Quick Review: AMERICAN HEROIN by Melissa Scrivner Love (Crown)

lovems-lv2-americanheroinusTurf wars, family, the Cartels… Lola’s got a full plate

A gritty, high-octane thriller about a brilliant woman who will stop at nothing to protect her growing drug empire, even if she has to go to war with a rival cartel… or her own family

It took sacrifice, pain, and more than a few dead bodies, but Lola has clawed her way to the top of her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. Her gang has grown beyond a few trusted soldiers into a full-fledged empire, and the influx of cash has opened up a world that she has never known — one where her daughter can attend a good school, where her mother can live in safety, and where Lola can finally dream of a better life. But with great opportunity comes great risk, and as Lola ascends the hierarchy of the city’s underworld she attracts the attention of a dangerous new cartel who sees her as their greatest obstacle to dominance. Soon Lola finds herself sucked into a deadly all-out drug war that threatens to destroy everything she’s built.

But even as Lola readies to go to war, she learns that the greatest threat may not be a rival drug lord but a danger far closer to home: her own brother.

Melissa Scrivner Love’s debut, Lola, introduced one of the most interesting new crime/thriller characters: the eponymous resident of South Central, the secret leader of the Crenshaw Six, a small gang of bangers peddling drugs and engaging in turf wars and petty crime. Over the course of that novel, she clawed her way out into the open, took on some heavy hitters, and survived. In American Heroin, we get the next act in Lola’s life as a gang leader, as she faces challenges and threats from all sides. Another great novel. Continue reading

Upcoming: FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett (Crown)

BennettRJ-1-FoundrysideUSRobert Jackson Bennett is one of my favourite authors. From his earlier, stand-alone novels to his Divine Cities series, I think he’s one of the best fantasy authors writing today. Therefore, any new novel from him is to be considered cause for celebration. This year, Crown (North America) and Jo Fletcher Books (UK) are due to release the first novel in his new Founders series: Foundryside. Here are the details:

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a thief must join forces with the town’s only honest cop to stop a ritual that will kill thousands — and threatens to make their home a battleground between ancient evils.

The city of Tevanne has grown rich, thanks to its mastery of the magical technology known as “scriving” — the art of inscribing an item with sigils to imbue it with some aspects of sentience.

Or more precisely, the four merchant houses who monopolize scriving have grown rich. For their employees, their servants — their slaves — life in the city is orderly, protected. For those forced to live without House protection — and those who choose to throw off House shackles — well, Tevanne’s not such a fun place to be.

And in a town like Tevanne, it’s hard to imagine two more natural enemies than Sancia Grado and Gregor Dandolo. Sancia is a former slave whose ordeals have made her an unnaturally talented thief. Today she uses her skills to steal from the very Houses that Captain Gregor Dandolo is sworn to protect. But when the two clash over Sancia’s theft of a powerful magical artifact, the fallout leads them to confront a common threat — a plot by Tevanne’s masters to develop a weapon capable of unleashing devastating warfare across the world.

Foundryside is due to be published by Crown in North America, and Jo Fletcher Books in the UK, in August 2018. I really can’t wait for this one!

Also on CR: Interview with Robert Jackson Bennett (2012); Guest Post on City of Stairs and the Super Tropey Fantasy Checklist”; Excerpt from City of Stairs; Review of City of Stairs

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

New Books (January)


Featuring: André Alexis, Jennifer Armstrong, Rob Boffard, Ezekiel Boone, Algis Budrys, Matthew de Abaitua, Patrick Flanery, Ian Graham, Elizabeth Greenwood, Sarah Hilary, Joe Hill, Gregg Hurwitz, Davide Mana, Samuel Marolla, Vonda N. McIntyre, A.D. Miller, Tim Murphy, Daniel José Older, Chris Pavone, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Adrian Selby, Nick Stone, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Fran Wilde


Continue reading

Review: SO, ANYWAY… by John Cleese (Doubleday)

CleeseJ-SoAnywayAn interesting, if surprising biography

Candid and brilliantly funny, this is the story of how a tall, shy youth from Weston-super-Mare went on to become a self-confessed legend. En route, John Cleese describes his nerve-racking first public appearance, at St Peter’s Preparatory School at the age of eight and five-sixths; his endlessly peripatetic home life with parents who seemed incapable of staying in any house for longer than six months; his first experiences in the world of work as a teacher who knew nothing about the subjects he was expected to teach; his hamster-owning days at Cambridge; and his first encounter with the man who would be his writing partner for over two decades, Graham Chapman. And so on to his dizzying ascent via scriptwriting for Peter Sellers, David Frost, Marty Feldman and others to the heights of Monty Python.

Punctuated from time to time with John Cleese’s thoughts on topics as diverse as the nature of comedy, the relative merits of cricket and waterskiing, and the importance of knowing the dates of all the kings and queens of England, this is a masterly performance by a former schoolmaster.

This biography was not at all what I was expecting. For one thing, Monty Python plays a relatively tiny part in the story. Instead of So, Anyway…, this book could easily have been called “The Road to Monty Python”. Despite this, I found it interesting and, after Cleese moved on to his university days, absolutely engaging. Continue reading

Audio Review: NEIL PATRICK HARRIS by Neil Patrick Harris (Audible/Crown)

HarrisNP-NeilPatrickHarrisAutobiographyA very good autobiography

You’ve already made a great choice by picking up the audio edition of Neil Patrick Harris’ Choose Your Own Autobiography. This hilarious book has been adapted especially for the audiobook edition so you’ll hear all of the same fun and humor from the printed version but you don’t have to make any decisions or jump around – just kick back, relax, and listen. Plus, it features exclusive bonus audio of young Neil delivering an adorable speech! That’s audio you won’t hear in any version of this book other than the audiobook!

