, Salsa Nocturna introduces the eclectic plethora of supernatural and supernatural-affiliated characters that populate HRB. ¬†The social commentary alone was great (“Protected Entity” was everything) and the characters were so rich and varied that it was like reading a paint palette. The characters meet and bond throughout an array of otherworldly situations that are sometimes as amusing and engaging as the characters themselves (Riley and Gordo quickly emerged as two of my favorites). Older is also one of the relative few Latino authors who does not sugarcoat the mezcla of African and Latino bloodlines and cultures in his writing, and for that alone he gets props from me. I wasn’t really digging HRB based on the excerpt I read (and the character Carlos even less) but after reading Salsa Nocturna, I’m¬†more inclined to¬†plunk down some cash for Half-Resurrection Blues. His character Kia, in the linked stories above, has me anticipating her own upcoming novel, Midnight Taxi Tango.

Salsa Nocturna is, in my humble opinion, Older’s strongest full-length work to date. Short stories are where Older’s talent shines brightest¬†and I would love to see him pen another collection, even with different characters. Do yourself a favor and pick up Salsa Nocturna. Thank me later.

And thanks for stopping by.

Another One Bites the Dust

I finally got around to reading Festive in Death by JD Robb (the mystery-writing pseudonym of bestselling romance author Nora Roberts).

Festive in Death

This is the 39th book in the popular In Death¬†futuristic mystery series, and perhaps that’s why this book is further proof that Robb/Roberts is losing her touch.

At first, I thought that I wasn’t that into the book because it was my first time reading an e-book on Google Play Books, instead of my usual Amazon Kindle app. Perhaps that was the reason I kept putting the tablet down while attempting to read this book: an unfamiliar e-book delivery system. But no; when I read another book via Google Play Books, I was able to stay engaged and had a hard time putting the e-book down. So the platform delivery was not the issue; the book content was.

I noticed that the quality of the In Death plots began to decline with Salvation in Death, book #27 in the series. At the time, I thought the book had a phoned-in quality, like Robb couldn’t be bothered to put forth her best efforts. Random reviews from different bookseller and fan sites showed that I wasn’t alone in my thinking; indeed, many were not pleased by the lack of her normal plot and character depth. She redeemed herself in subsequent books¬†until she reached Indulgence in Death¬†(book #31), which was a poor rehash of the plot of Seduction in Death (book #13). Again, all was decent until Calculated in Death (book #35, which was another poor rehash of the subplot of Born in Death, book # 23).

[yes, I’ve read the entire series from the very beginning, and have most of the books, so I can pinpoint a lot of these changes–so can a lot of other fans.]

There have long been rumors (since around the time of Indulgence in Death) that the In Death series/JD Robb books were being ghostwritten, rumors that Roberts/Robb¬†vehemently denies. Yet continuity errors (character names, character backstories, noticeable difference in writing style from earlier books in the series, etc.) in latter books belie her denials. Given the state of the last three or so books, I’m leaning toward the ghostwriting school of thought for at least some of the books in the series.

Hey, I get it: Nora Roberts has¬†¬†“written” forty of the JD Robb full-length novels (#40, Obsession in Death, comes out in 2015), plus short stories surrounding the main character, Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Security and Police Department–all in addition to putting out her romance novels under her real name. Nora Roberts got her start, and made most of her money, writing in the romance genre (indeed, her full-length romances are almost instant bestsellers. She’s a very prolific writer who seems to churn out a new book once a month or so), and it can be argued that romances are her first writing love. That being said, it’s easy to see why she’d want to take a break as JD Robb and fall back on what made her famous. It happens.

