The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman

150110425X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – There’s a building in Brownsville, Texas, one of the poorest cities in the country, where something terrible happened. A lot of terrible things happen in Brownsville — right on the Mexican border, it’s a center for drug trafficking as well as immigration, both legal and not, and the usual urban crimes born of poverty and desperation — but this was bad enough that the whole building lies under its shadow.

This isn’t the usual kind of true crime book, and if you try to read it that way you’re going to be disappointed. The facts were never really in doubt. In the spring of 2003, John Allen Rubio, with the assistance of his common-law wife, horribly murdered his three children. The oldest girl was only three years old. Less than a day later, they both confessed to the police; Rubio believed the children were possessed. Or maybe, he admitted when questioned, it was the spray paint he’d been huffing.

But Tillman isn’t telling that story as much as she’s telling the story of the community in which that crime occurred. What did the neighbors think of John and Angela, both before and after the murders? What was it like, to be them, to live in their world? And if John truly, sincerely believed that the children were possessed when he killed them, does that make him not guilty by reason of insanity? What if he had schizophrenia? What if he had brain damage from long-term drug use, or a low IQ from his mother’s long-term drug use? If the state of Texas executes him for his crime, what does that say about us, and the world we live in? And can the community ever come to terms with what happened? Tillman doesn’t offer answers to these questions, but she asks them with care, and I think they’re important ones.

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

17668473Book-It was a dark and foggy night. Gretchen Müller was in the car with her brother and friends when a Jew was seen walking across the street not too far ahead. Without warning, Kurt decides it speed up in order to hit the Jewish man. When that attempt failed, the boys left car with the sole purpose of beating the man to death. Why? Because to Gretchen and her friends, Jews were evil people. That is what Adolf Hitler told them and ‘Uncle’ Dolf would never lead them astray. Hitler was the man who took Gretchen and her family in after her father was killed saving Hitler’s life. They owed him everything.

But that night, instead of reveling in the idea of taking out the cancer of Germany, Gretchen found herself really looking at the Jewish man. His eyes were full of terror as he was about to be attacked by two members of the Nazi party. Going against everything she was taught by her parents and Hitler, Gretchen ran after the boys in order to stop them.

That night was the first small step on a journey of self-discovery that Gretchen goes on throughout this book. She takes her next step when a young Jew tells Gretchen that her father did not die to save Hitler’s life, he was murdered. In her pursuit of the truth, Gretchen learns some startling facts about Hitler and his party. Now she has to decide if her loyalties truly lie with Hitler and her family or Daniel, the Jew.

You can find Prisoner of Night and Fog on the Lincoln Award Shelf and on the Lincoln Award Kindle. Once you read it, check out the sequel Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

18782854Book – A. never knew he had an eccentric millionaire uncle in America until his uncle died, leaving him an eccentric old mansion in America — with, as Edith Wharton says, supernatural enhancements. There’s the ghost in the second-floor bathroom, of course, but she’s nothing compared to the mysterious notes and encoded messages scattered around the house, the nightmares plaguing our narrator, or the growing implication that maybe A.’s uncle didn’t commit suicide after all. The mysteries only grow deeper as A. and his friend Niamh begin to uncover the details of the secret society centered around their new home.

The Supernatural Enhancements is told in an unconventional style – letters from A. back to Europe, transcripts of audio and video recordings, and conversations from Niamh’s notepad (she’s mute). This has the potential to get confusing, but I found that the story flows pretty seamlessly for the most part (except for a few places where it’s obviously meant to be confusing). More importantly, this gives the reader the chance to figure out some of the puzzles at the same time as the characters, if you’re inclined to that sort of thing. Me, I’m happy to let the characters do the hard cryptographic work for me, but if you like puzzles and ciphers, this is a great book for you.

