Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

 

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Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero is a love it or leave it kind of book. So much of the reader’s feelings about this book will come from the emotional attachment you have to the original characters that Meddling Kids is based upon. For me this is definitely a love it kind of book and may just well be my favorite read of the year.

In 1977, in Blyton Hills, Oregon; the teenage detectives who call themselves the Blyton Summer Detective Club solve their final case. They uncover a two bit criminal acting as a monster to scare people away as he searches for a long lost treasure. There is even a picture in the newspapers the next day, the four kids and their faithful dog, the criminal tied up on the ground in full costume. Except for his mask that they are holding up. The criminal says, that he would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.

Only Andy, Kerri, Nate and Peter know that there was a lot more to that night they spent stranded in that house all by themselves. That everything that happened could not be explained away by a small time crook with a mask. The Blyton Summer Detective Club has been hiding from a dark secret that has haunted them the rest of their lives. Now they have to face the truth about what happened and what may still be waiting for them.

For Andy, the tomboy of the group. The memories of that night have turned her into a drifter, never settling down or able to maintain a commitment or relationship. She is on the run and wanted in two states. Kerri, the brilliant kid genius is now a bartender in New York. Her life wasting away and her potential gone. She holds onto a drinking problem and Tim, the lovable Weimaraner; a dog descended from the original canine member of the Detective Club. Nate, the young boy fixated on horror novels has checked himself into a mental institution in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend from the Detective Club he still sees is Peter, their fourth member with the boyish charm and movie star looks. Only Peter is dead. He committed suicide. Peter has been dead for years.

Andy knows that the time has come to get the gang back together. That they have to face the fears of what happened to them and uncover the real mystery of Blyton Hills. But they’re not the same people anymore. They are broken and damaged. First she will need to convince Kerri and then they will have to break Nate out of the asylum and then, she has no idea what is waiting for them. Because it knows, she is sure of it, it knows that they are coming. This time there won’t be a man in a mask, no this time the monsters will be real.

Okay, four meddling kids and a dog playing teenage detectives; you would have to be from another planet to not see that this is a variation on Scooby and the Gang. No Scrappy Doo so that is definitely a plus. But Cantero takes his characters into a deeper world, a far more real emotional world of lost hope and damaged psyches. The underlying theme is what if Scooby and the Gang had come across real monsters. A real with and warlock or a real sea creature? What if, for once, the legend was true. But Cantero doesn’t settle on just any legends for his bad guys, no he goes full blown Lovecraft here.

This is a fun read, disturbing on some levels, but just a whole lot of fun.

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The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

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The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa is one of the best crafted novels I have read in sometime. What is more amazing is that this is a debut novel. Correa tells the story of a family lost to the ravages of war and bigotry, yet still with the hope of someday coming together. It is the story of two young girls, separated by countries and time, who share the common bond of loss and loneliness. Together, they will find strength, hope and family.

“…Aunt Hannah tells the story rapidly in a low voice, as if she herself did not want to hear it. She mentions figures and dates so coldly it surprises Mom. Aunt Hannah’s smile starts to fade, and her eyes are now a misty blue.
‘On the night of July 16, 1942, my father was one of the victims of the infamous Velodrome d’Hiver roundup when all the impure were arrested by the French police. He was transported to Auschwitz, the death camp….’ She sighs. ‘He didn’t survive. He was very weak., and I’m sure he let himself die. In our family, we don’t kill ourselves, we let ourselves die…”

Berlin, Germany, 1939, before the world changed forever. The Rosenthal’s lived a privileged life. Opera, the best food, property and prestige. But that all changed when the Brown Shirts descended and their name and their heritage made them outcast in their own country.

Hannah Rosenthal was an undesirable. A Jew. Unclean in the eyes of the pure Germans. With her one true friend Leo, she dreamed of a better land and a better place for her family. Her father had been a Professor in the University and her mother a rich and fashionable woman. All that changed in an instant. Only Hannah did not look like an undesirable. In truth, she looked exactly like what the German people wanted. She looked the part of the German Girl. This simple fact separated her from her own people and from the Germans who blamed and despised her for their lot in life.

Aboard the transatlantic liner the Saint Louis, Hannah’s and Leo’s family travels to the new world. A stop off in Cuba before they head to a new life in New York City. What they find instead is one of the most horrifying acts in pre war time history as the Saint Louis is not allowed to dock in Cuba and the passengers are denied passage to Cuba and the United States.