I’ve seen other of my formerly favorite authors go down the same “phone it in” path: Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson are two of them. Patterson started the “ghostwriting via collaboration” trend that Higgins Clark is now picking up, as he turned his attention to Young Adult novels with his Maximum Ride series. Perhaps that’s what happens when you publish a certain number of books, or been in the writing and publishing game as long as they have: ¬†you become numb, writing-wise. I’ve seen it in Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels;¬†Terry Brooks‘s Dark Legacy of Shannara series (The Dark Legacy of Shannara: Witch Wraith: what was that?!); and both Brenda Jackson‘s Madaris and Westmoreland romance series, as well. ¬†For all of these authors (who are pretty prolific), I stopped reading them on a regular basis years ago because the spark that fueled their first twenty, thirty, forty books had gone dim. I no longer enjoyed their newer offerings and found myself reading their older works (and enjoying them more). Robb/Roberts has now been added to the list.

This is one of my fears as an author: writing so much that I will grow weary of my craft, and start turning out subpar stories just to say I published another book; or worse, hire someone to do most of the heavy lifting and rubber-stamp my name in order to retain and maintain¬†my fan base. I’m not at that level yet, but given the amount of mental energy that goes into writing and publishing a book, I can see where the aforementioned authors are coming from. As Whitney Houston once sang, it’s not right, but it’s okay.

Thanks for stopping by.

Rediscovered Treasures

Is there any joy greater than finding books that you’d forgotten you had?

(a joy greater than cupcakes, or good sex or wine, or your favorite sports team making a championship run, that is)

I’ve been in the publishing industry, one way or another, for over thirteen years. During that time, I’ve amassed a lot of books. A. LOT. Of. Books. Some I’ve purchased, but more of them I received free via advance copies for review, or attending Book Expo of America. And I’ve never met a used book sale that I didn’t like.

[sidebar: Whenever I settle in one place long enough to buy a house, I’m going to dedicate a room or three to just my books.]

I had most of these books in storage at my mother’s house. I finally unearthed them due to a rash of rainstorms, and I was concerned since the boxes of books were on an external, screened-in porch that allowed exposure of some of the boxes to the rain. Unfortunately, I lost some of the books to water and mold damage, but thankfully, most of them can be easily replaced. But, in the grand scheme of things, losing about fifty books out of over three hundred isn’t bad, and the majority of those were mass-market or trade paperbacks . ūüėÄ (that 300 is a rough estimate, by the way, including both hardbacks and paperbacks of all sizes. I haven’t actually sat down to count them; I’m almost afraid to. LOL).

While going through these books, I found some gems that I’d forgotten I had. They were like old friends stopping by to say hello and sit a spell (as we say in the South), and I admit to a euphoria that is still going strong. A lot of them are first editions (not that I get caught up on that, because I don’t sell my books, but it’s nice to have books with the original covers instead of the movie tie-ins, like In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner and Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan). Quite a few of these books are no longer in print, which makes them all the more sentimentally valuable to me. Some of the gems are:

  • Why Black People Tend to Shout and Classic Wiley: A Lifetime of Punchers, Players, Punks, & Prophets, both by the late, great sportswriter Ralph Wiley
  • The Gift by D. Lee Hatchett (last I heard, he’d left the indie publishing route and joined a more mainstream publisher to promote this fantasy/speculative fiction series, of which The Gift was the first in the series…and was never heard from again. ūüė¶ )
  • Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros (one of her underrated forays into poetry. Good stuff).
  • A hardback, 1963 edition of The Kama Sutra: The Hindu Ritual of Love (Complete and Unexpurgated)¬†by Vatsyayana
  • The Shaolin Workout by Sifu Shi Yan Ming (YES! An indoor, winter workout!)
  • Eight volumes/collections of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larsen
  • Close to Home by Callahan (if you were in the DC area in the late ’90s/early 2000s, you may have been familiar with his work in the comic section of the Washington Post)
  • Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, which was given to me for my high school graduation
  • The 48 Laws of Power and The 48 Laws of Seduction, both by Robert Greene
  • The Content of Our Character by Shelby Steele
  • Damballah by John Edgar Wideman

I also discovered that I now have three complete sets of the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, in both hardback and paperback; two sets of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (in paperback, with the original covers and not the movie tie-ins); I have a lot of suspense/thrillers and mysteries (including some more PD James! YAY!), and quite a few Paulo Coehlo books (including two copies of The Alchemist, in both English and Spanish). I also have most of the JD Robb oeuvre, in both hardback and paperback. And I am a fan of Jodi Picoult as well.

