Books 2017: Four-Star Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror


Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger. Synopsis from Goodreads: In this explosive psychological thriller by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger, a young woman’s mysterious gift forces her into the middle of a dangerous investigation of a little girl’s disappearance.
For as long as she can remember, twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery has been able to see into the future. She dreams about events before they occur and sees beyond the physical world, unconsciously using her power to make supernatural things happen.
But Finley can’t control these powers—and there’s only one person who can help. So Finley moves to The Hollows, a small town in upstate New York where her grandmother lives, a renowned seer who can finally teach Finley how to use her gift.
A gift that is proving to be both a blessing and a curse, as Finley lands in the middle of a dangerous investigation involving a young girl who has been missing for ten months and the police have all but given up hope.
With time running out there’s only so much Finley can do as The Hollows begins to reveal its true colors. As she digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, nothing is what it seems. But one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what.

I feel like there's a real talent in writing about supernatural stuff and psychic phenomena in a way that makes it seem matter-of-fact and not cheesy or melodramatic. Lisa Unger displays that talent here. There are horror novels that rely on gruesomeness and shock tactics to gloss over lack of characterization and tone-deaf dialogue. This is a good story with engaging characters and good propulsive energy, and it just happens to also include clairvoyance.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle. Synopsis from Goodreads: People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn't there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

First book that grabbed me after reading fifty pages of a bunch of stuff and feeling meh. Atmospheric and literate. Please read other reviews to see the wider context regarding H.P. Lovecraft (who was apparently a big ol' racist motherfucker), of which I was unaware, but which makes me like this work even more.

14 by Peter Clines. Synopsis from Goodreads: Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches. 
There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.
Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.
At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbour across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends. 
Or the end of everything..

I read this in a period when I kept realizing that I was unknowingly reading an author that I had already read. I was halfway through this when I realized that Clines had also written The Fold. It's kind of funny how closely he adheres to the same pattern in both books - fairly restrained, suspenseful action at the beginning, leading to an end section comprised of an insane welter of B-movie sci-fi creatures, death and destruction. I really enjoyed the interplay between characters in this one, though, more than the other, and the resolution was a little more satisfying. 

Vigil by Angela Slatter. Synopsis from Goodreads: Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength - and the ability to walk between us and the other - as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.
But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale - and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways - and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.
And Verity must investigate - or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

I read some incendiary short work by Slatter, and checked this out on that basis. It wasn't quite as mind-blowing as the short stories, but it was well-written and engaging, with some fresh takes on the genre.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty. Synopsis from Goodreads: A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer -- before they kill again.
It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.
At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.
Maria's vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn't the only one to die recently..

I read this in Hawaii, so it could have sucked seven ways from Sunday and I probably still would have thought it was pretty good. Just kidding. Sort of. The prose was workmanlike, but the issues of cloning and its detractors are interesting and well borne out in the story. 

Witches of Lychford (Lychford #1) by Paul Cornell. Synopsis from GoodreadsTraveler, Cleric, Witch.
The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.
Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth -- that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination.
But if she is to have her voice heard, she's going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies.

This was a delicious read for a rainy afternoon. Compact but dense, wonderful characters, marvelously tense plot, completely satisfying.

American Gods by Nail Gaiman. Synopsis from Goodreads: Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it finds there..

First read in 2009 (I think)

I wish I had reviewed it when I first read it, because my impression on reading it again is that I liked it more the first time, but I have no idea why. I didn't NOT like it this time, but I remembered very little other than the character and the ending. This time I found some of the interlude stories about individual gods a little tedious. I was a little confused for a while about why Shadow was so biddable by Wednesday also, but I think that was explained to my satisfaction. Still a really good story, just not up there with Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which I'm a tiny bit afraid to reread now).

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire. Synopsis from Goodreads: Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.
It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.
They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.
You can’t kill what’s already dead.

I love Seanan McGuire and I had missed this, so I requested it from the library as soon as I found out about it. Then I got it home and felt no desire whatsoever to pick it up. I'm not sure why, but I think maybe I'm against putting people on book covers - it just makes them look cheesy and unserious and Harlequin romance-y. The book itself was wonderful - it's kind of a mosaic novel, which made more sense when I found out it had originally been serialized, so a couple of times I was a bit confused about the timeline and why certain things seemed to be repeated, but it didn't really take away from the read. It's bittersweet and elegaic and romantic and imaginative. It borrows from traditional ghost narratives and archetypes and adds brilliant details that seem exactly right. I loved it.

Dusk Or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. Synopsis from Goodreads: When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.
But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Didn't realize I had read two Seanan McGuire ghost books this year. This also kicked all kinds of ass. Some similarities to Sparrow Hill Road, but not derivative. Fantastic story. 


StephLove said…
I'm not generally squeamish about bugs, but have a thing about roaches, so I cannot and will not read anything with "mutant cockroaches" in the description. I skipped Wall E. for the same reason.

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