RETRO READS: Dark Paradise by Tami Hoag

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 and/or otherwise unavailable.

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Original paperback cover

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Re-release paperback cover

Dark Paradise
Tami Hoag
Mystery/Suspense
Publication date: 1994
Status: In print/Available

Yesterday, I noticed that some neighbors a few houses down have llamas in their front yard. Being that I live in the city part of Atlanta, I was a bit taken aback; wildlife of that magnitude isn’t usually seen around here (although the Mennonite church a few blocks down has sheep, which are available for rent to chew up rogue shrubbery, but I digress).

Seeing the llamas reminded me of Dark Paradise, the first Tami Hoag novel I ever read. The novel is set in Montana and tells the story of Marilee Jennings, a court reporter in California who takes a leave of absence from her job to pay a much-needed visit to her friend Lucy. Lucy was a fellow court reporter who came into a mysterious inheritance and ditched her job to live in Montana a year prior. When Marilee (“Mari”) arrives on Lucy’s doorstep, she finds Lucy’s expensive-looking house ransacked and learns the news of Lucy’s allegedly accidental death–and that Lucy left everything to her, including the llamas in the spacious backyard. Mari soon figures out that Lucy’s death wasn’t an accident and someone took the fall for it.  Her quest to bring the true killer to justice almost gets her put in a grave next to Lucy–even as she fends off the pressure from John “JD” Rafferty, the attractive owner of the neighboring ranch who wants her to sell Lucy’s land to him, to further his own agenda.

Dark Paradise has the right balance of suspense and romance; indeed, the character development is as enjoyable as the plot–which doesn’t have a stereotypical “happily ever after” ending. . What I like best about the characters are their flaws; Hoag makes them truly human, questionable decisions and all. The plot is an interesting commentary on gentrification and how it is furthered in areas considered playgrounds for the wealthy, and the ripple effect on long-term area citizens. This book was written back in 1994, before gentrification became so prevalent here in America, yet the message still resonates today.

I’ve gone on to read and enjoy other books written by Hoag, but Dark Paradise remains my favorite. It’s an engaging read that is worth the trip.

Thanks for stopping by.

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RETRO READS: Streetlethal by Steven Barnes

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 and/or otherwise unavailable.

 

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Streetlethal

Steven Barnes

Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction

Publication Date: 1983

Status: Out of print/Available used

Streetlethal was my first purchase from Borderlands Books in San Francisco. 🙂 I’d already become a fan of Steven Barnes’  books Lion’s Blood and Great Sky Woman (I checked them out from the public library), but I’d never heard of Streetlethal until I saw it while browsing in the bookstore. I bought it and another of his (unknown to me) books, The Kundalini Equation.

Streetlethal takes place in a somewhat dystopian future Los Angeles. The story centers around Aubrey Knight, a highly skilled nullboxer (nullboxing is like MMA to the nth degree) who becomes an enforcer for the Ortegas, a powerful drug family who also dabbles in black market organ selling and prostitution.  Aubry is set up by his new girlfriend/drug addict (guess who is her supplier?) because he wants to quit working for the Ortegas–which is not done–and sent to a maximum security prison for murder.

(Never trust a big butt and a smile, Aubry.)

He eventually escapes and goes after Luis Ortega, the man who orchestrated his set-up, which is how he meets Promise–a woman who had taken Aubry’s ex-girlfriend/snitch under her wing and got her into rehab. Promise becomes Aubry’s “in” to the Ortegas, with interesting results.

The technological advances in the novel are quite mind-boggling, especially considering that the book was written in the early 1980s. Barnes’s gift is showcasing the range of human emotion in all of his characters. In Aubry Knight and, eventually, Promise, we get everything from euphoria/”top of the world”; to the depths of despair when your world is snatched from beneath your feet; to the unique mindset of athletes, especially professional ones; to the confusion and borderline resignation when things don’t quite work out the way you’d planned. In his strong secondary characters (Tomaso Ortega and Kevin Warrick are excellent) we get the roller-coaster ride of power plays, drug addiction, insecurity, family dynamics, and the urgent drive that comes from feeling like time is running out when you have too much to do. It’s also nice to read a post-apocalyptic novel that doesn’t include zombies; then again, zombies weren’t as much of a thing in the eighties.

I missed the memo that Streetlethal is the first in a trilogy (it pays to read those last few pages of advertisements in a book), and that Aubry’s journey continues in Gorgon Child and Firedance (that has been rectified–thank you, Amazon used books). Fans of dystopian stuff, martial arts, science wonks, and diverse sci-fi/speculative fiction would enjoy this novel.

Thanks for stopping by.

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.