Decades later, in New York City, eleven year old Anna Rosen recieves a package. It comes from Cuba with untold secrets of her deceased father. A death her mother never had the courage to tell her about and instead let her believe, that one day her father just walked out the door and never came back. Instead she would learn that her father died a heroic death on September eleventh. A death her mother could not face and so hid from her. She would rather let her daughter believe that he had simply deserted them.

Now with this package, Anna will travel to the island of Cuba to meet your Great Aunt Hanna and in doing so will learn of a past that at once has haunted her and molded her. For the history of Cuba and its revolution will mirror too closely the past that was Nazi Germany.

“….In her despeair, Esperanza visited all the local police stations, but with no success. The next day, she learned that they were rounding up all the young males, sixteen years old and up, of their faith and taking them to a stadium in the Mariano district. When she understood what was going on, she threw herself onto the floor at home and burst into tears. She cursed herself, blaming herself for the religious fervor with which she had brought up her son. Rafael was a boy who knew only good and was incapable of doing anybody harm. They had been trying to leave Cuba for a long while, but it had become impossible for them to obtain an exit visa ever since the “great leader” had accused their religious group of being a “terrible blight on society…”

In visiting her great Aunt Hanna, Anna learns the history of the family she never knew. The horror of Nazi Germany and even worse, the ambivalence of Cuba and the United States. Refugees extorted for money they did not have to offer asylum. This is a dark time in the history of the greatest nation ever. The land of the free. The fate of the passengers of the Saint Louis is one that history and your Civics classes would like to forget. But before you decide to wage war on the Capitalist country that denied entry to these refugees; look into their fate in the Socialist regimes that finally took them in . There is enough blood to go around.

At its heart this is a novel about family. It is a novel about daughters and mothers and the burdens and choices that they plague one another with. It is at its core, a novel about horror and tragedy and the sickening reality that they are all human.

The German Girl will take your heart, your soul, your core and wrench it from that safe place of denial that you have laid it in and force it to look at the world at large. In a real lens. You will not walk away from this book in the same way that you walked in.

Its just that damn good. (less)

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper

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The Only Child by Andrew Pyper is to date, one of the more ambitious novels of terror I have ever read. Much in the manner that his prior novel The Demonoligist (pick it up if you haven’t read it as of yet), Pyper is writing horror in the manner that seems to have been forgotten by this generation of horror writers. No glittering vampires or shirtless werewolves here. Here, there be monsters.

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist in New York’s leading mental health institution. Over the years she has seen every type of delusion, but today she is about to meet someone who exceeds all the parameters she has set in her mind. A patient who is asking specifically for her. The patient has no name or identification of any kind. His fingerprints do not come up anywhere in the system. He has never been arrested or treated before. Secondly, he claims to be over two hundred years old. When asked why he committed his crime, the patient simply says that he wished to be to the institution and that he wished to see, Dr. Lily Dominick.

Lily finds the patient interesting, but her curiosity takes a darker turn when she finds her mentor and senior adviser gruesomely murdered in his home, and her patient escaped. Given small clues by the killer, Lily must now track him across the globe as he gives her small clues to who he is.

The killer tells the tale of meeting and falling in love with Mary Shelley and how that inspired the tale of Frankenstein. Of searching out Roberto Louis Stevenson and laying the foundation that would become the tale of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and of finally meeting Bram Stoker and showing the Irishman the true face of Count Dracula. All the while, leaving brutalized and mutilated corpses in his wake.

All of this Lily would be down to blood lust and delusion except for the mysterious group that seems to be hunting the killer. A group as shadowy and dark as the killer himself. Could it be possible?Could this killer be centuries old and the inspiration for the most horrifying tales of our time?

More confusing to Lily is that the killer knows of her own secrets. Those things that she has never shared. What is the monster’s connection to her, to her childhood, to her mother, and to her mother’s horrible murder?

The Only Child is ambitious to a fault. Had the killer been the inspiration for one of these classic tales or even two, then perhaps, but all three and the web that Pyper has woven strains and unravels somewhat throughout the book. Perhaps if the book had been longer and those times spent with the authors fleshed out more, then perhaps there would be something in the story that held substance. But as it is, it simply loses steam. But then it switches from this Gothic horror tale with great European settings to something like a dirty James Bond movie. The killer captured by a secret army of commandos, whose leader falls for Lily and keeps the creature captured so that they can do experiments on him. From here it turns into a chase, the killer hell bent on exacting revenge on Lily for her betrayal of his trust. Something like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Again, just to ambitious in history and scope and then not exploring that history and scope enough to make the book flow.