I am so geeked at unearthing this literary treasure trove that I will have to start re-reading them (YAY!) and adding them to the “What I’m Reading” posts (of which I’ve been woefully remiss in doing), so stay tuned. These books will be throwbacks, and some won’t be readily available for purchase on places like Amazon or Barnes & Noble (maybe eBay, though). ¬†My bucket list project is adding as many of the e-book versions of my books as possible to my library, so that I won’t have to be too upset if there is future physical damage to them.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Reading Rampage Nostalgia: Eric Jerome Dickey (NaBloPoMo day 29)

Total blog post goal: 30

Today’s blog count: 30

Total blog posts: 30

Finding an old book is like finding an old friend. And, like some friendships, it’s easy to take stock of where and who you were when the friendship started, and how things stand now.

I found copies of paperbacks from an author I used to read religiously, Eric Jerome Dickey, and went on a reading rampage. I started with Friends and Lovers, which was, according to him, the second book he wrote, but the first published.¬†Then I followed with Cheaters. I’m debating on whether to read Sister, Sister (first book written, but not the first published–in fact, some of his characters from this book show up in Cheaters). All of this really got started a few weeks ago, when I re-read Thieves’ Paradise (which remains, hands down, my favorite of all his books–and I’ve read most of them).

sister-sister EJD cheaters EJD friends lovers EJD thieves paradise EJD

One of the things that struck me was that I was in a much different place when I first picked up these books over…wow, has it been at least fifteen years? In the aforementioned books (along with Milk in My Coffee,¬†Liar’s Game and Between Lovers, which were all written during the same time frame), all of his characters are in their late twenties/early thirties. As a result, they were still finding out who they were, their place in the world, and still members of Team Bad Decisions. Fifteen or so years ago, these books resonated with me more because I was within those same demographics (even at the ripe old age of 41, I’m still Team Bad Decisions sometimes). Now, I read the books and enjoy the stories on a more superficial level. Likewise, in reading his later books, I can see where Mr. Dickey has grown as a writer; perhaps that’s why I love Thieves’ Paradise so much: that was when his writing seemed to make that next evolutionary step, which may have had something to do with him being able to finally write the novel he always wanted to write (he told me this after an author signing for Thieves’ Paradise, which was arranged by a mutual friend).

I still have copies of the other books somewhere in a box, and I may dig them out and read them someday, although Between Lovers is one of his most complex books, and was the book that was published right before Thieves’ Paradise¬†(so I guess that’s where I caught glimpses of that evolutionary step). I’ll enjoy the books with a side of nostalgia, then put them back on the shelf when I’m done. I may pick them up again in a few years.

between-lovers-eric-jerome-dickey-paperback-cover-art

I don’t read many of his books now; he’s gone in a totally different direction, for the most part; his books are more in the vein of Thieves’ Paradise and¬†Between Lovers: more gritty, more layered and nuanced adult relationships, and less wide-eyed, finding-oneself, time-to-be-a-grownup tropes. Still, I’m not as connected to them as I once was; I see less of myself in his current slate of books, and thus they have become just entertainment for me. I’m happy for him, that he’s writing what he wants to write, what he was meant to write–heck, that he’s still writing. He’s approximately my age, and his writing has reflected his personal evolution and growth, as well as his writing ones. But like an old friend, sometimes you just go in different directions and have to have a parting of the ways. You find new friends, but you keep the old ones on the shelf–and take them off once in a while, dust them off, and enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Aside

What I’m Reading: Dark Oracle (NaNoWriMo/NaBloPoMo day 22)

Total word count goal: 50,000

Total blog post goal: 30

Today’s word count: 2,400

Today’s blog count: 23

Total words written: 38,302

Total blog posts: 23

My eye was feeling a lot better today–I was able to remove the sunglasses before lunchtime. WINNING! I also felt well enough to write 2,400 words. Combined with the 2,027 I wrote yesterday, I’m wondering if corneal abrasions aren’t an impetus to win–I don’t know. All I know is that I wrote fast and as much as possible, so I could rest my eyes. *shrug*