Bitch Planet Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

1863e34a261397f597644526b51444341587343Graphic Novel – Kelly Sue DeConnick was sharply criticized for her recent transformation of the Marvel character Captain Marvel. In a response to some of those criticisms DeConnick created Bitch Planet. It is a graphic novel series in a society where men extremely prosecute women’s actions. Express your opinion too vocally, go to Bitch Planet. Disagree with your husband, go to Bitch Planet. Become overweight, go to Bitch Planet!

In this first volume DeConnick provides the reader with small amounts of information into the main characters. Penny Rolle is the only character with some backstory. It is of a troubled childhood, her dislike for people who try to change her, and how she feels about herself. Other characters are introduced with minimal storylines. With this being just the first volume I was left with a lot of questions at the end.

One of the main storylines of this volume is centered on forming a team to play a sport similar to rugby. It has only been played by men and they would be the first women team. The reward, if they survive, could be freedom from Bitch Planet.

There are several reoccurring visuals and themes requiring deeper analysis. They include the race issue present throughout, lack of women’s rights, the sexualized image of women, the role of a patriarchal religion, and more. The style of the volume is based on the 1970’s women prison and Blaxploitation films. There is a lot of nudity, violence, and blood. If you do not like this type of thing I would not recommend you read it. If you do and want something that will engage the current landscape of society then this one is a must read.

Dietland by Sarai Walker

dietlandBook- At the beginning of the book, Plum Kettle feels like a very familiar type of protagonist: a ghost writer for the advice column of a preteen girls’ magazine, Plum Kettle is a meek, neurotic fat woman who aspirationally buys beautiful clothes in a size she has never been and is waiting for her ‘real’ life to begin after she has her much-desired weight loss surgery. Plum’s plans are derailed, though, when she notices a mysterious woman following her and gets embroiled in an underground community of feminist women who live life on their own terms. Plum agrees to run a gauntlet of challenges set by the mysterious woman, designed to expose the darker side of becoming desirable according to mainstream standards and to dissuade Plum from weight loss surgery.

Plum’s personal growth story occurs against the backdrop of a world beset by the machinations of a fictional home-grown terrorist group known as “Jennifer,” which targets those who dehumanize women in a series of violent vigilante strikes. Naturally, this story intersects with Plum’s and the roots of the terrorist group are eventually revealed.

This satirical novel will appeal to feminists, dystopian enthusiasts, and fans of dark humor.  With a premise like this, it would have been easy to be too didactic and moralizing, but Dietland keeps the tone refreshingly breezy, though with a very strong bite.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover_ravenboys_300Book Series – Richard Gansy III is the scion of a privileged Virginia family, the prep school princeling golden boy with the impossible, magic dream.  Ronan Lynch is rage and sharp edges under a thin veneer of skin, sneering at the world through the window of a muscle car.  Adam Parrish is the impostor in their midst, hiding his accent and his bruises as he works three after-school jobs to pay his own tuition.  And Noah Czerney is… around, usually, if you don’t think about him too hard.

They are the Raven Boys, high school students at prestigious Aglionby Academy, and local girl Blue Sergeant–a passionate activist growing up in a house full of psychic women–hates them all on principle.  Until she meets them, anyway.  Until she gets to know them.  Until she is drawn with them into an impossibly high-stakes mythic quest that will transform them from five teenagers into an unbreakable brotherhood, wielding ancient and unimaginable powers, facing down curses and demons and kings.

I read the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, a little more than a year ago.  While I did find the characterization exceptionally well done, I was ultimately neither disappointed nor inspired.  But I’m so glad that I picked the series up again when the fourth and final book arrived in April (Book 2: The Dream Thieves; Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue; Book 4: The Raven King), because book two hits the ground running and doesn’t let go.  By its later chapters, The Raven Cycle became a reminder for me of what really good fiction feels like: its magical ability to transform the world and make the reader genuinely believe and care about its characters and plot, its potential to be fresh and original and at the same time seem like a story you’ve always known.  I devoured the last book in a day, and feel both bereft and energized now that it’s done.

TL;DR: If you like fantasy fiction even a little, read these books.  And if you like audiobooks even a little, try them that way, because we offer the whole series through both Overdrive and Hoopla, and narrator Will Patton knocks it out of the park.