I only recently finished watching How I Met Your Mother, which I thoroughly enjoyed (save for the… disappointing ending). Naturally, I found Barney to be a stand-out element of the show (he and Marshall were my favourites). So, when I was able to get this for review from Audible, I was very much looking forward to diving right in. Unlike the book, which is a Choose Your Own Autobiography, for the audio edition NPH narrates in a far more linear style. He offers a few alternate options, which were amusing, but for the main he sticks to the story. Continue reading

“Shovel Ready” by Adam Sternbergh (Headline)

SternberghA-ShovelReadyThe start to an interesting new dystopian series…

“I don’t want to know your reasons. I don’t care. Think of me as a bullet. Just point.”

Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, before New York became a burnt-out shell. Now the wealthy spend their days tapped into virtual reality; the rest have to fend for themselves in the streets. Now there’s nothing but garbage.

So he became a hit man. He doesn’t ask questions, he works quickly, and he’s handy with a box-cutter.

When he’s hired to kill the daughter of a high-profile evangelist, Spademan’s life is upended. He will have to navigate two worlds – both the slick fantasy and the wasteland reality – to finish the job, clear his conscience, and make sure he’s not the one who winds up in the ground.

In the final few months of 2013, there was quite a bit of buzz around the genre sites related to this book. It has received a slew of great blurbs from respected and excellent authors. It was with great anticipation, therefore, that I dove into it when I received an ARC (quite a while ago, so I’ve been sitting on this review for some time). I enjoyed the novel, and Sternbergh offers up a rather convincing dystopian future, but one that at the same time felt slightly half-baked. The author has written a tightly-plotted novel that is certainly immediate and gripping. It left me wanting more, but not always in a good way.

Right off the bat, I should mention that this is another novel that dispenses with “proper” punctuation – specifically, there are no speech marks to indicate dialogue. This seems to be a style that is becoming popular again – before this, my latest read to take this path was Lavie Tidhar’s excellent The Violent Century. Unlike Tidhar’s latest offering, however, the lack of “normal” dialogue punctuation was confusing more often than I would like: the lack of differentiation between characters speaking would sometimes clash or merge less-than-seamlessly with Spademan’s internal monologue.

The main character, Spademan, is a “different kind of psycho”. He is quietly sociopathic, a product of an uncaring and dehumanizing New York city. Devastated by a dirty bomb, New Yorkers have either fled the city wholesale, barricaded themselves into their homes, or retreated to the outer boroughs. Wealthy and not alike have also retreated to a new, online reality – something akin to a steroidal, higher-tech Second Life – where ‘normal’ life can continue. This is where the bulk of international trade takes place, and the world of financial transactions in particular has retreated from the real world entirely, it seems. Interestingly, and related to the story contained herein, mega-churches have gleefully adopted the new technology as well. [That is all I shall say on that matter…]

The story moves at a breakneck pace, and we’re introduced to a number of interesting and varied, as well as believable, characters from a number of New York neighbourhoods and walks of life. His target and new job turns out to be not at all what he expected.

“Truth is, I have no idea what the next step should be. I’ve had jobs get out of hand, but not like this. I was hired to kill her, not adopt her.”

As someone who was having an extended moment of frustration with what felt like ever-increasingly-long Big Book Fantasies, its slim length was certainly welcome. I enjoyed the pace, but there was a sacrifice: world-building. Not only is the world beyond New York fleshed out at all, really (save the quotation, below), it also meant the world’s logic failed – I ended up not buying that so many people would remain in New York City. Suspending that frustration, though (and there were times when that was difficult), I did rather enjoy the novel.

“As for the rest of it, in in-between part, I hear it’s relatively clean and still open for business, like a plucky dollar store. No longer the land of milk and honey, maybe, but at least you can still get high-grade pharmaceuticals on every street corner on the cheap… Really, it’s just New York that got nuked, cordoned off, shut down, shunned. Capital of the world, cut loose to drift into the sea. The country’s soul, on a funeral pyre.”

The fact that New Yorkers stay in the city, despite the dirty bomb’s destruction and lingering radiation, and also the violence that rose in place of order, reminded me of the New York mentality Brian Wood showed in his masterful DMZ comic series. However, I think it worked much better in the graphic novel series – here, it felt that there wasn’t as much thought put into the world-building as there perhaps should have been. Bits and pieces felt forced, and to then not be fleshed out… Well, Sternbergh’s brevity was not always a boon (though, I repeat, it was refreshing amidst a sea of new, massive doorstoppers).

SternberghA-ShovelReadyUSAs the first book in a series, I’m hoping Sternbergh takes some of the time in his next (and future?) novels to flesh out this dystopian reality. As it stands, this is an engaging thriller, which happens to be set in a dilapidated New York City. Spademan is a good protagonist, and I’d like to read more, but this novel didn’t do enough to establish the world, and given the gaps, why people would remain in the city.

Recommended, therefore, but with the aforementioned caveats. An author to watch, certainly.

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Shovel Ready is published by Headline in the UK (Jan.14/Jul.3 eBook/PB) and Crown in the US.