ANYway…speaking of resting eyes, I’ve been reading actual paperbacks so as to limit the amount of time the LED screen rays affected my eyes. I pulled out a book that I read once and enjoyed: Dark Oracle by Alayna Williams.

dark-oracle A. Williams-250

 

The book is about a former FBI behavioral profiler ¬†and trained forensic psychologist named Tara Sheridan, who left the Bureau when she was attacked, tortured, and almost buried alive by a serial killer she was assigned to profile. She is reluctantly brought back into the fold by a woman who was her late mother’s best friend–and who was also, along with Tara’s mother, a member of the Delphi’s Daughters, a group of women who have various paranormal gifts which they use to keep mankind on more or less an even keel. Tara has always downplayed her particular gifts, which include an uncanny knack for finding people, and reading the tarot cards that once belonged to her mother. Along the way, she is challenged by a member of the Daughters who thinks she should be the next in charge when the current leader dies, and finds an unlikely romantic interest in the straitlaced FBI agent with whom she has to work the case of a missing astrophysicist–a case that Delphi’s Daughters think is vital to the continuation of mankind as we know it.

What I like about this book is how the author explores our society’s bipolar approach to the paranormal: on one hand, it’s spooky, crazy, fake, evil, and full of charlatans; on the other hand, it’s a useful tool and it’s accurate. I also like how the persons in Delphi’s Daughters, as well as Tara herself, are not silly “woo woo” women dressed in turbans and caftans, with heavy Eastern European accents, who dole out obscure advice while pointing at tarot cards with beringed fingers. The author uses them to make a point that the paranormal is not limited to those who aren’t “normal” by society’s standards, and that these gifts can often work in harmony with other, more practical gifts (such as psychology, mathematics, physics). As a professional tarot reader for the past fifteen years, I was pleased to see that the author kept the tarot part of the book accurate.

Sadly, the author only wrote one other Tara Sheridan novel, Rogue Oracle. I’d hoped this would be a¬†longer series, but it was not to be. Still, I recommend both books as interesting, myth-exploding reads.

Keep writing,y’all…nine more days till the finish line!

Thanks for stopping by.

Aside

What I’m Reading: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Happy Halloween! Ghosties and ghoulies and horror…oh my! I’m dressing as a psychopath for Halloween, because they look like anyone else. ūüėČ (h/t Wednesday Addams, The Addams Family¬†movie).

This week’s reading selection is Who Fears Death¬†, a speculative fiction/fantasy novel ¬†which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Acclaimed author Nnedi Okorafor¬†has been published in Clarkesworld magazine, among other places.

 

WHo Fears Death Nnedi Okorafor

I first discovered this book years ago, at the San Francisco Public Library. I took a chance on reading this author, and I was not disappointed. I talk about it here:

The story is about a girl named Onyesonwu, which literally means “who fears death”. Onyesonwu is an Ewu child, which is a child born of rape between the more violent and dominant members of the Nuru tribe (which have lighter skin and narrow features) and the more docile, enslaved members of the Okeke tribe (which have darker skin and more traditionally African features). An Ewu child can also be the product of a forbidden liaison between a Nuru and an Okeke. Like all Ewu children, Onyesonwu was born with skin and hair the color of sand. She grew up in the desert, which is where her mother escaped after being raped.

Onyesonwu is an untapped, untrained sorceress; her particular strain of magic lies in shapeshifting. She tries to get training by the powerful sorcerer in her village, but he turns her away because she is female. She keeps trying until he is finally accepts her as a student. During this time she meets and falls in love with an Ewu boy, Mwita, who suddenly arrives in her village one day. He is an integral part of her journey as she completes her training and goes to destroy her biological father, who is a powerful sorcerer determined to wipe out the Okeke with his extremely violent army.

If you are a fan of speculative and/or fantasy fiction, I highly recommend both this book, and Nnedi Okorafor (you should also check out Kabu Kabu, her most recent collection of short stories).

 

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