You would think that with those last two paragraphs that I didn’t like the Only Child. But that is not true. I liked it just fine, but what I was left with is what it could have been.

A good read with lots of untapped potential left on the table.

Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

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Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica is another tense mystery tale that will cement Kubica as one of the fresh new voices in the field of suspense noire. Every Last Lie is a roller coaster ride of emotional grief and trust and betrayal.

“…The bad man, Daddy. The bad man is after us…”

Clara Solberg’s world comes apart with a knock at her door. Her husband Nick and their four year old daughter Maisie have been in a car accident. Nick is dead and remarkably, Maisie is not hurt at all. Nick has a history of driving recklessly and speeding and as this is a one car accident, the police are quick to rule it as driver’s error.

But soon after Maisie begins to have night terrors and she is gripped with an irrational fear of their neighbor across the street. A man that Clara believes is physically abusive to his own family and intimidates the rest of the neighborhood. Soon Maisie begins to talk about the Bad Man and Clara starts to believe that her husband’s death was no accident at all.

With the police unwilling to change their minds about what happened, Clara knows that she must go in search of the truth on her own. What she finds is a world of deceit underneath the life she has been living. She discovers that their finances were not as good as she once believed and that Nick had kept relationships secret from her. Soon she is surrounded by lie after lie until to get to the truth she must find out Every Last Lie.

Clara’s grief drives this story. It is deep and often irrational. The pure and raw state of the emotion leads her down paths that have no end. Everything she once trusted feels like it has been stripped from her. Was Nick trying to protect her or was he deceiving her? The answer to this question is one she must wrestle with as she tries to hold her young family together in the face of this horrible tragedy.

Like many of Kubica’s novels, Every Last Lie is a spider web of clues that need to be unraveled. It unfolds slowly at times but the tense prose of her writing keeps the reader moving along. What Kubica has done so masterfully in this novel is that she has established a main character whose pain is palpable. The emotional loss of Clara bleeds through every page of this book. You will feel and struggle right along with her.

You will not walk away from this book unmoved. Kubica is at her best with Every Last Lie.

A terrific read.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

 

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Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll is one of those books that will absolutely shake you to your core. You will go through a range of emotions and tap into some you may not ever have known you have. This is a book men should read, though I’m sure it will have a stronger female following. Men should read this book if for the sole reason that it reminds us why we should be scared of women.

Ani FaNelli is living the charmed life. She has a glamorous job, writing for a well known Women’s magazine. She has an enviable address, a wardrobe of the most fashionable clothes and a blue blood fiance. This is not by accident. Ani has been working her whole life for this.

Tiffany FaNelli is the new girl at school. Only the school is the prestigious Bradley School where only the wealthy attend and Tiffany is way out of her league. But putting her catholic school behind her, Tiffany’s, and her mother’s ambitions, will get the best of her as she is willing to do anything to be part of the in crowd. Tiffany is only fourteen years old and the decisions she is about to make will lead her into a world of blood and sex and hate that no child should have to endure.

On the eve of her upcoming wedding, Ani is contacted by a film company. They want to document the “Event” that happened at Bradley. An event that has haunted Ani for her whole life. Though she is on the surface, the epitome of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City, underneath the facade still lives the fourteen year old girl that was Tiffany FaNelli. Now Ani must decide if the secrets and hidden truths that she has kept all these years will bind her and bring her down or will they finally, in full disclosure, set her free.

Okay, there is so much more to this story but to let loose with any of the details is paramount to sticking your finger into the middle of a cake at a birthday party just because you wanted a taste. You need to read this one for yourself. You need to devour this tale and in turn, let this incredible and scary, yet vulnerable, character of Ani (Tiffany) FaNelli take over your life for a time. Because you will never get her out. She is that damn good, or that damned fucked up.

When I started this book I absolutely saw Carrie Bradshaw as Ani. The ambitious, shallow and superficial modern woman whose hypocrisy is bile down the throat of any man. But with Ani, shallow waters run so deep; and they are murky; and the self loathing stench of sewer waste that to think any woman carries within her is devastating. Carrie is a joke and Ani is that slap in your face dose of realism that some people may not be able to handle. Male or female.