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

0345501160.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – I swear, Daryl Gregory writes some of the most interesting, original premises I’ve ever seen. In this, his first novel, it’s possession by entities that everybody calls demons, but are clearly cultural archetypes – the Captain is Captain America, the Truth is a Dick Tracy/noir pulp hero, the Hellion is Katzenjammer Kids meets Dennis the Menace, and the Little Angel is Shirley Temple meets the World War I “Angel of the Battlefield.” And everyone in the book is smart enough to know that; I appreciate that in a story.

There’s a wonderful cast of characters in Pandemonium, from Del himself to his older brother Lew, their mother (whom they call the Cyclops since she’s missing one eye), the Irish exorcist Mother Mariette, and the entity formerly known as the author Philip K. Dick. They’re all struggling to understand this thing that’s been destroying peoples’ lives for the past fifty-odd years, but they’re all also so wrapped up in their own damages and perceptions that it’s clearly going to take them a while.

One of my favorite parts of the book were the Demonology inserts, short chapters describing possession incidents by various demons. These bits did a wonderful job fleshing out the universe of the book as well as letting you meet some demons who weren’t tremendously important to the main narrative. They also led me, subtly but ingeniously, to the climax of the book, which struck just the right balance between explaining enough to make it satisfying and not explaining so much that it seemed like all the fun was being explained away.

The Equalizer (2014)

MV5BMTQ2MzE2NTk0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3NTk1MjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_Movie – Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is your normal everyday person. He works at a hardware store. Has a small one-bedroom apartment and is reading the 100 books everyone should read before they die. This latter is an homage to his deceased wife.

The one thing that makes Mr. McCall different is he suffers from insomnia. Every night he goes down to his local diner to have a cup of tea and read. Every night his chats with a Teri/ Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz). Teri is a works in the sex industry. One night she is roughed up and ends up in the hospital. Robert decides to visit her pimp and makes him an offer for Teri’s freedom. He refuses, and this is where the movie goes sideways. It becomes fast paced after this scene and has some pretty good action sequences.

As a viewer, we all know Denzel is never just a regular person in his movies. It did take me some time to figure out who he was, however. I enjoyed how his character helped the everyday person beat back the criminals trying to take advantage. I did not like the watch. It looked as though it was going to be important to the plot, but then later it got lost to the action.

The Equalizer is very similar to another Denzel hit Man on Fire. The only difference is the girl is a grown woman and she was not kidnapped. If you like Denzel and action, this is a good choice. If you are looking for a Chloe movie, leave it. Her character may be why Denzel is doing most of this, but she plays a small role throughout.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York?  So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.

Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives.  Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.

Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters.  To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

indexBook – Hwa lives on an oil rig the size of a small town off the coast of Canada, where she works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers union. She’d hoped to get out – maybe back to Korea – by joining the army, but when her brother died in an explosion on the rig, her dreams got smaller. But the town’s just been bought by the unbelievably rich and innovative Lynch Ltd., and Hwa managed to catch the eye of their head of security. Now she’s the bodyguard for the youngest Lynch, a fourteen-year-old genius who’s heir to the entire company, and someone is after him. Oh, and just when she quit her old job, someone started killing her friends.

With corporate espionage, technological spirituality, and a serial killer (not to mention a pretty solid romance plotline) there’s a lot going on in this relatively small book, but it juggles everything pretty well. Hwa’s future is undeniably cyberpunk dystopia in the tradition of Blade Runner and Neuromancer, updated for today’s technology and the futures we can extrapolate from it: socially mandatory implants that require a subscription (which might break down and kill you if you stop paying). Visual glosses that allow you to simply not see anything that might distress you. A centralized security-monitoring system that tracks everything everyone does all day long — one that lets Hwa solve the murders of her friends at the same time that she resents the intrusion on her own privacy. I liked that best about this book. Ashby isn’t writing a cautionary tale about technology, she’s simply saying that this is what we might end up with, and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it.