Ani will make you uncomfortable. She will offend you, scare you, sicken you, revolt you and she will make you wish you were a stronger human being. She is worth saving and as a man you will want to. But then you will not realize that you are just another piece on her board. A pawn to be moved this way and that, and if needed, sacrificed when the moment calls for it.

Ani will make you proud. A survivor, a realist, a woman who defied the odds and came out on top. A scarred and broken princess who still got her Disney Prince Charming. Ani isn’t Carrie Bradshaw. You could take all the women of Sex in the City, mold them together and they wouldn’t be enough to fill the space of a Dr. Scholl’s insole in Ani’s pumps. Now Ani must decide if Prince Charming is really enough or is she living her mother’s dream. Because she had Prince Charming once before when she was fourteen and how did that turnout?

But at the center of all this, the glue that holds it together, the foundation of the tale is the young girl Tiffany. Convinced that she needs to do whatever to fit in. A young high school girl who just wants to be a part of the crowd. Her mother’s dreams and ambitions laid on her shoulders and over developed body. Her own need to be the it girl, no matter what. The realization that no matter what she gives and what is taken from her, she will never be a part of the in crowd and the lengths she will go to achieve her ends. Tiffany is the broken vessel that Ani is created from.

Those of you that have read my reviews in the past have heard me rant and rave about the endless marketing and comparisons made to Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl whenever there is a female lead character in a book. The cover of this novel contains such a review by a well read author and to be honest I didn’t read this book because of that to begin with. It is cheap marketing. It is laziness. It is beneath the tale that is told here.

Luckiest Girl Alive is not Gillian Flynn. Luckiest Girl Alive is not Gone Girl.

Luckiest Girl Alive is Ani fucking FaNelli.

Pick it up.

A terrific read!

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

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The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory is another incredibly well researched and well written tale of the Tudors that has become one of my most prized and guilty pleasures. The Tudors have fallen into disarray after the death of King Henry and three sisters find themselves pawns in the chess game that is the Royal Court of England. At stake, is the very crown and their lives.

With her cousin, The King Edward VI dying, Lady Jane Grey is about to be cast into the deadly politics of the Royal Court. Her father and Edward’s Chief Minister John Dudley plot to take the crown. Together they plot and marry Jane and Edward’s son Guildford to one another and when Edward dies, they name Jane Queen. Her reign would last only nine days and would end with her imprisoned in the Tower and a year later, executed for treason. Lady Jane Grey was dead at the age of seventeen.

Jane’s younger sister is Katherine Grey and upon the death of her sister Jane, remains quietly at her home until her cousin, Elizabeth takes the throne. What should have been a boon to the remaining Grey family instead turns into a distressing and tempestuous world dictated by the Queen. Katherine was cursed with a beauty that Elizabeth did not have and to have fallen in love, something that in the court of Elizabeth was not allowed. In secret, Katherine marries Edward Seymour and earns the ire of the Queen of England. She has two sons who become direct male heirs to the throne of England. For marrying without the Queen’s permission, Elizabeth has Katherine and Edward imprisoned and then separated for the rest of their lives. Their crime, marrying for love and conceiving a family.

The youngest daughter, Mary, is an oddity at court. Never having grown, she is a dwarf, a royal cousin but still so small of stature that no one would marry her to curry favor with the Queen. So Mary does the unspeakable. She, like her sister before her, marries for love. She marries the tallest man at court and like her sister before, suffers the jealous wrath of the Queen.

The Last Tudor is the story of a family turning upon itself and consuming heirs and rivals in jealousy and fear. The legacy of suspicion and illegitimacy that was left by King Henry and the everlasting stain of Anne Boleyn haunts the Tudors until the reign of Elizabeth, where the final heirs are pitted against one another. It is also a tale of the division of the church and how the papist religion versus the reformers still strives to tear the country apart after the death of Cromwell.

Of the three sisters I have to say that I enjoyed the tale of Mary the best. The littlest sister of whom nothing was expected. A prop used in plays to amuse the Queen. Seeing what had already happened to her two sisters, she dares to love and desire and to believe that she has the right as a woman, to be loved and desired no matter what her size. When the anger of Elizabeth comes to bear, the diminutive Lady Grey bares the wrath of the Queen without falter.

The Last Tudor paints Queen Elizabeth in a light that I had never seen before. Here she is portrayed as the true daughter of Anne Boleyn. An angry and spiteful woman whose hatred for her royal cousins ends up virtually destroying her family line. Elizabeth is celebrated for her virginity, here she is painted as a wanton adulterous. Whose sole desire is to be Queen and not wife. Elizabeth would not produce an heir and not recognize those of her cousins and becomes the last Tudor Queen of England.

No one and I mean no one, writes with such a sense of being there, as Philippa Gregory does of the Tudor years of England. I actually started to watch the Tudors on Netflix just to see if it was as good as these books. Of course it wasn’t. I have been hooked on Gregory’s tales since I first read The Other Boleyn Girl and have never been disappointed. I can only hope there is more to come but it is hard to imagine considering this is The Last Tudor. Do yourself a favor, if you think you know what the Tudors are from the television show, pick up these books. They are better, so much better that words alone cannot capture it. They are. Read one. Only one and you will be hooked. Philippa Gregory pushes Tudor crack.

Pick it up.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

 

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The Lying Game by Ruth Ware is a tale of loyalty and suspense and the truths and half-truths we share. It is a page turning mystery with pulsating Gothic undertones. Ware, author of In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, is in her element as she infuses her tale with traces of Hitchcock and Christie.

Along the coastal village of Salten, a woman is walking her dog along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Dog runs free and races into the water. He retrieves a small stick and returns to her. Only what he has in his mouth is not a stick at all. The next day, three women around the London area receive the same text message, it simply says, “I need you.”

“…Why what? Kate could retort. But she doesn’t need to ask. we all know. Why are we here? What did that text mean, those three little words: I need you?
Kate draws a long breath, and she looks up, her face shadowed by the lamplight.
But to my surprise, she doesn’t speak. Instead, she gets up and goes to the pile of newspapers in the scuttle by the stove, left there for lighting the logs. There is one on the top, the Salten Observer, and she holds it out, wordless, her face showing all the fear she has been hiding this long drunken evening.
It is dated yesterday, and the headline on the front page is very simple.

Human Bone Found in Reach…”

Kate, Fatima, Thea and Isabel were inseparable during their brief time at the boarding school in Salten. Together they created the Lying Game. They would lie to their classmates and the faculty at every turn, giving one another points for creativity and outrageousness . They were an impregnable clique, only keeping to one another. Soon everyone steered clear of the foursome, never knowing what to believe. Only in time their game had its own consequences and the girls were expelled from the school in their final year, in secrecy and disgrace. All anyone knew for sure is that it had something to do with the eventual disappearance of the school’s art teacher, Ambrose. The art teacher who happened to be Kate’s father and the home where all four girls spent the free time. The disappearance and the drawings that were found by the school were kept quiet and the girls expelled. But the scandal was never forgotten and now bones have washed up on the Reach.

The tale, narrated by Isabel, is layer upon layer of mystery. The clique of these young girls has continued into adulthood and their loyalty is bonded by friendship and the horrible secret they share. One of the major rules of the Lying Game is they are forbidden to lie to one another. When the past begins to unravel they find that one of their group has not only been lying to everyone else but to them as well. This realization leaves the group shattered but with the simple truth, to save each other do they have to sacrifice one of their own?

Ruth Ware is surely carving out a place of her own in the mystery thriller genre that she has staked out. These are dark, very human tales. Haunting and suspenseful. The past is as much a factor in the present than what is happening around the characters. We see in each of them, the different direction their lives have taken. The lasting impact their game has had on them. At first glance the women seem to have themselves all taken care of. But like the mystery of the dead body, which seems apparent on the surface, it slides slowly back showing the deeper scars that exist.

As the secrets of the past come to bare, so does the tension ramp up and loyalty and trust the girls once had for one another begin to dissolve. As well as the simple truth that all their lies was not just a game, but hurt others as well.

Ware does not keep the tale solely centered on the four main characters, but on the small town of Salten as well. We see the impact the clique had on the small town and on the school itself. Let’s not kid ourselves, these girls are not likable. At least not when they were younger. They are the clique of young girls who are see themselves as better than everyone and have no shame in showing it. But in truth, who and what they are is in too many ways, far worse than those around them.

This is Ware’s best offering as of yet and lends us all hopes of greater tales to come.